Agence Ecofin TikTok Agence Ecofin Youtube Agence WhatsApp


Satellite telecoms: Overcoming connectivity barriers across Africa

Monday, 06 May 2024 16:24
Satellite telecoms: Overcoming connectivity barriers across Africa

(Ecofin Agency) - Whether geostationary or in low Earth orbit, telecommunication satellites can provide better coverage across the planet, offering African telecom operators an alternative to fill network coverage gaps and reach more people.

According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) report "The Mobile Economy 2024," published in March 2024, communication satellites could assist telecom operators and internet service providers in improving service coverage in Africa.

12345article isaac revu

GSMA states that telecoms networks now cover more than 95% of the world's population but less than 45% of the world's landmass. “Satellites and (non-terrestrial networks) NTNs are well suited to deliver connectivity in maritime, remote and polar areas where deploying conventional terrestrial networks could be costly and challenging”. Progress in satellite and NTN solutions over recent years has improved performance, reduced deployment costs, and developed more viable business models, leading to new partnerships with telecom operators that could reshape the connectivity landscape.

African telecom operators are increasingly exploring satellite solutions

MTN Group revealed in December 2023 that it was exploring partnerships with low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite companies, including Lynk Global, AST SpaceMobile, Starlink, Eutelsat OneWeb, and Omnispace. The company has opted for two distinct approaches. One allows the operator to receive signals from satellites at its telecom sites before redistributing services to customers. The other, called "Direct to Device (D2D)," enables direct connection of the customer's mobile device to the satellite.

“For telecoms operators, D2D satellite offers access to new customers in underserved areas and the ability to provide connectivity for emergency services and existing customers where a terrestrial signal is not available,” the GSMA report reads.

6789article isaac revu

The document also mentions a growing number of partnerships between telecom operators and satellite companies across continents and use cases, including rural coverage and disaster relief. Commercial satellite services are expected to intensify in the next 12 months.

In Africa, agreements have been made between OneWeb (now Eutelsat OneWeb) and telecom operators Airtel Africa and Orange in November 2022 and March 2023, respectively, to extend service coverage using the satellite operator's LEO constellation. Airtel recently launched a new satellite connectivity solution named "Airtel Satellite," to be expanded to other countries where the company operates.

In September 2023, Vodafone announced an agreement with Amazon ("Project Kuiper") to expand 4G and 5G service coverage in Africa. The agreement includes Vodacom, the British telecom company's subsidiary, which had previously signed a similar deal with American company AST SpaceMobile in December 2020.

Telecel Group announced in April 2023 an agreement with Lynk Global Inc. to provide direct satellite phone services to subscribers in Ghana, even in rural areas. Openserve, the fiber-optic subsidiary of South African telecom company Telkom, also partnered with Intelsat to modernize approximately 900 telecom sites.

These partnerships with telecom operators are expected to strengthen competition on the African telecommunications market and accelerate service adoption by populations. According to GSMA data, Sub-Saharan Africa had 489 million unique mobile subscribers in 2022, with a penetration rate of only 43%. The number of internet service users stood at 287 million, representing 25% of the region's population. In North Africa, the mobile phone service penetration rate was 67% in 2022.

African governments recognize the opportunity satellite telecoms represent in bridging the digital divide. However, they require foreign companies like Starlink to comply with existing regulatory requirements to obtain operating licenses. The U.S. company is subject to bans in the countries where its service is used, even though it has not yet launched commercial activities there.

In Zimbabwe, the government is considering partnerships with several satellite internet service providers to expand services and reduce costs. Tatenda Mavetera, Zimbabwe’s Minister of ICTs emphasizes the challenges faced by landlocked countries, stating that the mere transfer of data from its source incurs costs. Mavetera suggests exploring alternative methods, including satellite companies, to address these challenges, stressing the need for diversity in options beyond relying solely on one company like Starlink.

In Cameroon, authorities are cautious about Starlink's arrival, fearing it could threaten Camtel, the state-owned telecom operator. “We know that in Cameroon, Camtel is the incumbent operator. It's the only one competent to manage transport infrastructures. If Camtel doesn't wake up and perform, Starlink will sweep it away,” Minette Libom Li Likeng, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, said, stressing that the Cameroon market is open, but regulated.



Public Management

ECOFIN AGENCY offers a selection of articles translated from AGENCE ECOFIN. Founded in 2011, Agence Ecofin is a leader in Francophone Pan-African economic news, particularly in West and Central Africa. The agency publishes daily news on nine African economic sectors: Public Management, Finance, ICT, Agribusiness, Energy, Mining, Transport & Logistics, Communication, and Training.

Mediamania Sarl
Rue du Léman, 6
1201 Genève
Tél: +41 22 301 96 11


Benjamin FLAUX
Tél: +41 22 301 96 11
Mob: +41 78 699 13 72


Please publish modules in offcanvas position.