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At last MTN and Vodacom reduce their data costs!

Following ICASA’s threat last year of prosecutions if the mobile operators did not reduce their data costs between 30-50%, both Vodacom and MTN have at last complied.

Meanwhile, SpaceMobile a collaborative venture by Avellan Space Technology & Science (AST & Science) that aims to close the mobile connectivity gap using satellites, has received investment from Vodafone and the Japanese telecom Rakuten. This system is developing technology to allow satellite signals to be delivered directly to standard 4G and 5G handsets, eliminating the need for users to purchase specialized satellite phones. Vodafone has indicated that it would use the network to expand the footprint of its mobile network coverage across Europe and Africa, while Rakuten said it hopes to do the same in Japan. The SpaceMobile network will be launched within a few years, initially offering 4G service and later expanding to 5G. SpaceMobile highlights the potential for low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites to accelerate the rate at which telecoms expand their network footprints. As they orbit the earth, satellite networks can cover much larger swaths of land compared with terrestrial infrastructure. But satellite connectivity offerings have typically been slower and more expensive than traditional networks. For example, Viasat, a leading US satellite broadband provider, offers 30 MBps service for US$1,900 per year; while AT&Tusing terrestrial connection offers 300 MBps broadband service for $480 per year. Advancements in LEO technology promise to reduce the gap in both broadband and now mobile network service.

The traditional network infrastructure will still be superior for those with access in more populated areas in the foreseeable future, but rural areas remain inaccessible, particularly in Africa. This is why players in the industry are aiming to use LEO to supplement land-based network footprints rather than supplant them. For example SpaceX, which plans to invest US$10 billion in its Starlink LEO network, intends to launch a network by mid-2020 targeting rural areas in the US that have no existing connectivity.

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Alastair Tempest

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