The African continent is vast. Its rugged landscapes and limited infrastructure impact on its ability to drive economic growth and capitalise on the digital revolution, throwing up barriers to connectivity that are complex to manage and expensive to overcome. It’s challenging, but solutions are emerging onto the market that are allowing organisations to develop reliable and robust connectivity systems which meet their evolving needs.
One of the drivers of this change is satellite technology. Satellite solutions are shifting the dialogue around African telecommunication and collaboration, thanks to their ubiquity, reach and price. This technology is capable of bridging infrastructural gaps to bring much needed communication services to rural and remote parts of Africa.
Africa isn’t equipped with the technology and ground infrastructure it requires to compete with the rest of the world in terms of communication and connectivity. Building terrestrial systems is expensive and severely limited in terms of support and maintenance. Satellites can bypass these complexities of building infrastructure or private networks.
Thanks to its low maintenance requirements and relative simplicity, a satellite is less demanding of the skilled resources that are already in short supply on the continent. Satellites makes provision for rural areas – previously impossible to track and monitor – to become connected, and for organisations to minimise the need to roll out large terrestrial-based infrastructures to get services into relevant areas. This has become crucial over the past few years, as the inexorable push of digital services, the Internet of Things (IoT), and automation have led to a rush of innovation and a race for the top.
IoT and industrial IoT (IIoT) are key trending technologies, especially as we move into 2020. Organisations can’t afford to be left behind. They can’t afford to sit and watch as other markets catch the customers because they lack connectivity and the ability to tap into the potential of digital. The pressure to innovate, develop and stay ahead is relentless, especially as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) makes itself felt.
Traditional IoT requires a terrestrial infrastructure to operate, but satellite offers IoT solutions with a 100% coverage area that can be extended globally. It doesn’t require roaming agreements or terrestrial infrastructure to deliver the connectivity required; and it has fewer points of failure, which can improve maintenance and reduce downtime. That said, while many companies use satellite technology to compete with terrestrial solutions, it can actually complement them – providing a more holistic platform for the organisation.
With satellites, companies can track, monitor and report on services in ways that were not possible in the past while becoming increasingly cost-effective. Satellites were considered expensive when they first entered the market, but have emerged as a reliable answer to Africa’s connectivity challenges and are very kind to the bottom-line.
One of the biggest misconceptions that still surrounds satellites is the cost. Companies believe that these services are expensive and difficult to implement and manage. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Satellite communications have not only evolved to meet changing economic requirements, but can also be adapted to fit into various vertical markets and environments.
Satellites are fairly ubiquitous, capable of being adapted to a myriad of use cases; and that makes them useful as well as flexible and scalable. They can be used in the consumer market, providing outdoor adventure solutions which enhance the business to consumer (B2C) segment; and can be used in the industrial market to resolve challenges in the global supply chain or improve business to business (B2B) implementations.
We have seen some interesting satellite implementations in the wildlife sector. There have been numerous safari vehicles and wildlife animals equipped with satellite services which allow for tracking and monitoring these assets in real-time. They use these services to not only map wildlife movement in their own regions but also across borders and varied landscapes. None of these solutions have required any investment into ground infrastructure, either.
Over the past few years, satellites have also seen an increased uptake in the logistics sector to support its cross-border requirements. It can be implemented across road, rail and water, and provides organisations with reliable and accurate asset-tracking services. The mining sector has also been paying attention to the benefits of satellites, using them to track and monitor ‘yellow goods’. These are unavoidable and expensive investments for the sector, but they are at high risk of theft and cross-border fraud. Employees working in these remote areas are safeguarded with satellite communication messengers which allow communication beyond cellular service.
Satellite technology is a solid solution for organisations looking to expand their reach across Africa while ensuring connectivity and access to digital technologies. It is far more cost-effective than many realise, and works within existing solutions to add an extra layer of connectivity to the business
The writer is the Managing Director at Globalstar Africa