Home >> November 2007 Edition >> Safeguarding the Evolving West African Satellite Solution
Safeguarding the Evolving West African Satellite Solution
by, Martin Jarrold, Chief of International Program Development, GVF

Approximately one year ago, in an article entitled Evolving New Satellite Connections for West Africa, I wrote of West Africa’s command of center-stage position in the rapid development of the African continent’s telecoms arena. I pointed out that this had largely resulted from unprecedented levels of private sector demand for satellite-based voice, data and video solutions. I am pleased to be able to report one year later that the trend continues. This is the reason why the GVF will be further expanding its activities in the region during the fourth quarter of 2007.

The 3rd Annual West Africa Satellite Communications Summit (WASCS3) has been confirmed for November 20th and 21st of this year and will take place at The Protea Hotel Oakwood Park in Lagos, the commercial capital and heart of Nigeria. WASCS3 will again be jointly organized by GVF and UK-EMP. The focus will be on the latest developments in the evolutionary deployment of satellite broadband networking to serve the leading commercial and enterprise verticals of the region.

A surge of new satellite capacity has stimulated market growth on the continent. This is particularly due to the successful launch of the Nigerian owned and operated NigComSat-1 geostationary satellite in May 2007, as well as in anticipation of the results of the recent acceleration of the RASCOM satellite program. The West Africa region is increasingly at the focus of state-of-the-art satellite-based communications, with broadband satellite services assuming an even stronger leading role in the regional socio-economic development agenda.

As the West African private sector continues to seize upon the strategic ICT efficiencies afforded by satellite-based solutions, and while the public sector has been moving to facilitate service providers’ efforts through market liberalization and regulatory advances, such leading regional verticals as the oil and gas industry, the banking sector, and enterprise & distribution, will be given particular focus at WASCS3.

Taking the example of just one of these important regional verticals, and recognizing the fact that the oil & gas industry grows ever more reliant on satellite delivered ICT applications, the WASCS3 program will include a range of themed discussion on such exploration & production sector ICT imperatives as:

  • Broadband Satellite: Enhancing Oil & Gas Sector Vertical Communications
  • Enabling the Digital Oilfield
  • Planning & Implementing Roadmap Operation Support Centers
  • OSC for Drilling Operations
  • Collaborative Visualization Environments
  • Remote Collaboration Solutions
  • Global Connectivity – Reliability for Operations Support
  • Wireless Connectivity Solutions – Real World Implementation

The original commissioning of the NigComSat-1 spacecraft to service the now rapidly accelerating requirement for cost-effective connectivity within the West Africa region and the continent, as well as between Africa and Europe. Such reflects a universal recognition that access to information and knowledge through affordable communications represents a significant opportunity for social and economic development, for regional cooperation and integration, and for increasing the participation of people in the emerging global information society. Across all regions of Africa, the imperative of overcoming the barriers to, and fixing the manifold current deficiencies in, the means of access to low-cost communication services is top of the agenda. This is true for both improving the quality of life in African countries and for significantly enhancing the mission-critical, productivity capabilities of a range of African vertical markets – including, though by no means exclusively, oil and gas.

There’s always a however…

Now, just as these evolutionary trends are combining to create a communications marketplace that brings satellite-based solutions even more into their own, a new and potentially damaging development has arisen – parts of the radio communications spectrum that are an essential resource in continuing to challenge Africa’s digital divide, and provide its key verticals with imperative communications solutions, are under threat.

All around the world, the ‘standard’ (3.7 to 4.2 GHz) and ‘extended’ (3.4 to 3.7 GHz) C-band frequencies have been identified for use by new terrestrial broadband wireless services, as well as for the deployment of next generation terrestrial mobile.

Satellite systems that operate in these frequency ranges are suffering substantial interference, sometimes to the point of system failure. This is occurring in places where national administrations are allowing Broadband Wireless Access systems such as Wi-Fi and Wi-Max to share the same spectrum bands already being used to provide satellite services. The same scenario will happen if 3G and the planned 4G mobile systems (also referred to as IMT systems) are allowed to use the frequencies used in the C-band for satellite downlink services.

Antennas, which receive satellite downlink signals in the C-band, are, by necessity, extremely sensitive devices. They are designed to receive a low-power signal emitted by small transmitters located in orbit 36,000 km above the equator. In the C-band, satellite services have co-existed with domestic microwave links and radar for many years. This is because the latter systems operate via tightly focused beams from fixed points, and de-confliction can take place when necessary.

By contrast, terrestrial wireless applications are, by definition, ubiquitous and increasingly mobile/nomadic. Mobile and base stations for terrestrial wireless applications emit simultaneous signals from many locations, in all directions. They are powerful enough to saturate the sensitive C-band satellite receiving systems, causing a potential for total loss of service.

Government administrations across the African continent are in a powerful position to counter this development. They can also guarantee continued access to a multitude of satellite-based applications, the key to the continued economic advance of millions of people.

It is critical for Africa, as well as elsewhere, that governments and spectrum management authorities recognize the very real damage caused, and tremendous threat posed, to satellite services by use of the Standard C and Extended C-bands for terrestrial wireless systems. Now, in the build-up to the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07) in Geneva, the satellite industry is keenly focused on influencing the opinion and positions of the governments of Africa, and elsewhere. Such will determine the future viability of satellite C-band. GVF will be in Geneva, and with many other organizations, will be lobbying the member nations of the ITU not to re-allocate C-band, thus maintaining it for essential and existing services.

Similarly, the peoples of West Africa and the African continent should right now be actively lobbying their national administrations to support the “No Change” position on C-band frequency allocation. The future of a further developing and viable communications infrastructure, based on satellite all the way across the continent, is at stake.

If you would to access more information on the “No Change” position on C-band, please visit http://www.no-change.info

Martin Jarrold joined the GVF in June lf 2001 and was appointed to the position of Chief of International Programme Development. Prior to joining the GVF, Mr. Jarrold was Commissioning Editor and Head of Research for Space Business International magazine.