MzansiSat promises data at R25/GB from planned SA satellite - TechCentral

MzansiSat promises data at R25/GB from planned SA satellite

Victor Stephanopoli

MzansiSat, a new South African venture to build a telecommunications satellite serving the African continent, plans to offer wholesale data to Internet service providers at as little as R25/GB, or even less, when it is launched in a few years’ time.

Victor Stephanopoli, the venture’s chief operating officer, said the shareholders, which include Stellenbosch-based StellSat and Europe’s BalkanSat, have begun seeking additional investors for the project, and will deploy the C-band and Ku-band satellite in geostationary orbit in the 56°E orbital slot over the equator. MzansiSat is headed by CEO Bart Cilliers, who was intimately involved in the SunSat project.

Stephanopoli said all satellite telecoms capacity in South Africa is currently provided by operators based internationally, and that there is big scope to reduce prices. “They charge a premium on satellite connection fees. That’s the key argument as to why we are doing this. Many areas in South Africa are not even connected to the Internet.”

Once deployed, the satellite will serve retail consumers, businesses, the agriculture sector and government for remote medicine and e-learning. It will also provide 5G network backhaul and offer connectivity for so-called Internet of things devices. MzansiSat is now involved in discussions with potential investors, though the company can’t say yet who it’s talking to.

The company will provide wholesale transponder capacity to whoever needs it, Stephanopoli said. “We are not an ISP and will not provide the ground-based networks.”

It will work with ISPs and telecoms operators to supplement existing their broadband offerings.

Though the cost of the project is yet to be determined, Stephanopoli said geostationary satellites of the kind MzansiSat wants to deploy typically costs between US$325-million and $450-million, including launch, operations, insurance and ground stations.

The venture is keen to have as many South African shareholders and investors as possible, and to keep it South African-owned and -managed.

Technical partner

The satellite will be built by French company Thales Alenia Space, which is serving as the project’s technical partner and will co-ordinate the launch.

Though latency — or network round-trip times — for satellite Internet is typically high (on paper, about 235-255ms for a geostationary satellite), this is unlikely to be an issue for most users, Stephanopoli said. In many cases, end-user customers will be in parts of the country where existing telecoms infrastructure is limited or even non-existent.

BalkanSat will provide an orbital resource for the satellite, though MzansiSat would like the South African government to assist it by freeing up a secondary orbital position, he said. “This will allow us to double the size of the satellite, offering 76 transponders in the C- and Ku-bands.”

Stephanopoli said MzansiSat is aiming to launch the satellite within the next three to four years. — © 2018 NewsCentral Media