By Prince Osuagwu

The Nigerian Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT Limited, last week, gathered stakeholders at the International Conference Centre, Abuja , to discuss the future of satellite business in Nigeria.

The confab which was woven around the theme Optimizing Satellite Communications for National Development, also meant to galvanise interest of investors towards using satellite business to help the Nigerian economy out of the woods.

lNigComSat CEO, Engr Ahmed Rufai

It also heightened awareness and information on the about to launch NigComSat1R, which is a replacement satellite for the country’s communications satellite that was de-orbited after a mishap on its solar panel in 2008.

About 600 delegates attended the one day conference including security chiefs, academics and researchers; private sector leaders, regulators and public sector stakeholders and the media.

At the beginning of the conference, NigComSat CEO, Engr Ahmed Rufai, unveiled the benefits of the replacement satellite, describing it as an in–orbit delivery programme by China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) to replace Nigeria’s Nigcomsat-1.

He also hinted that the satellite would provide a critical ICT backbone infrastructure to drive the national ICT revolution by providing a cost effective solution and affordable access to meet the nation’s telecommunications, broadcast, aviation, maritime, defense, security and revenue diversification needs of the nation.

“The NigComSat-1R satellite is a hybrid, high power, quad band geo-stationary satellite which inherits almost all the design features of NigComSat-1 with a few modifications on the payload aimed at addressing domestic and international market needs.

It uses the Chinese DFH-4 Platform, has a launch Mass of 5,150Kg and will use the Chinese LM-3B/E Launch Vehicle when it launches in December, 2011 to the same 42.5°E orbital location that was occupied by NigComSat-1. It is expected to have a service life of 15years”

NigComSat-1R is also said to have a communications payload of 28 active and 12 redundant transponders making for a total of 40 in the C, Ku and Ka bands, providing services which include digital TV broadcasting, direct to home broadcasting and public safety/emergency communications trunking services, etc.

 Stemming capital flight

Different stakeholders who participated at the event however made many observations and proffered solutions that can help the satellite achieve the task of contributing to national development. For instance, the Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Okon Ewa, decried the huge annual expenditure of over $450m on foreign bandwidth.

For him, such huge amount amounted to capital flight and could be channeled into other areas of national development if the country takes the issue of communications satellite business seriously.

He noted that the revenue to be saved from importation of bandwidth if satellite business is generally supported can also help the in the bid to reduce dependency on oil.

His words: “The African continent is currently experiencing huge demands for bandwidth as it attempts to make a shift towards an information society.

In fact, sub-Saharan Africa alone contains 10 per cent of the world’s population, but accounts for only 0.2 per cent of the world’s one billion telephone lines.

With the launch of Nigerian-owned communications satellites, the revenue made from Nigeria on bandwidth from other countries will be retained in Nigeria and used for our development.

“As a matter of fact, this will reduce our over-dependence on oil and create additional revenue streams for the nation. This is the only viable solution as other solutions are vulnerable to theft, vandalism and national disaster,” he contended

He urged investors to support the initiative of developing the African continent through communications satellites by investing in the replacement satellite, NigComSat-1R and the backup satellites, the NigComSat 2 and 3.

High bandwith charges

Meanwhile, the former Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Dr Ernest Ndukwe also corroborated the minister when in his key note speech, he noted that “from several observations, Nigerian companies are paying relatively high bandwidth charges for satellite links to enable long distance transmission.

Ndukwe, regretted that the high charges have continued to prevail in spite of the fact that Nigerian businesses represent over 60 per cent of the African business portfolio.

He advised that just like broadband growth supports countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP),satellite communications, if adequately managed for broad bandwidth, could bring about stable economic growth.

He also observed that Nigeria’s teledensity was currently standing at over 63% with about 90.5 million active subscribers which has brought basic communications services to over 90% of the people in For him, Nigeria now heavily depend on communications facilities for daily business and social interactions because broadband access was still a challenge.

“Connectivity is largely lacking and over 50% of broadband internet connections in Nigeria today are via satellite. Therefore, the NigComSat-1R Satellite Communication Satellite technology is critical to expanding access and improving connectivity,” he said

Ndukwe also noted that there was little future in last mile wireline infrastructures as deployments based on wire-line infrastructure for rural and dispersed communities will be very difficult to achieve and investments will be exceedingly costly and largely unaffordable.

He contended that Nigeria can improve its connectivity access by taking advantage of major advancements in the wireless technologies such as Broadband Satellite from NigComSat-1R and new generation mobile systems for last mile deployments.

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