Africa looks to the skies for connectivity – again

Africa looks to the skies for connectivity – again

Japanese telecommunications services and technology giant SoftBank has teamed up with the Smart Africa Secretariat, an alliance of 32 African countries, international organisations and global private sector players tasked with Africa’s digital agenda. They aim to work on an initiative to use non-terrestrial connectivity as a way of connecting remote or underserved regions of the continent.

A recently announced memorandum of understanding between the partners highlights plans for a collaboration on what are called innovative solutions towards achieving the vision of providing affordable broadband. The aim seems to be to bring together a number of existing approaches to satellite and high-altitude communications with an investment plan called the Bulk Capacity Purchase Project.

As part of Smart Africa’s strategy to double broadband penetration to 51 percent in Africa by 2025 it is working to implement the Bulk Capacity Purchase Project, an initiative that aims to deliver affordable internet connectivity for African citizens through the large-scale joint procurement efforts of Smart Africa member countries.

To contribute to the project, SoftBank will deploy its non-terrestrial network (NTN) solutions to reduce internet costs and build affordable internet infrastructure. 

SoftBank’s NTN solutions will utilize the connectivity services of satellite internet company OneWeb, satellite IoT business Skylo and HAPSMobile, an operator of high altitude platform station (HAPS) networks, among others, to provide connectivity from space and the stratosphere. SoftBank aims to deploy NTN solutions in African markets by collaborating with Smart Africa and working closely with its member countries.

Five African countries have already expressed interest in the Bulk Capacity Purchase Project: Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Rwanda.

How this plays out in practice will be interesting. Connectivity from high altitude could overcome the technical problem of traversing remote terrain and serving low population areas – if it can be done affordably.

However, one such initiative has already foundered on this issue. As we reported in January,  Alphabet pulled support from its internet-beaming balloon subsidiary Loon, after the company failed to find a financially stable business model.