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What tech comes out tops for SA’s broadband needs? Fibre vs. satellite

With more and more South African neighbourhoods receiving the infrastructure necessary for fibre connectivity, the question that the average South African should be asking is: how does it compare to satellite in meeting the country’s needs for inclusive, affordable and reliable internet access?

MzansiSat Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Bernard Greyling, says fibre is by far the fastest technology available at the moment. “However, the more fibre systems we deploy in South Africa, the slower the broadband provided by these networks will become as they begin to buckle under the pressure of increased demand.”

“The technology is also extremely difficult to install and maintain because the fibre networks still require a physical plug-in, meaning that cables need to be laid. These cables are made of glass and are really fragile so, if they break, the infrastructure needs to be repaired through the same painstaking process required to lay the cables in the first place – often involving the digging up of roads and walkways.”

What’s more, Greyling highlights that not everyone will have access to fibre technology in the short- or long-term. “The fibre privilege is reserved for only about 25% of the South African market.”

“Fibre providers require buy-in from enough subscribers in any given area for it to be financially viable for them to consider offering the service to the community. This rules-out those who live in more secluded or hard to access areas as well as people whose neighbours simply don’t want to invest in the technology. Even those who do have access to fibre broadband still look to other service providers for their mobile connection.”

“Ultimately, as an inclusive, long-term broadband solution for the South African market, fibre isn’t the viable option. With current advances in local satellite technology, however, satellite broadband is,” he says.

With the primary goal of connecting South Africa to the world through new infrastructure, MzansiSat has developed the concept of a satellite by Africans, for Africans. The innovators behind the idea hope to receive government buy-in to launch the first satellite – MzansiSat-1 – into space and debut their offering to the African market in 2022. This locally developed satellite technology will have the ability to deliver cheap and widespread broadband capabilities, as Greyling explains, “We’re trying to connect everybody and give them access to the information and opportunities that come with online connectivity.”

Noting that a common misconception is that satellite broadband is very expensive, he explains that this is true but only when looking at the rates of current mobile service providers. “With no really competitive offering in this market, these operators add extraordinary mark-ups to their service costs. However, a local satellite broadband provider, like MzansiSat, could offer fast, accessible and reliable connectivity at an affordable price whilst saving on these mobile connectivity costs.”

“The offering therefore can’t be compared to fibre which, while cheaper, doesn’t provide users with the same access. Fibre is, after all, still linked back to plugs and cables, whereas with satellite broadband, as long as you can see the sky, you are connected.”

Greyling concludes that MzansiSat’s proposed inclusive satellite broadband service would be a first for the South African market but it is essential for widespread, equal connectivity. “It can be implemented in a way which is affordable and scalable, delivering fast and reliable service that connects Africa to the world.”

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