Connecting the remote corners of Africa with satellite
Pieter Paul Mooijman, Regional VP Africa, ST Engineering iDirect discusses the role that satellite plays in connecting Africa.
We live in an era defined by speed and change. The emergence of the digital transformation is one of the industry’s top talking points, expected to revolutionize and change the way we live, work and communicate. Supporting more types of devices than ever before, new technologies are being developed to help make life easier and safer – with 5G playing a huge role in this – but this requires permanent availability combined with an instant connection to deliver real-time results.
With advanced broadband upon us, more and more use cases, devices and applications are being created to take advantage of new connectivity capabilities. As a result, broadband services are now more easily accessed in towns and cities, where the population density is higher, and investment is more readily available. However, for many people, broadband is still not easily accessible, if at all. This is especially true for rural areas in developing continents such as Africa.
According to Statista, almost 4.54 billion people were active internet users as of January 2020, which amounts to 59% of the global population. Although many of us consider the Internet of Things (IoT) to be a pivotal part of our daily lives, just under half of us do not have access and therefore cannot reap the benefits it brings. But there is a solution out there that can deliver broadband to even the most remote places on Earth – and that is satellite connectivity.
The digital divide
In continents such as Africa, access to high-speed, reliable broadband connectivity can significantly impact the quality of life and the economy. Connectivity has the power to stimulate socio-economic activity throughout the region, providing access to high demand applications, such as community Internet access and mobile backhaul. This includes public institutions which will also significantly benefit from dedicated services including education, healthcare and civil defence.
Satellite is an ideal solution to provide backbone connectivity to regions, such as Africa, that have limited access to a fibre or undersea cable infrastructure, or when the backbone link needs to cross regions that cannot be secure. Proving itself to be essential for any form of communication, it has the availability to reach even the remote corners of Africa, regardless of geographical barriers, and is a key enabler for a range of applications that will push connectivity access to more individuals than ever before.
There is also a revolution occurring within the satellite industry. Known as “Space 2.0”, demands for increased capacity and better coverage are driving innovation in GEO satellites and a lot of investment is being poured into Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbits (NGSO). The declining cost of launching satellites is fueling the deployments of new LEO constellations in orbit.
The characteristics of the MEO and LEO orbits, with their overall improved latency compared to GEO, means service providers have more flexibility to provide innovative service. Leveraging the digital payloads means satellite operators can create dynamic coverage anywhere on earth at throughputs we’ve only dreamt of. As a result, we will see a whole new host of use-cases which will leverage hybrid terrestrial and satellite connectivity, as well as multi-orbit connectivity solutions which satellite operators, satellite service providers and telcos will leverage to create new value for their customers. At ST Engineering iDirect, our opportunity is to provide them with a ground segment solution which can leverage all of these new orbits and allow customers to leverage the technology seamlessly in their networks.
A solution in satellite
Newtec and ST Engineering iDirect – who are both specialists in the designing, developing and manufacturing of equipment and technologies for satellite communications – joined forces last year to combine Newtec’s innovations in performance and efficiency with iDirect’s innovations in networking and mobility.
ST Engineering iDirect offers a feature-rich portfolio that can match the right technology to the right business at the right cost, no matter what the customer requirements, as well as a magnitude of change in market access that enables them to move far into the future.
The new, unified company is setting a new benchmark for performance, efficiency and scalability, exceeding expectations. ST Engineering iDirect is enabling interoperability to secure the future – offering adaptable, hybrid solutions that give customers throughout Africa the competitive advantage in a converged world, unlocking new applications and providing access to new markets and revenue streams.
As one of Africa’s leading independent data, voice and IP providers, Liquid Telecom is already taking advantage of the benefits that the new portfolio brings. The company deployed the Newtec Dialog® platform to expand and improve the organization’s current VSAT services with more applications and features for both current and new customers. Liquid Telecom is also using Dialog to expand its service portfolio towards new markets, in a cost-effective way.
Additionally, Liquid also deployed iDirect’s Universal Satellite Hub at its teleport in Johannesburg, South Africa, along with the next-generation iQ Desktop remotes to offer Layer 2 VPLS connectivity across both fibre and satellite on a single network. The offering provides a complete, end-to-end solution for VSAT integrators and corporate customers that will deliver more reliable, consistent and cost-effective broadband for users across any network.
The Newtec Dialog platform, which is a single-service and multiservice VSAT solution, provides operators and service providers with the means to build and adapt their infrastructure and satellite networking according to business or missions at hand. The Dialog platform also provides revolutionary Mx-DMA® technology and the latest release sets a new benchmark for network performance and efficiency. The Mx-DMA technology combines the benefits of two traditional satellite return link technologies, SCPC and TDMA, and ensures that all the traffic is accommodated at each remote base station while multiplexing the bandwidth very efficiently between these remotes to decrease the backhaul operating costs.
Ensuring Africa is future-ready
As connectivity demands continue to reach unprecedented levels year on year, Africa needs to ensure that it is ready for the future. By connecting schools and communities with sustainable broadband, e-learning initiatives can be launched, enabling the potential of millions across Africa. With the additional challenge of vast rural areas, satellite is the ideal solution to deploy this connectivity quickly and cost-effectively.
ST Engineering iDirect is unlocking tremendous flexibility and scale so broadband operators can deliver a broader range of service levels at a lower cost structure without compromise. Opening up many corners of the world, such as Africa, is the company’s ground segment technology that will be integral for the future success of satellite connectivity, today and tomorrow.
For more information on business topics in Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Africa.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”