Changing times for African satellite reseller BSS Africa as it seeks to grow broadcast and maritime business

4 January 2019

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These are changing times for African resellers. Successive waves of change - including much wider use of fibre - have reshaped their businesses but satellite continues to be useful. Russell Southwood spoke to Subratra Roy, Chief Technical Officer, BSS Africa about how the current wave of changes is affecting its business.

BSS Africa’s business model has been built on buying satellite capacity and turning it into managed services for its clients: it provides satellite connectivity services and manages and maintains the equipment providing it. To do this, it deals with all the major satellite operators including Eutelsat, SES, Avanti (who are selling it HTS) and ABS.

It also buys bulk capacity from Rascomstar:”Their satellite has a wider beam. It’s not a standard KU band but we sell the equipment so customers can receive it. The pricing of Rascomstar capacity is substantially better.” It is targeting Libya, Angola and Cameroon with this capacity:”We can deliver using our teleports and their capacity. They’ve not got the infrastructure to do that themselves”.

Its customers include everyone from SOHOs and SMEs to large corporates. Beyond these sectors, it also supplies ISPs and the military. The new market developments for it are providing uplink services for African broadcasters and marine services for ships using its hub and teleports. It sells across the whole of Africa and into parts of Asia.

The current breakdown of its 3,000customers is: 75% SMEs and corporates, 20% broadcast and 5% marine. The corporate customers include: banks, NGOs and oil companies (for exploration rigs). It also sells a significant share of its satellite capacity to ISPs in South Sudan, Somalia, DRC, Chad and Central African Republic. These are ISPs who distribute terrestrially once they have received their satellite bandwidth.

It started its broadcast services five months ago and intends to grow it substantially, working with small or new, incoming operators. It is currently targeting West Africa and has broadcast channel customers including a religious channel and a football betting channel:”We have a neighborhood capable of serving the pan-African market”.

Its key competitors vary by country but include all the international players and regional companies like the former iWay Africa, now part of Gondwana International Networks.

So where will new growth come from?:”There is a shift going on from managed services to both broadcast and maritime services and in time (for us) these will overtake the managed services”.

So will selling broadband into households be part of the future?:”We don’t go into the home user market. We empower our resellers to do that. In each country there is a different reseller doing it. Supplying homes is currently really High Net Worth Individuals. I’d be cautious about going specifically for that market because the home equipment costs are close to US$1,000 and that’s a major obstacle”.

“There are several problems in Africa for the household market. Firstly there is import duty in Africa. For example, Cameroon has 65% import duty so a US$500 modem from Dubai becomes a US$1200 modem after duty in Cameroon. Secondly, there is the price of antennas. In time, we will get smaller antenna than 74 cms and this will change things”.

“In the future, a lot of HTS satellites are coming in and that will drive capacity prices down. The margins will be lower and we’ll have to go with that whether we like it or not. KA band spots will get wider and there will be bigger throughputs with lower power”.

So how will things look like in 2-3 years time?:”End user equipment will be very affordable. If I don’t go for fibre, I’ll be able to have a 60cm dish on my roof. Improved throughput will give a choice between satellite and fibre. Prices would need to go down to US$100-150 per mbps for this to begin to work. There are a lot of investors coming into the satellite industry. Also Governments like Kenya are charging far lower import duties. Overall, we have something that supplements fibre and offers quality and price”.


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