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Nigeria’s satellite must start delivering economic value

Nigeria’s satellite must start delivering economic value

Nigeria’s communication satellite, NIGCOMSAT1R, which was meant to deepen broadband penetration, promote e-government, telemedicine, tele-education, and anti-counterfeiting system amongst other lofty plans has so far been unable to deliver value in driving growth in the country’s fledgeling ICT industry.

Its predecessor, the NigComSat-1, was on November 10, 2008, reportedly switched off for analysis and to avoid a possible collision with other satellites. According to Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, it was put into “emergency mode operation to effect mitigation and repairs”. The satellite eventually failed after losing power on November 11, 2008. The satellite failed barely a year after it was launched, whereas it was to have a lifespan of 15 years.

The current satellite; NigComSat-1R, came on board as a replacement in December 2011 but its existence is hardly noticeable other than it representing gross underutilisation of resources.
Even though there is the local demand for satellite services, foreign-owned (and operated) satellites such as Eutelsat, Rascom, Intelsat, Yahsat, Arabsat, SES, occupy the space which ought to be filled in premium, cost-effective service delivery by Nigeria’s NigComSat-1R satellite.

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Former President Goodluck Jonathan while speaking after the launch of NigComSat-1R in 2011 explained that Nigeria “will substantially reduce the annual expenditure of over $1 billion arising from the use of foreign bandwidth for GSM Communications, cable television, e-commerce and e-government by both public and private users in the country.”
The satellite so far has however fallen short of the lofty expectations had of it, and benefits that should have been derivable haven’t quite been forthcoming. It has also been considered yet another ‘white elephant’ project which is doing little to advance the cause of Nigeria’s booming ICT industry.

Olusola Teniola, president, Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), had stated that; “the cost of basic services (telecoms) and broadband over satellite to rural communities for Universal Access and delivering e-Medicine, e-Learning and e-Health was to be solved by deploying NIGCOMSAT1R infrastructure. Especially of note, we recall a Chinese loan sought by the previous administration from Chinese EXIM Bank to support the roll-out of such services. To date, it has not been recorded what and where such services exist in Nigeria. This is an unfortunate situation as an expectation by key stakeholders was for this to be spent in a manner to produce an outcome to improve the lives of those in the ‘unserved’ communities.”

NigComSat-1R is a hybrid geostationary satellite with 28 transponders for providing cutting-edge telecommunications solutions that are both reliable and cost-effective. The quad-band satellite is located at 42.5 degrees East with a lifespan of at least 15years and footprints in West, East and Southern Africa, Europe and Asia. NigComSat-1R inherits many flight-proven technologies used by NigComSat-1, VENESAT-1 and DHF-3 series spacecraft.

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The NigComSat-1R communications subsystem consists of C-band, Ku-band, Ka-band and L-band. The Ku-band payload consists of fourteen (14) active channels, with a bandwidth of 31.5MHz each and three fixed beams over East Africa, West Africa and Kashi. The C-band payload consists of four (4) active channels, with a bandwidth of 36MHz each and coverage over West, Central and Eastern Africa. The L-band Navigational payload receives two uplink signals on C-band, using a separate C-band antenna covering Europe and Nigeria, and transmits two downlink signals on L-band (L1 and L5) using a global coverage. The Ka-band payload consists of eight (8) active channels, with a bandwidth of 120MHz each for communications and broadcast services. It has three fixed spot beams over Nigeria, South Africa and Europe.

The satellite’s many capabilities would ordinarily infer it should be a promising venture; delivering value to corporate Nigeria, and steady revenue to the government’s coffers. Its unimpressive management and subsequent delivery, however, suggests the need for more private sector involvement and weaning it completely off the government so it truly functions as a business.
As observed from other viewpoints, many years down the line, the operation of the satellite still relies on government subvention to survive, and it can be argued that the level of ICT penetration witnessed in Nigeria is owed more to its competitors than our own NigComSat-1R.

We want the Federal Government to realise that this is a grossly underutilised potential source of revenue, which can contribute to the economic diversification aspiration. If the present management of NigComSat-1R is incapable of managing it to deliver economic value, then the private sector should be allowed to take charge, and absolutely too.