SES Astra, the European company that has a 20% stake in new MultiChoice rival, On Digital Media, plans to spend as much as R2bn bringing new satellite capacity, including broadband Internet access, to markets across Africa.
It plans to use this capacity to provide direct-to-home television services and to position itself as a competitor in broadband, potentially offering Internet access at prices that rival terrestrial players.
SES Astra chief commercial officer Alexander Oudendijk (pictured) says the company will launch a new satellite, Astra 4B, in the second half of 2011 to serve the African continent. The satellite will increase the number of available transponders from six to 30 at a cost of between R1,5bn and R2bn.
Astra 4B was commissioned from Loral in October 2008 and will have a lifetime of 15 years from its commencement of service next year.
SES Astra’s broadband product, which will be sold through independent Internet service providers, will offer download speeds of 1Mbit/s. This will be increased over time, says Oudendijk. Already, SES Astra offers 4Mbit/s services in Eastern Europe.
Though he says SES Astra has no control over retail prices, consumers in Europe typically pay between €25/month and €50/month, making it comparable in cost to fixed-line alternatives. A satellite modem costs about €250 and users will need to install an 80-100cm satellite dish with interactive low-noise block converters.
Oudendijk says the market opportunity for satellite broadband in Africa is immense given the poorly developed fixed-line infrastructure. The initial target market for the broadband product consists of small and medium enterprises and “households that feel they need broadband connectivity and can afford it”.
The service will also be offered at Internet kiosks, some of which will be paid for by sponsors and nongovernmental organisations.
The service will be launched in SA, though SES Astra isn’t able to provide a firm date yet. – Duncan McLeod, TechCentral