Connecting the Unconnected: How Satellite Bridges the Digital Divide

Steve Collar, CEO of SES

November 2015 was a turning point for the West African country of Burkina Faso. More than 3 million citizens turned out to cast ballots in a presidential and legislative election that has been widely recognized as a critical moment in that country’s development.

SES Networks and its advanced satellite technology played a significant role in that pivotal event. Working with Commission Electorale Nationale Independante, Burkina Faso’s electoral commission, and other partners, SES provided a satellite broadband solution that enabled the secure digital transmission of the electoral results. Electoral district offices equipped with VSAT stations enabled the transmission of votes to the central election site in the capital city of Ouagadougou, and allowed the country’s public television station to broadcast results on a near real-time basis, ensuring that citizens could follow the elections regardless of where they were located.

The Power of Connectivity

The Burkinabe elections are a key example of how broadband connectivity has played – and continues to play – a major role in the political, economic and social development of emerging markets. The World Bank has projected that raising Internet penetration to 75% of the population in all developing countries would add up to US$2 trillion to their collective GDP, and increasing access to broadband connectivity would pave the way for improvements in education, healthcare and job creation, particularly in remote and impoverished areas. Yet according to the World Bank only about 35% of the population in developing countries has access to the Internet, versus about 80% in more developed markets.

Too often the very regions that can benefit the most from broadband connectivity are those with the least access to it, due largely to the cost of deploying terrestrial networks. Satellite operators such as SES are essential for closing that digital divide and expanding the availability of affordable and timely broadband connectivity in countries such as Burkina Faso. The ubiquity and resilience of satellite technology makes it the optimal solution to bring connectivity to the world’s most remote and hard-to-reach regions. A few examples:

  • Danish company Bluetown delivers a managed WiFi solution – using SES satellite capacity – to provide broadband services for wind energy plants in remote areas of Brazil
  • Mobile operator Digicel Pacific is partnering with SES Networks to deliver high-speed broadband residents of Papua New Guinea via SES’s O3b Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites
  • Satellite technology is being used to ensure the resilience of digital infrastructure by providing a diverse communications path, particularly in times of emergency or disasters, such as when a subsea cable from Fiji to Tonga failed earlier this year and in Mozambique after the recent cyclones

A Bridge to the Future

New High Throughput Satellites (HTS) – using a variety of frequency bands and satellite orbits – make satellite connectivity even more valuable to emerging markets by dramatically increasing the supply of bandwidth and reducing the cost-per-bit. For example, SES MEO constellation can provide high-throughput, fiber-like connectivity to anywhere in Africa, including landlocked areas far from submarine cable landing points. Similarly, our HTS geostationary satellites support bandwidth-heavy applications in emerging markets.

High-speed, low-latency broadband communications have the potential to transform communities, economies and lives. The cost and complexity of deploying terrestrial networks means that too many regions are at risk of being left behind. Satellite technology can help mitigate that risk, providing a bridge across the digital divide to ensure that high-quality, reliable connectivity is available to those who need it most.

Steve Colar

Steve Collar was appointed CEO of SES in April 2018. He had been the CEO of SES Networks since May 2017. Prior to SES Networks, he was CEO of O3b Networks and guided the company through the successful build and launch of its constellation of state-of-the-art satellites. In 2015, O3b Networks became the fastest growing satellite operator in history. In 2016, O3b was fully acquired by SES and now forms an integral part of SES Networks.
Steve is a satellite industry veteran, having previously worked in a variety of commercial, business development and technical roles at SES WORLD SKIES, New Skies Satellites, Astrium and Matra Marconi Space (now Airbus), and is a British national.

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