Broadband connectivity for N Cape rural communities

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By- SAnews

Johannesburg – A two-year deal between Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa and telecoms operator Vox Telecom will see households in the rural communities in the Northern Cape getting high speed broadband connectivity.

Speaking to SAnews after the official announcement of the two-year partnership, Alternative Communications and Spectrum Manager at SKA South Africa, Selaelo Matlhane, said the deal will benefit both farmers and rural communities situated in areas protected by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Act in the Karoo.

“When we came to the Karoo, we found the area with very little means of communication… Through this partnership… we are giving the community broadband connectivity.

“This two-year contract will ensure that Vox delivers… We want to ensure that they install high-speed broadband in 15 households per month and as SKA, we will pay the capital cost,” he said.

Matlhane said SKA wants to prove to the country, especially the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, solutions such as the Northern Cape initiative can work.

“This is the first phase where we want to see a speedy deployment of satellite telecommunications. Vox got the contract this month but because they noticed that we need a speedy deployment, they have already started (working).

“As we speak, five houses already have high speed telecommunications via satellite. They will have a very high-speed connectivity and means of communication, where they can call each other… The cost is very little to a point where it is only around two cents per minute when they are calling each other in the area.

“When they phone people outside their area, their rates will be comparable to any other cellphone or landline providers. Still, we have reduced the cost for satellite telecommunications to a very low cost because normally when people talk about satellite telecommunications, they talk about a very expensive solution.

“Basically, they will pay very little when they talk to each other,” Matlhane said.

The lack of radio signals in the Karoo is what makes it one of the best locations in the world to build the SKA. However, Matlhane said protection requirements for the area mean that expanding access to telecommunications services needs to be done in a “radio astronomy friendly” manner that is affordable to the local communities.

When asked to explain how they chose Vox as the winning bidder, Matlhane said: “In an effort to find a solution that works for everyone, SKA initiated a competitive tender process for a satellite broadband service provider to bring a new level of connectivity to the area.

“The end result is that SKA South Africa will subsidise the capital cost of satellite receiver hardware in the area, resulting in Vox Telecom being able to provide broadband satellite and telephony services in the area at significantly reduced user costs. This service will be through the provision of Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) in affected communities.”

Matlhane said the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) identified many villages in South African that do not have means of communications, since it is not financially viable for cellphone operators to deploy their resources just to serve a few people.

Most telecommunication operators prefer to go to towns where there are more people who can pay for the infrastructure, so that they can get a return on their investment.

Vox Telecom Senior Product Manager said: “As part of our long term strategy, we aim to bring high speed internet connectivity to rural and agricultural areas in South Africa. We are excited about this opportunity to connect communities not only to their friends, families and suppliers, but also to the world of the internet.”