Place of satellite infrastructure in Nigeria’s rural broadband drive
Nigeria and its potential often seem to go hand in hand. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and the world’s seventh largest. It is home to 90 million citizens under 18, the third highest after China and India. It is Africa’s largest economy, ahead of South Africa, and is an oil-producing power. In addition, it has one of the world’s fastest growing telecommunications industries. The list goes on.
Yet, in 2012, Nigeria’s Internet broadband penetration stood between four and six per cent. For one of the world’s biggest economies, that was inadequate to say the least. In the fields of healthcare, education, agriculture, and oil, a country of almost 200 million was in danger of seeing its progress stall due to poor broadband internet.
The connectivity landscape needed a boost. In September 2012, then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan implemented The Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2013 – 2018, through the Ministry of Communication Technology, headed by Dr. Omobola Johnson, with the aim of growing Internet penetration to 30 per cent in five years. That target has since been surpassed.
Importance of broadband
Indeed, the socio-economic benefits of broadband would extend to education, healthcare, agriculture, banking, job creation, civic engagement, improved trade and commerce, and ultimately a rise in Gross Domestic Product. Studies have consistently shown that every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration in developing countries results in an increase of 1.3 percent in GDP.
Today, Nigeria has Africa’s highest GDP (Nominal), and the second highest by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), thanks in part to broadband penetration of almost 34 per cent, just over the target envisioned by The Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2013 – 2018.
Broadband, according to the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, is the ‘nervous system of today’s civilisation, and its access is top priority for our technologically society’.
Broadband is now globally acclaimed as the major index of development in all aspects of human life and an enabler for economic and social growth in the digital economy.
Dearth of last mile infrastructure slows expansion
It is no longer news that five submarine cable systems landed at the shores of Nigeria with over 40Tbps capacity. The news has been that they have been hindered significantly by dearth of last mile infrastructure.
According to the President, Association of Submarine Cable Operators of Nigeria (ASCON), and Head of Regulatory Services, MainOne Cables, Ifeloju Alakija, less than 10 per cent of these facilities have been utilised. This is despite Nigeria still being home to about 40 million people that have no access to basic telecommunications services.
While these bottlenecks remain, the pioneer Minister of Communications Technology, Johnson Omobola, through a tweet recently, argued that what Nigeria and indeed Africa needed is terrestrial fibre and not undersea cables any more.
She argued that with terrestrial fibre connecting countries, cities, towns and villages, development that can impact on every sphere of human lives will be spread easily.
“What Africa really needs is more terrestrial fibre connecting countries, cities, towns and villages not more undersea cable,” she tweeted via @OmobolaJohnson.
The place of Satellite infrastructure
With this in mind, experts believe that every available infrastructure should be deployed to fast-track broadband deployment, whether fibre or satellite. According to Kehinde Aluko, a telecoms expert, Nigeria at this time needs both fibre and satellite to connect the unserved and underserved Nigerians.
Aluko opined that satellite approach to last mile broadband connection will cut the states and their prohibitive right of way prices out and give the under-served and unserved rural populace.
Already, YahClick, the satellite broadband arm of global operator Yahsat, and its partner Hughes Network Systems, believe that satellite operations can aid faster connectivity, even in the rural areas.
The broadband service provider, from the UAE, was launched in Nigeria, alongside five other countries, in December 2012. Within a few months, YahClick said Nigeria proved to be the fastest growing of all the new markets.
In hindsight, this was not a major surprise. Broadband via 3G coverage – which at the time in Nigeria stood at 90 per cent – suffered from slow speeds during peak usage.
Accordingly, YahClick revolutionised satellite connectivity in the following five years due to the efficiencies gained through its use of the Ka-band, which introduced affordable satellite connectivity – in terms of both capital and operational expenditure in Nigeria. Since then, in collaboration with its local service partners, YahClick’s coverage has continued to grow.
“This strategy of unlocking potential is what drives YahClick’s spread across the African market. Last year, an investment of over $200 million in the Al Yah 3 satellite allowed Yahsat to launch YahClick in eight new markets, including Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe, extending the potential for broadband connectivity to industries, consumers, businesses, and communities in need.
Such advances not only improve the quality of life and upgrade services in these countries, but also act as an incentive for foreign investors looking to get a foothold in the growing African business landscape,” the firm stated.
The Nigerian Broadband Plan fed into a wider national initiative, “Vision20:2020”, which looked to provide the nation with “a large, strong, diversified, sustainable and competitive economy that effectively harnesses the talents and energies of its people and responsibly exploits its natural endowments to guarantee a high standard of living and quality of life to its citizens”.
As at 2010, 30 per cent of Nigerians still worked in the agricultural industry. A move to a more technology-based economy, while under way, will take some time. For now, despite achieving the forecast broadband penetration of 30 per cent in 2018, it also remains too early to gauge the extent to which this rise has affected foreign investment and related industries like banking.
Elsewhere, the tangible benefits that YahClick’s services have created are easier to quantify. As with other nations in Africa, the increase in connectivity translates into real benefit for remote areas in Nigeria, mainly in the fields of civil service, healthcare and, in particular, education.
Progress has been achieved thanks to the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria with a view to improving connectivity and access to information and services in rural and underserved areas of the country.
According to USPF, 396 public secondary schools – both rural and urban – are being provided with computers and connectivity under the School Knowledge Centre (SKC) project, and other programmes are set up to improve connectivity for main campuses at universities as well as remote ones.
Such projects are possible only through low-cost satellite connectivity, with many more innovations set to follow.
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