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Satellite Ultra-Broadband

Africa, a new growth opportunity?
Satellite Ultra-Broadband in Europe & Africa

IDATE has just published its study “Satellite Ultra-Broadband in Europe & Africa” which explores the latest developments in broadband and ultra-fast broadband markets in Europe and Africa. After a detailed examination of the dynamics of these areas, in both fixed and mobile markets, the report delivers strategic and figure-backed responses to the question of the current and future role of satellite in the race to deploy broadband and ultra-fast broadband. The report comes with its own database including the set of indicators analyzed for all the areas studied.

Maxime Baudry, project manager of this study and co-header of the satellite practice at DigiWorld IDATE, shares his point of view about the actual situation of the Satellite Ultra-Broadband:

“Satellite technology has made enormous progress in recent years, boosting the average downlink speed from 3 Mbps in 2008 to 10-18 Mbps in 2012, and raising traffic caps from 2 GB to 10-20 GB (in some cases even unlimited). It thus seems set to even tackle DSL gray zones, which only a few years ago seemed inaccessible.”

He adds: “On the ultra-fast broadband front, however, satellite is lagging behind: while large-scale rollouts of FTTx and LTE, and even LTE-Advanced between 2012 and 2020 will offer observed download speeds of 30-70 Mbps (and even 200-300 Mbps with LTE-Advanced), the most advanced satellite developments make it possible to supply “only” 50 Mbps, and even then not before 2015 at the earliest. To be able to offer such speeds, satellite technology may well switch to frequency bands even higher than the Ka band.”

Africa, a new growth opportunity?

  • Africa’s fixed broadband market is still extremely limited, with an average density of 3.4% of households in the region at end-2011.

  • With limited fixed infrastructures, operators are focusing all their efforts on mobile broadband, often only deployed in the most profitable urban areas.

  • Over the past three years, however, the region has seen major rollouts of underwater cables, boosting subscriber speeds. Africa’s capacity at end-2011 is estimated at 22 Tbps versus 4 Tbps at end-2009.

  • Satellite ultra-broadband remains a tough market in most countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, where barriers to entry remain very high, such as low ARPUs, poor literacy rates (30% to 40% of the population), low electrification (10% of the rural population) and low PC penetration (often below 5% of households)

  • Extremely high equipment prices caused by high customs barriers remain a major handicap.

  • Against this backdrop, only a few countries seem to present any real short-term potential: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and countries in North Africa.

Promising market outlooks

IDATE estimates that between 2012 and 2016 the number of satellite broadband subscribers in Europe will increase by 29% annually.

Africa will post the sharpest growth, a region where the telecoms infrastructure is much more restricted than in Europe. We estimate that the launch of solutions costing 20-30 EUR a month in Africa, such as YahClick and IP Easy, are likely to attract a tier-one clientele with incomes well above the majority of the population, eager to acquire a fixed broadband access solution that is superior to traditional landline connection and often at a cheaper price (excluding the expensive equipment cost which, at around 600 EUR, is inflated by customs barriers). However, areas of uncertainty remain in this market, especially over the future technical and economic performance of fixed infrastructures after the deployment of numerous underwater cable and terrestrial backbone projects funded by the World Bank.

Eastern Europe, the market that seemed to offer most potential at the outset, has failed to take off, with subscriber bases remaining very limited. Several reasons explain this failure: it is a tough market with extremely low ARPUs, making it hard for satellite services operators to make sufficient profits. Also, most countries have invested in mobile infrastructures (LTE already deployed in many countries, including Hungary, Lithuania and Poland), sidelining satellite. Lastly, operator distribution networks revolve around small business operations, while in Western Europe they usually rely on major operators such as Orange, SFR, Swisscom and Deutsche Telekom.

Western Europe has not seen very high growth either. Two countries, France and Germany, continue to make up most of the subscriber base, while operators have managed to boost subscriber numbers quickly via government programs to reduce the digital divide, such as Avanti in Scotland and Eutelsat in Italy. The German market though does now seem to be losing subscribers to other technologies, particularly LTE deployed in rural parts of the country.

Project manager

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