The biggest debate at Satcom Africa 2007 has been whether there is enough bandwidth available to satisfy the growing demands of the continent. A Wednesday panel seemed to leave the impression that there will not be enough capacity to meet everyone’s needs in the future. But private conversations found far less concern.
The bigger issue for satellite service providers and users is rising transponder prices in the wake of the loss of the NSS-8 satellite. According to some industry officials responsible for procuring bandwidth over Africa, at least one major provider has raised prices since the SES New Skies satellite was lost in a January launch failure.
With many users already complaining of high transponder prices prior to any satellite losses, it will be interesting to see what the response will be to these price increases.
From listening to comments made during sessions and on the show floor at Satcom Africa 2007, the smaller satellite operators serving the African market are not afraid of the new fixed satellite services giants that have been formed in the recent round of sector consolidation. The smaller operators feel they are well established in the market and their flexibility in offering tailored capacity solutions will keep their current customers loyal as well as enable them to compete favorably for new business against the larger operators who may not be as willing to respond to specific customer demands. One operator even suggested that a consortium of the smaller operators working together would be more than a match for the larger operators. Of course, it will take several years to figure out whether there confidence is well founded or if they should have been afraid all along.
There was a reminder that Africa is a two-tiered continent when it comes to space services. During a presentation on HDTV, the presenter spoke glowlingly of the sharp, vivid pictures that HDTV could provide and how South Africa hoped to be ready to provide the service for its population before the World Cup arrives in 2010. This discussion seemed lost on a fair number of the audience, some of whom remained more concerned with simply providing basic telecommunications services to the populations of their countries rather than worrying about 720i versus 1080p.
The South African government’s first major space initiative, establishing a space agency, is suffering through a string of delays that usually accompany any space project.
The government has made noise about establishing its own space agency for several years, and in November, the country’s cabinet approved the establishment of the agency. Four months after that vote, the country is still “setting up” the agency, says Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena.
The vision is that the agency will coordinate and implement national space science and technology programs, thereby boosting the South African economy by creating more jobs.
The minister did not provide a timetable for when the agency would take shape or begin operations.
The high transponders prices in Africa already have jumped to the forefront of discussions at Satcom Africa 2007. During the opening speeches, an audience member opened a question and answer session with Alintuma Nsambu, Uganda’s minister of state for Information and Communications Technology by asking why Africans, “the poorest people on the planet,” pay the most for telecom services. The minister danced around the topic for a few minutes before ending the Q&A session on his own accord.
Satcom Africa 2007 opens as the continent prepares to move to the next level of membership in the space community, with the scheduled May launch of the Nigcomsat-1 communications and a separate satellite operated by RASCOM, slated to reach orbit before the end of 2007. Many nations in Africa continue to push satellite services as a way to raise the prestige of the government as well as the socio-economic status of the population. The launch of a pair of domestic communications spacecraft is seen by some as key to continuing these efforts by both bringing Africa into the fraternity of Fixed Satellite Services operators and by driving down the transponders prices throughout Africa. Those developments also are being closely watched by the traditional FSS operators, which have built healthy businesses providing capacity to African governments and commercial service providers.
These dreams and concerns are also influenced by another big topic for the show â€” the state of satellite regulations throughout Africa. While satellite sevices have improved the lives of many in Africa and helped many companies show a healthy bottom line, rules imposed by many governments continue to hamper the development of satellite-related businesses.
What do more satellites, more demand and more red tape mean for the satellite business in Africa? If you could not make the show, check the SatelliteToday.com blog regularly for the latest information.