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VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technology is gaining prominence in Africa in spite of the general fiber optic networks are the panacea to bringing down the soaring internet connectivity rates that have hindered the penetration of these services in most African countries.

Speaking during a presentation on the advantage of VSAT, job Ndege General Manager Afsat Communication Limited and ICT expert in the region, said that there was still a ranging debate on advantages of VSAT and Fiber Optic networks, but in the case of Africa VSAT was gaining more acceptance due to its maturity, reliable and efficiency, having supported ISP?s and telecommunications services providers since 1989.

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He said that apart from the colossal cost of installing fiber optic networks and the high risk of being cut and damaged, there was a very low motivation to invest in this technology due to small user base especially in Africa. "Fiber optics cables in Africa are predominantly being used for backbone or backhaul and not for last mile solutions" he said.

In contrast he explained that VSAT beats the last mile problem by connecting a customer?s network directly to the internet on a single Hop unlike most technologies which rely on others for internet connectivity.

"VSAT technology is time tested and can be activated much more quickly than terrestrial networks. They offer a much higher reliability by linking to an internet backbone, bypassing congested terrestrial lines, exchanges and numerous interconnections thus reducing the potential points of failure" he added.

He said that the challenge that is facing internet users in Africa today is the high cost of connectivity associated with international backbone or gateway links delivered through fiber optic or satellite. "The cost of these links is very high which poses a great barrier for African countries to participate in international trade."

Outlining the future of VSAT, Ndege said that in spite of the USA and Europe having extensive rollout of fiber and cable, the VSAT had continued to grow tremendously with one company, Hughes of USA installing over 110000 news VSAT site a month. "We believe that fiber penetration will be limited at terrestrial backhaul and metro level due to prohibitive costs."
Afsat communication was set up in 1992 to provide ICT services in the East African Region. In 2001 it launched its flagship brand iWay and spread its services through out Sub-Sahara Africa. The iWay brand includes fast, reliable and cost effective broadband internet access and custom made inter-corporate interconnectivity solutions. Afsat has subsidiaries in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria and has presence in 28 Sub-Sahara Africa countries through a network of distributors. Afsat currently has over 5,000 VSAT on the broadband platform and over 200 VSATs on intra-corporate platform.
Afsat has won several recognitions in the last one year:

?Afsat won The Best Operator in Developing Market at the world communications Awards (WCA) in November 2007.
?In April 2008, Afsat won the Best VSAT Operator in Africa, Company of the Year during the Satcom Stars Awards.
?The 10th Edition of the Comsys VSAT report published in October 2007, ranks Afsat as the Largest Broadband VSAT operator in Africa with close to 20% market share.

By Job Ndege (General Manager)