Terrestrial interests lost their attempt to gain access to C-band spectrum but were able to get several countries around the globe, including many in Africa, to allow WiMax deployments as long as they do not interfere with satellite operations. This allowed the terrestrial players to claim a measure of victory in their battle with the satellite industry, and it looks as if WiMax players believe they ultimately will win the battle.
According to Rob Kubik of Motorola and the WiMax Forum, more than 90 countries have issued licenses for WiMax deployments, and the industry is ready to move forward in Africa. â€œWeâ€™re not really at war, but the reality is that WiMax will be deploying in [C-band].â€
It doesnâ€™t make sense that countries that are dependent on satellite services would make way for widespread WiMax deployments that could interfere with satellite operations. But it looks as if the terrestrial players may be winning the marketing war with African governments in terms of which technology will be able to provide affordable communications services.
Satellite players need to do a better job of countering the â€œWiMax hype,â€ according to one pro-satellite speaker, but it could also be that many African governments are willing to take a chance on another technology rather than continue to wait for satellite players to live up to their promises.
The best panel of the show featured a debate between satellite operators (the ones that bothered to show up, but more about that later) and their customers that serve the African market. The satellite operators said all the capacity they have is being snapped up, and they simply have nothing else to offer.
But this explanation did not pacify customers. Peter Bretherick, managing director of Telemedia of South Africa, said he wants to buy more capacity but he sometimes even has problems getting the satellite operators to return his calls. â€œThe satellite operators are getting too big,â€ he said. â€œWe would welcome new players to the market.â€
There are new players willing to enter the African market, but according to Shawkat Ahmed, chief commercial officer for Yahsat, they new companies are being hampered by the operating practices of the established operators. Yahsat has two satellites under development and would like to order a third, but there is not any spectrum available over Africa. The established operators hold many of the orbital slots and spectrum and have filed plans for spacecraft, but they have not yet put anything in orbit. These â€œpaper satellitesâ€ are keeping companies that want to put real spacecraft in orbit from doing so, Ahmed said.
The best question that could not be answered: Why did T. Ahmed-Rufai, CEO of Nigcomsat, not show up for the panel? He was listed in the program and was reported to have been seen on the show floor prior to the panel, but he did not make it to the stage.
(First, a quick apology. A series of power outages and Internet connection problems threw us a bit off schedule. From our perspective, there is no doubt of the need for improved communications capabilities in South Africa. We’ll catch up on some posts today.)
Undersea cables are receiving a lot of attention, with Alintuma Nsambu of the Ministry of State for ICT for Uganda bringing up the topic during his opening statements and noting that African governments are seeking such alternatives for providing communications services because â€œsatellites are regarded as an old and expensive technology.â€ And Seacom is laying out its plans to attendees for a fiber-optic cable connecting the East Coast of Africa to Europe.
Some satellite operators view the terrestrial alternatives not as competitors but as welcome additions to the communications landscape that will help all providers. Flavien Bachabi, Intelsatâ€™s regional vice president for Africa, said undersea cables will complete the fleet of the worldâ€™s largest communications satellite operator. â€œOur role would be to bring traffic from the landlocked countries to the cables,â€ he said. â€œWhere we have landing points, we have seen more demand for our services.â€
But Seacom representatives do not see it that way, indicating that once their cable is operational, satellite will not be needed in that region of Africa. Apparently Seacom has come not to praise satellite but to bury it.
For years, the loudest complaints raised by attendees at Satcom Africa have been over the perceived high cost of transponder capacity. The opening session of the 2008 show was not different, compelling a representative from one global operator in the audience to defend the prices offered by the major players. â€œA great deal of effort has been made by satellite operators to lower transponder prices,â€ the official said. â€œâ€¦ Show me what else we are supposed to do.â€
The audience had a chance to press the issue when Jones Killimbe, CEO and director general of Rascom, and T. Ahmed-Rufai, CEO and managing director of Nigcomsat, took the stage for their panel. But instead of raising the same question to the domestic operators, the pair was acknowledged for placing the first African-operated satellites in orbit and received a round of applause. The toughest questions they faced were about when they would be launching their next satellites â€” admittedly an important question for Killimbe, since the Rascom satellite is facing an extremely shortened lifespan.
Quite frankly, the pair was treated much better than their international counterparts have been in the past. Apparently continental pride trumps cost concerns.
Satcom Africa 2008 opens with the same question that dominated the 2007 show and remains the major concern for satellite players and citizens throughout the continent: When will transponder prices drop enough to foster widespread growth of communications services? But there is one difference in the 2008 debate â€” for the first time, a pair of domestic satellite operators will present their views on the situation.
Jones Killimbe, CEO and director general of Rascom, and T. Ahmed-Rufai, CEO and managing director of Nigcomsat, will take the stage to tackle questions about high transponder prices that international operators have faced during their appearances at previous shows. The task facing the two African satellite operators is explaining how much of an impact, if any, their respective satellites will have on a market that remains dominated by the international players.
Check back later to find out how Killimbe and Ahmed-Rufai fared.