Intelsat’s CellBackhaul offers DRC mobile operators a new business to reach remote areas not connected to fibre – More countries to roll out soon

24 June 2022

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With the growing spread of regional and national fibre, satellite operators have had to come up with new ways of selling their connectivity for mobile backhaul. Russell Southwood spoke to Intelsat’s Senior Vice President Global Sales Media & Networks, Jean-Philippe Gillet.

Intelsat’s CellBackhaul is a managed service for mobile operators: “Our biggest challenge was that satellite is viewed as expensive, difficult to deploy and hard to implement. With CellBackhaul you are going to buy a service at a tower level. In DRC, there are four different packages linked to the type of connectivity (for example, 2G, 3G and 4G) and the service comes with an SLA at a tower.”

“The mobile operator knows the number of subscribers and ARPU levels and the voice vs data breakdown and CellBackhaul can offer a price competitive to that view. The price is drastically reduced for the MNO, making it easy for them.” Intelsat manages the ground infrastructure and installs it at the tower.

For the service to work, Intelsat has committed to working with local partner, Ragasat: “You need a local partner to manage it, for things like making sure the antenna is looking at the satellite and that the platform is connect to the MNO. You need to have people the MNO can call locally and the resources to install the equipment needed.”

CellBackhaul has opened five sites last week for Vodacom and further plans that will cover Kongo-Central, Nord Kivu, Kasai Oriental, Katanga, Maniema, Lualaba, and Equateur, Bandundu: “Vodacom is a very forward-thinking company and it has the largest rural connectivity network in the country. Rural connectivity in DRC is driven by voice but I was in Kinshasa and met with all the MNOs. The market is ready for scale deployment because there are still very large numbers of people who have no 2G coverage.”

“When CellBackhaul launched it was focused on 2G. The market will transition to 4G. A lot of MNOs are still thinking about 3G but I think they will shift to 4G. It’s not just a financial opportunity but also how do we develop skills and transfer know-how, Some innovations you could use back in the developed world. Africa has a lot to offer and we have a lot to develop.” It is planned that the service will be rolled out in more countries in Africa.

Intelsat has also been one of the investors in Africa Mobile Networks, an operator which specializes in building mobile network base stations serving rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa which have no existing service, providing existing licensed mobile network operators with a CAPEX-free route to roll-out: “the investment is part of the same strategy. There is one logic and one clear strategy. The Africa Mobile Networks’ business model is incredibly powerful and it’s profitable. If you only rely on development subsidies to bridge the digital divide, it will be very slow.”

In Brief

Gabon: Group Vivendi Africa (GVA) officially launched ‘CanalBox’ fibre-the-the-home (FTTH) services in Port-Gentil – the country’s second largest city – on 22 June, reports Direct Infos.

Malawi: Press Corporation, a publicly listed company incorporated in Malawi, has announced its intention to sell its majority stake in fixed line operator Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL). In a statement summarising its audited results for the year ended 31 December 2021, Press Corporation said that although MTL reported a significant improvement in its results driven by improved gross margins and cost containment, which resulted in a loss reduction of 46% from the prior year, it had decided to exit the fixed line voice and broadband operator. The company added that discussions with equity investors were ‘at an advanced stage’.

South Africa: MTN South Africa has announced that have set a target for themselves to enable 5G coverage for atleast 25% of the population in 2022.

Nigeria: Rack Centre,   the leading carrier-neutral Tier III data centre in West Africa, has become the first International Finance Corporation (IFC) EDGE certified data centre in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Cellulant Zambia is pleased to announce a digital payment partnership with five leading Zambian water utility companies; Nkana Water, Kafubu Water, Mulonga Water, Chambeshi Water and Western Water. This partnership will allow customers in the province to conveniently pay their water bills with their preferred mobile money and selected bank accounts (Standard Chartered Bank, Zambia National Building Society and Natsave).

Reunion and Madagascar: Orange Reunion has launched 5G services in the capital of the French overseas territory (FOT) of Reunion, Saint-Denis, Les Echos writes. The 4G equipment dismantled in Reunion will be sent to Madagascar, in order to densify the network of the Malagasy subsidiary of Orange.

Namibia’s market-leading cellco Mobile Telecommunications (MTC) wants the country’s existing moratorium on 5G network deployment to be lifted and is eyeing a digital transition towards fifth-generation technology with partners including Chinese equipment maker Huawei, reports The Namibian.

South Africa’s communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has announced that the government intends to prohibit the importation and distribution of 2G devices by March 2023, TechCentral writes.

Togo: Moov Africa Togo has been reprimanded again by the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications and Posts (ARCEP) for ‘serious breaches of its obligation of permanent, continuous and regular availability of mobile electronic communications services’. The mobile operator was handed ARCEP’s decision on 2 June 2022 and now has three months in which to comply with its obligations or face sanctions.