Satellite Internet has a rosy future in South Africa

By Jacques Visser, Vox YahClick

Ten years ago, few people predicted that satellite would be the tool to finally solve the problem of connecting small towns and rural areas to broadband internet services — most people were betting on the cellular networks and microwave wireless technologies like WIMAX. The conventional wisdom said that satellite was just too expensive.

Conventional wisdom, as is so often the case, has been proved wrong. Dramatic advances in the core technologies have led to equally dramatic price drops, and satellite broadband is now the access method of choice for a growing number of South Africans.

This growth is likely to continue, despite the fact that we now have 200 times more landed cable capacity than we did five years ago and that cellular companies are rolling out LTE networks.

There are several reasons why satellite’s future is rosy. For one thing, it turns out that adding Internet capacity is like widening a road: You just attract more traffic. The current generation of 18-24 year olds expects to be online with streaming video everywhere, all the time, and the kids coming up behind them aren’t going to expect any less. There will always be demand for more bandwidth.

This is especially true in areas outside the main centres – where the information highway is narrower, more potholed and in some cases not even tarred. Where the Internet journey is slow and bumpy, people are desperate for an alternative.

For those people, satellite is going to continue being important. Having mega-broadband coming ashore near Cape Town is not the same as distributing it throughout the country, and the distribution is going to take a long time. People in smaller towns and rural areas shouldn’t bank on getting fibre connections anytime soon – and maybe never. The LTE network may never be financially viable outside the main centres; and microwave wireless, the only remaining alternative, is expensive and unreliable.

For all these reasons, broadband satellite is going to be a strong market contender for at least the next decade. For many people, there simply won’t be any other option; for others, the alternatives are not as reliable.

Satellite internet, once regarded as an expensive grudge purchase for those who had absolutely nothing else, has come of age. The cost is now competitive with terrestrial cable and cellular networks, it’s reliable and it can offer really attractive speed. We expect its prime to last a good long while.

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Satellite Internet has a rosy future in South Africa