Ten months after the takeoff explosion of a satellite that Eutelsat was to operate with Facebook destined for Africa, the satellite operator launched in early June the marketing of broadband internet services in a dozen African countries. The initial goal is to reach tens of thousands of people, before covering the entire continent.

This time it’s the right one. The satellite operator Eutelsat, which announced in October 2015 the launch of a project for access to high-speed Internet by satellite for sub-Saharan Africa, with Facebook in particular which wanted to extend its free Internet.org offer, had known a serious setback after the explosion of one of its satellites on takeoff on September 1, 2016.

But in recent days Konnect Africa, the subsidiary first named Broadband for Africa that Eutelsat has specifically created to extend the internet network in Africa, has finally launched its services in Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, in South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda.

To achieve this launch, the small team of a few dozen people who make up Konnect Africa have partnered with internet service providers in each of these countries, such as Bloosat and AfrikaNet in Cameroon.

Go where wired networks can’t

Objective: “Go where wired networks do not arrive,” says Laurent Grimaldi, CEO of Konnect Africa. Several services will be marketed by internet access providers using satellite speeds issued by Konnect Africa: individual and collective access for villages, Wi-Fi points, family and business offers.

Because while the continent now has nearly 281 million Internet users and a flourishing mobile internet, access to fixed internet in sub-Saharan Africa has remained low over the past ten years. Barely a tenth of sub-Saharan populations have access to it, while developed countries have increased their fixed internet coverage rate from less than 60% of the population in 2006 to more than 80% in 2014.

One of the foundations of the “digital exclusion” pointed out by the World Bank lies in a subscription price to Internet offers that is often still prohibitive. In the background, there is also the difficulty of overcoming the cost of building the “last 1,000 kilometers of infrastructure” that would bring the network to the end users.

Fixed Internet remains very expensive in Africa

“In Africa, being landlocked adds $ 232 to the average monthly cost of Internet access,” estimates the World Bank. The price of a high-speed internet connection (one megabit per second) in purchasing power parity is on average 206.61 dollars per month on the African coasts, against 438.82 dollars on average in the landlocked countries of Africa. continent. Figures compare to the $ 8.53 monthly cost on average in OECD countries.

For its part, Konnect Africa mentions “access to Wi-Fi points for a few cents of dollars”, “family offers for a few tens of dollars” and speeds of several tens of megabits per second. “We are an ideal complement to the fiber which will not go everywhere”, explains Laurent Grimaldi to Jeune Afrique.

Exit Facebook which is not associated with Konnect Africa due to the spectacular explosion at the Cape Canaveral base in Florida. However Eutelsat “hopes to continue its discussions” with the social network. At the end of 2016, Facebook estimated that there were 50 million users of Internet.org, a free Internet access service launched by Facebook two years ago in some 40 countries, half of them in Africa. The satellite, which failed to launch in September, was to help develop Internet.org.

Another satellite to cover Africa in 2019

Contacted by Jeune Afrique, Mark Zuckerberg’s firm did not indicate whether the launch of new satellites remained on the agenda of its African projects.

Founded in 1977 as a cooperative bringing together European states, Eutelsat launched its operations in Africa in the early 2000s, with coverage of French territories in the Indian Ocean. Four of its 39 orbiting satellites broadcast around 1,200 television channels in Africa. It is on this fleet of satellites that high-speed internet capacity has been marketed since June to Africa.

And Eutelsat does not intend to stop there. A new generation satellite aimed at serving the broadband internet market in Africa has already been ordered. It is scheduled to enter orbit in 2019. A potential market, according to Laurent Grimaldi, of “350 to 400 million people”.

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