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ISP services expand in South Sudan despite cost, lack of infrastructure

Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji | July 16, 2013
RCS-Communications to use O3b satellites for low-latency service.

ISPs are trying to expand in South Sudan, where communications costs have been extremely expensive due to a lack of infrastructure, according to industry insiders.

The country is the world's newest nation, having become an independent state two years ago, and continues to have a border conflict with neighboring Sudan as well as tribal violence.

RCS-Communications is nevertheless planning to expand services, according to Flippie Odendal, the managing director of the company.

RCS-Communications has agreed a long-term capacity deal with O3b Networks, a global satellite service provider, to provide high-speed, low-latency capacity for the more than 300,000 people in the capital, Juba.

Technology providers hope such attempts to expand Internet services may push the government to intensify efforts to reduce reliance on expensive satellite bandwidth used by all of the country's 15 ISPs. The country plans to lay a fiber-optic cable this year with the help of a loan from China, to reduce the high cost of using the Internet.

According to a World Bank report, international bandwidth is very limited in South Sudan and, as a result, prices are very high. "VSATs [very small aperture terminal satellites] are ... expensive, costing anywhere between $500 and $4,000 a month depending on specifications," according to the report, "South Sudan's Infrastructure: A Continental Perspective."

RCS-Communications' Odendal said via email, however, that the O3b satellites will deliver highly affordable and ubiquitous bandwidth with the performance and speed of fiber for end users to enjoy "faster speeds and a more responsive user experience, especially for applications that are sensitive to latency."

"We are upgrading (project started some months ago and continuous) our WiMAX network in the capital Juba in readiness for when we go live on O3b," he added. "Currently our WiMAX network in Juba connects to the Internet backbone via geostationary satellite solutions that are reliable, but when compared to fiber offers latency challenges that will be addressed by the O3b integration."

At last year's CTO Forum in Sierra Leone, vendors offered alternative technology to come up with cost-effective rural broadband networks. Fiber-speed satellite networks were one of the means suggested to achieve wide access or support available networks.

Vice president of marketing for O3b Networks, Vicki Warker, said that since South Sudan has no fiber-optic connections at the moment, satellites will provide connection options for the time being.

"There are traditional satellites serving several parts of Africa, but ours is the only one with lower orbit and high capacity," she said. "The difference is that our orbit satellites are closer to the earth. It takes less time for data to go the satellite and back to the earth. There is less delay. It will be able to provide more Internet for more people."

South Sudan gained independence in 2011. It has four main telcos -- MTN, Zain, Vivacell and Gemtel -- that offer Internet services.

 

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