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OneWeb gains footing in SA's satellite internet wars

The adaptability and scalability of the OneWeb system make it a promising solution for the diverse, unique challenges faced in Africa

OneWeb gains footing in SA's satellite internet wars
OneWeb is stacking up partnerships to rival Elon Musk's Starlink in regulation-sensitive South Africa

United Kingdom-based low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications firm OneWeb is bullish on conquering the South African internet connectivity space. The Eutelsat-owned service is racing to outdo Elon Musk's rival operator Starlink in the local market.

In an earlier report, we informed that OneWeb, in a bid to have an edge over its SpaceX-backed competitor, would be banking on partnerships with local internet players to spread its footprints across the country's broadband bubble.

Roughly two months on, the service appears to be walking the talk.

On January 19, 2024, OneWeb announced its partnership with Paratus South Africa—a top-tier specialist connectivity provider—to enhance the latter's connectivity offering in the market.

A longstanding carrier of geostationary satellite (GEO) services via an existing partnership with Eutelsat, Paratus would be tapping OneWeb to offer combined LEO/GEO services for enterprises operating in South Africa's major sectors remotest parts.

In his statement on the relevance of the partnership, Cyril Dujardin, co-General Manager at Eutelsat OneWeb, said the adaptability and scalability of the OneWeb system make it a promising solution for the diverse, unique challenges faced in Africa.

"Together with Paratus South Africa, we will demonstrate how LEO can overcome geographical barriers and redefine connectivity in the region, to serve banking, mining, enterprise, and offshore markets, and to set a benchmark for future communications excellence in South Africa,” Dujardin added.

In a quieter development on January 26th, 2024, Q-KON—a Techno Park, Centurion-based player in the space—revealed that it has further incorporated OneWeb into [its] smart satellite spin-off, referred to as Twoobii.

Reportedly, an (unspecified) digital banking leader in the country that recently opened its first physical branch has launched operations atop the Twoobii service, bringing its staff and customers non-stop, high-speed internet connectivity.

This means OneWeb's space technology is indirectly powering one of South Africa's top digital banks.

Seemingly delighted with the results, the bank is said to be considering replicating the effort in more branches, where it would provide up to 50MB/s of low latency connectivity, branch online management, data backhauls, Wi-Fi, and ATM services.

“This fully operational LEO installation is further evidence of the utility of the Q-KON Twoobii Eutelsat OneWeb solution in financial services contexts,” said Dawie de Wet, Group CEO of Q-KON.

“We look forward to continuing the roll-out of this LEO connectivity solution to more bank branches to benefit the customers of our leading digital banking client,” he added.

In a June 2022 op-ed on the uptake of satellite services in Africa, Dawie de Wet stated that the South African financial sector's demand for point of sale (POS) connectivity is at an estimated 10% of the total installed base of 2 million POS trading points.

"At an addressable ratio of 10%, this equates to a satellite network capacity demand of 20 Tbps, excluding any additional broadband services," the publication read.

On the regulatory front, OneWeb, which also partnered with Airtel Africa for trials, says it has been fully licensed by the national telecoms watchdog, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

This puts it ahead of Starlink, which is yet to completely fulfill the legal requirements for a local launch. While its kits are being massively adopted by internet-hungry consumers via back doors, the use of the service remains illegal in the country.

A similar crackdown drama has emerged in Ghana and, more recently, Zimbabwe.

Elsewhere in the continent, OneWeb set its sights on Libya, where it has signed a deal with a leading mobile network operator, to provide its satellite connectivity across the North African country.

Starlink on its part has officially rolled out in Nigeria, Kenya, Eswatini, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and the Benin Republic.

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