The arrival of undersea fibre optic cable at the Kenyan coast on July 2009 marked a turning point in the country’s path to increased internet access.
It was a promising step in connecting Africa to the rest of the world with a high-speed Internet. Since then, the government through its ambitious National ICT Masterplan has rolled out over 6000km of optical fibre to major towns across the country.
Telcos and other service providers have invested billions is laying cables and developing supporting infrastructure to provide fast internet to customers across the country.
Eleven years after the first cable arrived, Internet speed is still a major issue especially for companies dealing with huge data. A spot check of Internet speeds reveals one of the most reliable providers charges about Sh11, 500 per month for 40Mbps.
The experience is nowhere close to what users in developed world get. In United Kingdom, where the writer currently studies, 200Mbps goes for an equivalent of Sh4,500 per month.
While the price difference may be because of several economic factors beyond my explanation, integration of satellite in service provision is a key technological difference.
Kenyan Internet service providers need to integrate satellites in a bid to increase speed and bring down data charges.
Slow speed and service interruption due to weather were some of the reasons for the abandonment of satellites in communication. However, this has changed with technological advancement.
Although the issue of atmospheric interference persists, major milestones have been achieved in overcoming it. High data speeds associated with new generation satellites has been a key driving force in their incorporation to the terrestrial architecture.
The roll out of the New Radio (NR) technologies such as 5G is strongly anchored around Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.
Why are they associated with high internet speeds compared to fibre optics?
Emerging communication satellites have a wide bandwidth compared to fibre. The wider the bandwidth, the more and faster data you can transfer up to a certain limit, just like a wider road allows more cars to pass by at ago.
Narrow bandwidth leads to low internet speeds. Communication satellites offer high bandwidth due to less restriction on the high frequency of transmission by the World’s regulator, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
For instance, the prototype Starlink satellites will operate at a bandwidth of 500MHz as per the fillings with ITU. The company has hinted the speed will be at 1Gbps.
Other operating satellite systems such as Canada’s Telesat operate at a minimum download speed of 50Mbps.
These examples explain the migration back to satellite broadband service and its incorporation to terrestrial architecture such as fibre optics.
The migration to higher speed Internet service is no longer a choice in the era of big data analytics. While alternatives exist for Kenya to achieve its digital transformation vision, communication satellites provide a scalable solution to augment its existing terrestrial infrastructure.
Their Integration can be extended to other applications such as voice data, television broadcasting and remote monitoring of critical infrastructure. The scalability of new generation communication satellites outweighs their high deployment costs.
Bonface Osoro is a postgraduate student at University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom with keen interest on Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communication, radar and navigation satellites