Bridging the global digital divide

High throughput satellite technology has the potential to help connect billions of people globally. Cooperation between the British government, UK businesses, and their counterparts around the world are making its delivery a reality

Some 3.7 billion people around the world do not have internet, the majority of them living in developing countries. New and more affordable technology is helping to change that, by moving away from complex, cost-prohibitive infrastructure.

High throughput satellite technology, operating mainly in the powerful Ka-band frequency spectrum, enables local network operators and tower companies to provide cheaper access to reliable, fast communications. The setup results from an unprecedented collaboration between terrestrial and satellite operators that accelerates the provision of internet access in developing nations, including in remote regions.

“Governments and the private sector have realised they needed to be more creative about how to get internet to unconnected people. By bringing together different parts of the ecosystem, connectivity can be delivered at less than a tenth of the cost,” explains Kyle Whitehill, chief executive at the satellite provider Avanti Communications.

Under Avanti’s Extend service, high performance 2G, 3G and 4G can be quickly and affordably rolled out to local mobile network operators, bolstered by smaller and smartly-powered cell tower sites. The technology is being advanced even further under the company’s Instant5G project with the European Space Agency, technology businesses and universities.

Government and the private sector have realised they needed to be more creative about how to get internet to unconnected people

The effects of such communication changes on people’s lives are quickly visible. “Providing proper connectivity allows people to access education and healthcare, and work more effectively to be able to feed their family and have security,” says Whitehill. “We believe everyone has the power to ‘be more’ – and by breaking down these technology barriers, opportunities will be unlocked for them.”

High throughput satellite projects are already apace across sub-Saharan Africa, where only 26% of people have mobile internet. In northern Nigeria, satellite capacity provided by Avanti to the tower company IHS and mobile network operator MTN has enabled mobile connections in extremely rural areas. Elsewhere, in Kenya, a collaboration between the British government, technology companies including Avanti, and private investors – as part of the Global Partnership for Education – is enabling school connectivity for underrepresented communities. The Red Cross in Kenya has also worked with Avanti to use satellite technology as part of their disaster communications, to enable rapid, reliable communications during humanitarian disasters.

As take-up of mobility services grows, users will inevitably start to rely more on data, and 5G powered by satellites will become key to meeting this demand. “Many people in Africa have relied on mobile phones for years but the big move now is access to fast data for crucial aspects of their lives. Reliable and superfast internet connectivity will give people essential support for advancing their education and businesses,” explains Whitehill. A major tipping point is expected in the coming years as 5G handsets become significantly cheaper.

Alongside projects by the British government and its counterparts globally, the UK’s private sector has an important role to play in helping lives in the developing world become more secure and empowered, Whitehill notes. Existing projects that Avanti is heavily involved with include helping marginalised people access education and technology in Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, Ghana and Angola. In Kenya alone, over 200 schools and more than 170,000 children now have internet at school.

“Getting high throughput satellite technology across Africa will bring measurable changes to people’s lives. While in Europe and the UK we might think of 5G in terms of faster streaming and enabling connected cars, for Africa the first benefit will be depth of coverage that unlocks vital life opportunities,” Whitehill concludes. “Given the significant growth in bandwidth that will be needed, high throughput satellite technology will enable rapid and affordable progress.”

To find out how 5G and satellite technology is connecting the world, visit

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