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Transforming emerging economies

Jean-François Fremaux, director of multimedia product development, Eutelsat, on offering high-speed internet access to residential and home office users as well as small and medium-sized enterprises across sub-Saharan Africa
Jean-François Fremaux, director of multimedia product development, Eutelsat

The title sounds a tad grand, but if Eutelsat’s IP Easy was to become commonplace in Africa, offering voice, data and video over satellite – the classic triple play service – the promise of bringing about a completely new way for people across the continent to do business beyond the reach of terrestrial broadband, will come good.

Traditionally triple play has not taken off on a large scale across the continent owing to regulatory hurdles around VOIP. And till recently, it seemed like a discomfitting alliance considering that the delivery of video, internet and telephony tend to use different technologies for delivery with different standards. For Eutelsat, IP Easy, that was launched at Satcom Africa in May 2012, was built around the inherent advantages the operator had in Africa, says Jean-François Fremaux, director of multimedia product development, Eutelsat.

“We were one of the first of the large satellite operators to enter the emerging markets including Africa. We have been providing broadband services in Africa since 2003, primarily targetting users with high bandwidth requirements such as the oil and gas sector and financial institutions, among others. With IP Easy, we are offering high-speed internet access to residential and home office users as well as small and medium-sized enterprises across sub-Saharan Africa.

The service can also be configured to support VOIP. In addition, users can also bundle their internet access with TV channels’ reception via a single antenna, allowing them to benefit from a triple play mode.”

Combining the strengths of Ku-band capacity on Eutelsat 16A satellite with Newtec’s Sat3Play technology, IP Easy is reportedly available across Africa, from the Gulf of Guinea to Madagascar. The IP Easy hub is located at Eutelsat’s Skylogic Mediterranean teleport, which provides broadband services for users in Africa owing to its location in the south of Europe and its direct access to the internet backbone via key Points of Presence in Europe.

On the current rollout, Fremaux says, “Many distributors within Eutelsat 16A’s footprint are finalising the intregration of IP Easy into their service portfolio, customising the solution to fit into their marketing strategy. Afrique Télécom, for instance, already completes the service with its own features under the “SpaceDSL” brand.

“We are introducing the service in countries with a high density of population and significant revenues per capita, and in countries such as Madagascar where the dearth of telecoms infrastructure creates an opportunity. We are also planning to deploy the service on other Eutelsat satellites in operation or planned to be launched in order to cover the entire African continent.”

Countries that Fremaux believes offer a potential market include Nigeria, Cameroun, Ghana, DRC, Benin and Ivory Coast given their high population density. The importance of emerging markets for operators such as Eutelsat is borne out by the fact that one of the main engines, as per the company’s 2011 financial report was the video business which grew by 5.8% and in that video business, Fremaux says the prime position belonged to 7 West over north Africa and the Middle East.

“With Eutelsat 16A , we cover 40 Sub- Sahara African countries and we are triple play ready given the advantage we have of existing free-to-air TV channels on the same satellite. Buying a DVB-S2 set-top box will allow IP Easy users to receive around 25 free-to-air French speaking channels.”

Ease of installation was a critical factor, affirms Fremaux.

“We wanted to provide a service that would allow its users to self-install the equipment. Newtec’s Sat3Play platform and its system’s ‘Point & Play’ facility works with a one-metre dish and a PC-connected modem. No specific qualification or training is needed for installation.

“Significantly, the terminal incorporates features such as DVB-S2 modulation and coding and rain-fade counter  measures, to ensure efficient bandwidth usage. Moreover, the service works with local energy sources such as solar energy via solar panels.”

From leveraging the footprint of Eutelsat 16A to sourcing appropriate technology from partners such as Newtec, the launch of IP Easy, despite challenges on the ground, makes for a sound business case. Fremaux adds, “IP Easy responds to the pent-up demand for broadband from the many users beyond terrestrial networks and adds a new layer of diversity to our portfolio of services for the African continent.”