« OneWeb, the solution that will revolutionise connectivity on the African continent.”

M&B Magazine met Philippe Baudrier, General Manager Connectivity Africa at Eutelsat. He talks enthusiastically about the launch of OneWeb, which will revolutionise connectivity on the African continent.

If you don’t mind, we’ll start with what’s still in the news in the DRC, the ban on Starlink. OneWeb, on the other hand, can operate. What makes you special?

Our business model is different. We work with distributors who all have licences to market OneWeb. Our partners may be telecoms operators such as Airtel, Orange or Vodacom, or ISPs such as Liquid technologies or Raga. The Eutelsat Group has been present in Africa for a very long time, particularly in the DRC through our Konnect brand, which provides Internet access mainly for families and small businesses. With OneWeb, things are different. Through our network of partners, we are addressing the market of companies such as mines or banks that are looking for a broadband connection, high speeds with low latency (<100 ms) and guaranteed service. 

At a time when fibre optics are gradually being installed in major cities, what is the point of satellite?

Unfortunately, fibre cuts in Africa are very common. For example, three were broken recently in Côte d’Ivoire, leaving a considerable number of businesses and homes in the dark. That’s why satellite remains an essential component of terrestrial technologies. Thanks to Eutelsat’s global offering, GEO and LEO, we are in a position to satisfy all needs, in particular those of redundancy and technological complementarity. Today, Eutelsat’s offer is the only one that enables us to cover 100% of the DRC with broadband, even in the most remote areas where we have been very successful in setting up Wifi hotspots in villages.

For what type of customer?

It could be a mining company, a banking network, farms, NGOs, individuals or even entire villages. Satellite is undeniably the answer.

So telecoms operators are not your competitors?

Quite the contrary! We are partners and we provide solutions that complement mobile or terrestrial offerings. You know, millions of dollars in revenue can be lost because of interruptions or mobile networks that are not necessarily developed. So Eutelsat and OneWeb, the GEO or LEO solutions, are perfectly suited to this requirement. However, it is clear that satellite is the only resource in regions where there is no 3G or 4G signal. That’s all the work we do with telecoms operators, who see satellite as a response to their needs rather than a competitor. And for us, it’s a development factor.

When are you going to start marketing the OneWeb service?

We already cover South Africa. In the coming weeks, we will be covering the DRC, and Katanga in particular. Gradually, all African countries will be covered.

Please tell us about OneWeb 

OneWeb is a constellation of 648 satellites positioned in low orbit, 1200 km above us, offering global coverage. This makes OneWeb an ideal solution for air, sea and even land mobility. These satellites also offer extremely high speeds at competitive costs. OneWeb offers connection speeds of up to 195 Mbps for downloading and 30 Mbps for uploading to the Cloud. Satellites in low orbit enable companies to use specific business applications (real time, cloud, etc.) because the latency time is around 100 ms. Eutelsat OneWeb is the only operator to offer solutions with guaranteed speeds in GEO or LEO, which is what mining companies are looking for, for example. Thanks to this low-earth orbit, it is now possible to link all the business applications needed by mining companies via very fast, secure links with very low latency, close to fibre optics.

So this concerns professional applications. What about communications for the local population?

In the DRC, more than 1,000 villages are currently connected to our Konnect satellite. That’s 500,000 people who have connected to one of our wifi hotspots in the last 3 years. We are a major player in the development of rural communities, social links and openness to the world, wherever you are. Anyone can buy vouchers to use wifi or surf the internet. For $1, you have access to 1 Gb of data to use with your smartphone on these WiFi hotspots.

With OneWeb, can anyone get connected in the middle of the bush?

The OneWeb service is essentially B2B and fixed. But it is now possible to install a OneWeb antenna on a vehicle, which is very practical for patrols, whether in parks or in border security. However, we are also working on communication projects on the move, in trains and boats.

How many customers does Konnect have in the Democratic Republic of Congo? 

Since the launch of the business, we have connected tens of thousands of customers through our individual offers, as well as our WiFi hotspots. We connect families, small and large businesses, schools, hospitals and farms, mainly in rural areas where 3G/4G or fibre connections are of poor quality or non-existent. Above all, we are a complementary offering to mobile/radio technologies. We have observed that even in urban areas, satellite solutions are in demand and competitive. We work with resellers throughout the DRC, we have trained hundreds of installers, and we have a network that enables us to respond quickly to any demand throughout the country. Konnect is a credible solution that can support the national digital development plan and encourage the digitalisation of rural areas.

Now, with Eutelsat OneWeb, we’re going to move up to the top of the B2B market, with needs that are really specific and with a guarantee of service and very low latency to be able to work and use all the business applications. We are working with telecoms operators in this direction, but also to use satellites to extend their network coverage with high service guarantees.

Banque centrale du Congo : retrait en Francs congolais sur les terminaux de paiement électroniques exigé à partir du 1er août

Patricia Assumani Regional Director of SFA.