Rural areas are known to suffer from poorer broadband and mobile coverage than affluent urban regions. However, while pretty much all citizens of the wealthier economies can enjoy at least basic connectivity, millions of people in the developing world have no mobile or broadband coverage whatsoever. According to recent data, 51 percent of the world’s population remain offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the internet can offer. This leaves more than 3 billion people without affordable digital access, particularly in emerging markets, which are currently underserviced by current providers.
Most importantly, the huge connectivity gap between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ economies is creating a worrying disparity between countries, putting a significant proportion of the world’s population at disadvantage. And with the recent growth of connectivity in urban areas, fueled by mobile technology, this digital gap between rural and urban areas is continuing to widen. So why are telco and CSPs (communications service providers) failing to close this digital divide?
The key challenges for the provision of telecommunication services in rural areas are driven both by technological and economic considerations. Setting up backhaul connectivity remains extremely expensive in remote locations with poor or no city infrastructure. Another major challenge to the wider adoption of telecommunication services in remote locations is the erratic power supply or complete lack of energy sources to power the telecoms networks. There are also significant operational costs related to maintaining sufficient backup systems. This, coupled, with the heightened geo-political uncertainty in many developing countries, makes them a challenging market for telco providers to operate in.
What might be the answer?
Despite the challenges in these regions, there are ways to ensure affordable connectivity. Choosing efficient, cost-effective and fast-deployment technologies will improve accessibility and lower the operational costs required. Finding a way to reduce the infrastructure costs can further alleviate the pressure on telco providers and CSPs and help widen access to connectivity across the world.
One answer lies in investing in narrow-band connectivity services provided by nano-satellites. Building a constellation of nano-satellites which covers the equatorial region will provide telecom operators and service providers with low-cost coverage in remote locations and allow them to expand their existing networks without having to invest heavily in building costly infrastructure networks on the ground.
Using nanosatellites enables us to lower the cost of building and launching them, which in turn allows for the financial feasibility of affordable connectivity services to remote locations in a reliable manner. This means that service providers will be able to offer more affordable services to people in remote locations, providing them with the voice and text services that they need. The introduction of this kind of new-space satellites and technology is of mutual benefit to those developing the technology, those launching the satellites, the telecom providers, and most of all, the people on the ground whose lives will be positively impacted by gaining access to these services.
Creating new possibilities for connectivity allows use of ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) benefits such as better healthcare, better education, better financial ecosystem, better governance and more. It is important to have the support of organisations such as the UN, local governments, and the World Bank but we also need the expertise of the entrepreneurs and start-ups that are working to solve this connectivity problem by investing in the latest technology. Ultimately, it is essential to foster cooperation between those developing the technology to enable affordable communications services, the service providers and the political institutions needed to support these ventures.
We envision a world where digital inclusion is universal and affordable connectivity is considered not only a basic human right but an elementary service. We have the technology to make this a reality and we seek meaningful partnerships with others in the space and telecoms industries in order to deliver the vision of affordable connectivity to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Meir Moalem, Sky and Space Global CEO