Nigeria: Nigcomsat - Gateway to Digitalising Africa?

Technology & Convergence

With the successful launch of Nigeria 's Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT in far away China, Efem Nkanga, appraises the benefits and implications of the historical launch for Nigeria in particular and the African continent as a whole. Nigeria made history last week when it launched a satellite project that will revolutionise telecommunications, broadcasting and broadband multimedia services in Nigeria and Africa.

The project called Nigeria Satellite communications, NIGCOMSAT is an icing on the cake to the tremendous gains made in the telecoms sector and a testimony to the benefits of the liberalisation of the telecoms sector spearheaded by President Olusegun Obasanjo six years ago.

That a feat has been achieved can only be appreciated against the backdrop of where Nigeria as a nation is coming from. From a connected network position of less than four hundred lines six years ago, the nation's connected lines has jumped to an amazing 38 million lines, making it the fastest growing market in Africa and the third fastest in the world.

Now with the launch of NIGCOMSAT, carrier rocket, Long March 3-B, which blasted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province and entered the orbit accurately on May 14, the stage is set for Nigeria to consolidate on its growing profile as the technological hub of Africa and an emerging player in the global terrain.

That NIGCOMSAT is the first communications satellite for Nigeria and the first of its kind in Africa is not in doubt. NIGCOMSAT, is a super hybrid geo-stationary satellite designed to operate in Africa, parts of the Middle East and southern Europe.

One unique benefit of the programme that a lot of Nigerians are interested in is that the satellite program will enable Internet access to even the remotest rural villages, a major quest of stakeholders in recent times. It would also enhance government's economic reforms, particularly in the areas of e-learning, e-commerce, tele-medicine, tele-education, and rural telephony.

The project, according to experts, will also help African users save more than $900 million spent for telephony trunking and data transport services, 660 million U.S. dollars in phone call charges and broadband access which is more than 95 million U.S. dollars spent each year, as well as create more than 150, 000 jobs for Nigerians.

Apart from these unassailable benefits, the programme is also expected to play key roles in e-commerce by improving government efficiency and promoting the development of the digital economy in Nigeria and Africa. Other benefits of the launch of the nation's own satellite, according to experts, is that it will bring down the cost of GSM and Internet services in the country as a result of the availability of cheaper satellite bandwidth that the launching will enable. This will help Nigeria break free from its over-reliance on oil trade and transform itself into a knowledge-based economy.

NIGCOMSAT is also expected to provide for virtual education, telemedicine as well as video conferencing. The commercial benefits of the Satellite project to Nigeria is one that experts are excited about. The Managing Director of Nigeria Communications Satellite NIGCOMSAT, Ahmed Rufai, had before the launch last week had disclosed that Nigeria will earn about $1.05billion which is N128billion yearly from NIGCOMSAT. He stated that a major part of the earnings will come in from the sale and leasing of transponders from NIGCOMSAT. According to Rufai, each transponders will be sold for between $60-70 million. NIGCOMSAT currently has forty transponders, with 28 active and 12 inactive. NIGCOMSAT will amongst other things according to Rufai enable job outsourcing through the provision of a robust high bandwidth for two-way broadband links between Nigeria , Africa and others parts of the world. It will lead to the bridging of the existing digital divide by providing platform for small/medium scale ICT service providers to partake in the global ICT business that is estimated to be more than $1.2 Trillion. The creation of a digital economy enabled by the satellite launch will put affordable access to the information technology at the reach of Nigerians. This will help ensure that every Nigerian man, woman or child at work, at play, in school, in the market, farmers, artisans, marketers and small businessmen all have access to the internet. This is a welcome development given the fact that although about 38 million Nigerians are connected, connection to the internet still stands at about two million or less in a population base of over 140 million people.

Nigeria will also launch two additional satellite by 2010. One facing America and the other facing Asia .

NIGCOMSAT will no doubt assist the country in realizing its targeted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Space Technology according to experts guarantees the availability and speedy access to real-team data and geo-partial information, as well as the availability of relevant infrastructure and backbone for information communication.

The contract for the NIGCOMSAT project which was signed on December 15, 2004 in Abuja between China Great Wall Industry Corporation and the National Space Research and Development Agency was said to have cost the Federal Government over N40 billion. China was awarded the deal after it outbid 21 international rivals to secure the multi million U.S. dollar deal.

The cost of the satellite include items such as construction, insurance, value added tax as well as the price for building one ground control station in Abuja and a backup control station in Kashi, China . The satellite has four gateways to be located in South Africa , China, Italy and Northern Nigeria. The satellite will change positions in orbit until it is finally fixed at a longitude of 42 degrees east. It is expected to be put into use by Nigeria before the end of the year and has a lifespan of 15 years. It will be monitored and tracked by a ground station to be built in Abuja , the capital of Nigeria, by the Chinese firm, Great Wall Industry Corporation, and a ground station in Kashgar, in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

This Day (Lagos), 16 May 2007