Why satellite is a better “off-grid” option
by Dr Dawie de Wet
Most network architects won’t actually consider satellite as an option. For them, the only alternative is LTE. The reason satellite is not considered an alternative is mainly due to bad past experiences and personal perceptions fuelled by old information or hearsay.
The satellite industry is a very specialised and niche industry and hence not part of the mainstream tech publications and info channels. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that just because you don’t know about the latest satellite technologies that it won’t work and is not an alternative.
The latest satellite solutions developed on High-Throughput-Satellites like the Intelsat EPIC range provide compelling cases in terms of cost and performance for “off-grid” services. When your business operation is “off-grid” and not connected to the fibre networks, or you need an on-demand service, then these latest satellite platforms can bridge the gap.
LTE vs Satellite
Since LTE, or other fixed wireless services, are generally considered the only alternative, we will position satellite vs LTE to provide reference and understanding.
This analysis is based on real customer case studies and actual satellite network deployments.
Cost. Surprisingly, satellite is not more expensive than 3G or LTE. Rain currently advertises fixed LTE services at 5c/MB or R50/GB. The Q-KON Twoobii service provides fixed-fee (uncapped) options at typically R45/GB with the added advantage that it is not capped.
Coverage. For LTE and fixed wireless services, site feasibility work must be completed to ensure that the location is within signal coverage and that the site deployment is feasible. This complicates the project costing and planning for large deployments. The Twoobii satellite service, based on HTS, is literally available everywhere; no signal variation, no need for different dish sizes, with all the locations at the same spec.
Installation costs. The satellite solution still needs a 1,2m dish installation, which can be more complicated than an LTE installation. For this reason, specialist satellite service providers like Q-KON have developed a network of field partners and we can offer a fixed fee (R3300) for installations anywhere in South Africa with an equipment charge of R570/month.
Speed. Currently, the satellite networks provide 10Mbps / 3Mbps data rates, which is lower than LTE services in good coverage. At the same time, 10Mbps is very much a workable option for most business data applications.
Reliability. There is no other technology that can meet the reliability of satellite services. Customer use cases have demonstrated 99,98% uptime over an installed base of 4500 sites and a 4 year period. These are impressive statistics and very difficult for any terrestrial-based technology to meet. For business-critical applications such as point-of-sale, there is simply no other alternative than satellite.
Recent developments in the satellite industry have positioned satellite products like Twoobii as a perfect alternative for “off-grid” business communication. While satellite will never be positioned to be a primary alternative for fibre networks, it is certainly an attractive business case for “off-grid” operations and on-demand use cases.
In May 2019, MyBroadband posted an article that quoted Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko saying that Telkom recently developed a roadmap concerning the proactive migration of customers to newer infrastructure.
“We are hoping that in the next five years we would have exited copper entirely,” Maseko said.
This means that if it is successful with its plan, Telkom’s operational network would primarily be comprised of mobile, LTE, and fibre technology.
At the same press event, Maseko continued to say that the company’s fixed broadband subscriber base – which includes ADSL and FTTH customers – decreased by 13.8% to 847,650 over the period and added that Telkom’s fixed LTE customer base now represents more than its historical peak ADSL user base. Interesting statistics, and indeed a fine achievement from a technology growth and future-ready strategy perspective.
Can LTE & Fibre replace ADSL?
From various press comments, we understand that Telkom’s aim is not merely to replace its aging ADSL infrastructure. Telkom is striving to implement an upgraded service and enable a wider digital economy. To provide this, a LTE network will typically operate with a range of 600m – 1km in service.
- Dr Dawie de Wet is CEO of Q-KON