By Prince Osuagwu
At a press conference in Paris, France, recently, world leading satellite operator, SES, launched a flexible satellite system called 03B mPOWER which, it says, would revolutionise broadband access and availability, particularly in developing countries where cost of taking broadband to nooks and crannies can be quite prohibitive, Nigeria happens to be one of such countries.
So, Hi-Tech got the CEO of SES, Mr. Steve Collar, to give insight on the innovation and how it can add ubiquity to broadband availability in urban and rural Nigeria.
HOW does 03b mPOWER satellite work and what is the coverage?
On coverage, we can deliver capability anywhere across Africa, in any location from 10 megabyte to tens of gigabyte, hence it is the most flexible satellite system ever designed.
In terms of how it works; we will have initially seven satellites that will be orbiting the equator and each of them is capable of delivering hundreds of gigabytes such that the system is a multi terabyte system from the day we launched it. So it is a very capable satellite system we are planning to use to transform connectivity across Africa and the World.
How would this impact on Nigerians and the economy in particular?
The whole purpose of our system is to work seriously within a mobile and carrier environment. The customers of our system will be the mobile operators and the carriers in Africa, in particular, and they will use 03B mPOWER to extend their network to the places that are hardest to reach and places that economically don’t make sense today.
What that means is that, particularly in the North of Nigeria where connectivity is nothing like it is in Lagos, for example, in those places, we will be able to deliver 100 megabytes of backhaul into the cell towers and do it affordably so that the mobile operators can deliver the same quality of network to the remotest of areas versus the performance that you typically get from mobile networks in the main cities.
That is the big advantage of our satellite. We can deliver the equivalent economics with the equivalent performance as a fibre network. In fact, we call this virtual fibre. We can deploy a mobile network entirely based on our satellite infrastructure without having to touch the terrestrial network.
What are the advantages of satellite over fibre, especially with Nigeria having made investments in submarine cables?
Firstly, a mobile operator or a telco is going to have to make use of all available technology so submarine cables, domestic fibre, microwave and 03B mPOWER, so it is part of the overall ecosystem and tools they are going to use to build a network. The most important difference is that with the submarine cable, it lands on a beach then has to find ways of distributing that capability to the rest of the country. As such what you tend to find is that connectivity is very good where the cable lands but further away you go from the cable’s landing station, the more expensive it is and the harder it is to deploy service.
For us, it is completely the opposite; it is just as easy for us to connect a town or village in the north of Nigeria as it is for us to connect downtown Lagos. Where 03B mPower becomes really interesting is where you get away from the major metro areas and cable landing stations and service still remains top notch.
Domestic fibre is only 70 percent available in Africa, what that means is that 30 percent of the time, a customer can suffer outage as a result of a domestic fibre being cut, power lines coming down, deliberate vandalism, there are all sorts of reasons domestic fibre gets interrupted in Africa.
We do not suffer any of that, we can deliver capacity and backhaul into any point in the network to provide service and that is the main difference between the 03B mPOWER system and the submarine cable system.
What is the worth of the global satellite market?
It is not big enough and our major objective is to dramatically expand the satellite market.
In fact, we do not really think of our system as a satellite system, obviously our infrastructure is principally satellite but we are a network provider and we are delivering networks to the MNOs using our satellite infrastructure.
We would also use terrestrial infrastructure to distribute our capabilities. One of our big problems or challenges for satellite is it has always been a niche industry, somewhat of a last resort for mobile operators and our intention is to make it a solution of first resort, something that the MNOs and telcos really embrace as part of their core network.
For operators in Nigeria, one obvious benefit is that now they can extend their network to all parts of Nigeria and achieve, in principle, 100 percent coverage by having an affordable backhaul they can rely on. What that means is that they will be able to roll out their 3G and 4G networks and ultimately their 5G networks to any part of Nigeria and have guaranteed access to backhaul. That is the most important benefit they will have today.
Ordinarily, network providers have a hard time planning their backhaul networks particularly as they get to places that are more remote because the cost of backhaul goes up with every kilometre away from the submarine cable. In our system that is not the case.
What is the target market and why launch at this time?
SES has been providing satellite-based services for the last 40 years and 03B has been delivering services across our low latency network for the last four years and this really marks a dramatic evolution in our capability.
So it is a step change and massive scaling up in the capability that we can bring. We have spent two years thinking of how we can deliver value to the mobile operators and telcos and this dramatic scaling in our capability now puts us firmly in a place where the telcos and MNOs can rely on our technology and services to deliver parts of their network.
Does this new solution allow for interoperability?
Yes. We are designing our customer edge terminals to be fully interoperable with the existing o3B constellation, our high group of satellite constellation at SES and with all the gear stationary satellites that are in orbit. But even more, we are designing our terminals to be fully inoperable with ground technology; microwave and fibre as well.
We will also be incorporating software, such as software defying networking, which allows our customers to root their traffic over the best power, something which is common now within mobile networks but not so common within satellite networks. And that is all part of the development and innovation that we are bringing to Nigeria and the rest of Africa.