Satellite Broadband Aims to Revolutionize African Development

RURA satellite

A new satellite system was launched into orbit last week that aims to bring high-speed Internet to remote communities across the globe. Its backers say it could have a big impact in rural parts of Africa by speeding up economic and social development. Others argue the huge amounts of money, however, should be spent on more basic needs.

Lift-off for the O3b – or “Other 3 Billion” – satellite system occurred last week in French Guiana. The system goes “live” later this year when eight satellites will enter a lower orbit to provide a faster
connection.

Its backers include Google and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, among others. Founder Greg Wyler said the “Other 3 Billion” are the people on the planet without access to fast Internet. “This will enable everybody, and it will be a cascading effect, but it enables everybody in these societies to become economically relevant to the rest of the world,” he said.

Fast connection, pervasive coverage

The O3b satellites will provide Internet coverage anywhere within 45 degrees of latitude north and south of the equator. Rival Inmarsat will launch a satellite Internet system called Global Xpress later this year. Dele Meiji Fatunla, web editor for Britain’s Royal African Society, said, “In the rural areas I think it would have an impact on the way people can get information related to healthcare, information related to
education.”

In the Atlantic off west Africa, cable-laying ships completed the submarine West Africa Cable System last year. Sub-Saharan Africa alone has nine submarine cables, with a total capacity of 22 terabytes.

Fatunla said broadband boosts economic growth. “I think a lot of small and medium enterprises would benefit from that,” he said. “And it might also have a political impact in the sense that the Internet, if it’s fairly open, will allow organizations and people to mobilize much more effectively.”

Voice of America

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