‘SES satellite connectivity can fast-track 30% broadband penetration target’

Steve Collar

Steve Collar is the Chief Executive Officer of SES Networks. SES Networks provides end-to-end network solutions to some of the world’s largest telecommunications, maritime, aeronautical and energy companies as well as to governments around the world.Prior to SES Networks, Collar was the CEO of O3b Networks and guided the company through the successful build and launch of its constellation of state-of-the-art satellites. In 2015 O3b Networks became the fastest growing satellite operator in history. In 2016, O3b was fully acquired by SES and now forms an integral part of SES Networks.Collar, in this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, spoke on the benefits and reliability of the satellite technology amidst growing fibre infrastructure, especially in Nigeria, stressing that it has the capabilities of helping the country achieve the 30% broadband target of 2018.  Excerpts:

SES recently announced the O3b mPOWER, how does it function?
O3b mPOWER when launched will be the most flexible and the most efficient satellite-based network. We will be able to deliver capability anywhere, including Africa, in any location, from one Megabit to tens of Gigagabits. It is one of the most efficient satellite services that will be available at this time. And in terms of how it works, we have initially seven satellites that will be orbiting the Equator, and each of them have capabilities of delivering hundreds of Gigabits, to serve as many people as needed. For example, with these satellites, we shall be able to deliver hundreds of Megabits of backhaul into the cell towers, which will confidently help operators to deliver services to the very remotest parts and villages, for example in the North of Nigeria. We can deploy to various networks.

What are the major advantages of Satellite technology in the era of fibre (submarine) cable systems?
First, it must be stated that mobile operators are open to all available technologies including submarine cables, fibre, microwave and others, and use them too. The most important difference is that submarine cable system lands on the beach and then it has to find its way to get distributed to the rest of the country. Connectivity is very good where the cable lands but when it moves from there to other areas, the strength at times wane. Domestic fibre in Africa is only 70 per cent available, what happens most times, is that customers suffer interruptions in most parts of Africa, but with Satellite, that will not happen. We can deliver capacity and backhaul to any point in the network.

Can we put a worth to the global satellite market?
The simple answer to this is that the market is not big enough. The major objective of SES Networks is to dramatically expand satellite market across all regions. We are network providers and we are delivering networks to the MNOs and we will use our satellite infrastructure to expand connectivity across the region.

For operators in Nigeria, how do they benefit?
A major benefit to the MNOs is that they can expand their network to all part of Nigeria and achieve in principle 100 per coverage by having affordable backhaul technology. What this means is that their 3G networks, 4G networks and ultimately 5G networks can be efficiently distributed to any part of Nigeria. It will also provide them the advantage of proper planning of their backhaul.

In what way can Satellite technologies help Nigeria achieve 30% broadband penetration?
The O3b mPOWER system can help in so many ways. About some weeks back, in the United Nations report, they identified that there are still about 3.8 billion people still lack access to broadband. This is one thing we think we have the opportunity to bridge.

The ambition for Nigeria should go beyond the 30 per cent, it should be for everybody in Nigeria and Africa been connected. Though it may take another decade to achieve that, I think the process should start now. The focus should be how will the people get the required connection and satellite offers the required enabling technology because terrestrial will always struggle to connect the last 30 per cent of the population, but satellite technology will be more than able.

At SES, we offer combination of things, which include the best performing network because our MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) satellites are closer to the Earth so we have very low latency and high speed. We also have network flexibility which can enable the bandwidth to become highly useful for the mobile operators with no constraints from any terrestrial technologies. We can deliver tens of Gigabits to the network and we can equally help mobile operators to bridge several gaps in their offerings.

For mPOWER launch, which market is SES targeting?
SES has been providing satellite-based services for years. O3b mPOWER really marks a dramatic evolution in our capability. We have spent the last two years thinking about how we can really deliver value into the mobile operators and telcos operations across the Globe, and this dramatic scaling of our capabilities means that operators can rely confidently on our services to deliver 100 per cent to their customers.

Does this new solution allow for interoperability?
Yes, it does. We have designed our customer edge terminals to be fully interoperable with existing space and ground configurations. Namely, we have designed them to be interoperable with various space and ground technologies, including fibre. It will provide services in Nigeria and in any other parts of Africa.

Why is the worth of the satellite market still small?
The first thing to say is that SES is the world’s largest satellite operator and so we already have a significant share of the market.
Yet it must be stated that satellite is still a small market when compared to mobile industry, cloud service providers. And the reason is because we have not delivered yet enough value at the right economics to the mobile operators, the telcos and carriers to be an integral part of their networks. But what we will have with O3b mPOWER system is the ability to scale tremendously at the right economics and to be relevant to the cloud service providers and the mobile operators. We think we can grow the satellite industry four to five times by having capabilities such as those we are delivering with O3b mPOWER, and so for us, it is about cutting edge services that are right at the heart of what the mobile operators and the cloud service providers need to grow their businesses.

What is your level of investments in Africa?
Our system is by definition a global system, we are serving Africa and all other regions. In terms of the total investments that we’ve made in our system, it is billions of dollars. That investment will benefit Africa, it will benefit the connectivity within Africa and our ability to connect the populations that are not connected to broadband today. This is a game-changing capability that has the potential to revolutionise connectivity and access to information in Africa.

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SES NetworksSteve Collar


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