Interview: Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide

Interview: Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide

Laurent Grimaldi, CEO of Konnect Africa.

In yet another interview showcasing the latest tech developments on the Africa continent, IT News Africa recently spoke to Laurent Grimaldi, CEO of satellite broadband solutions company, Konnect Africa.

Konnect Africa, set up by Eutelsat in 2015,  aims to be the leading player in the provision of state-of-the-art satellite broadband solutions to telecom operators and internet service providers throughout the African continent.

The company has the main aim of “taking broadband further” and hopes to do this by launching commercial services in 2017 with the expectation of covering most of Sub-Saharan Africa by 2019.

By building strong partnerships with local companies,  Konnect Africa is able to adapt to the specifics of each market to reach out to a vast audience and further develop the business. This means that Wi-Fi hotspot access can be made available for a few cents, family offers are being optimized for a few dozens of dollars, while high grade corporate services are in the offing to enable videoconferencing, storage, audio-visual content development and safe and reliable communication.

Laurent Grimaldi leads the Konnect Africa team and is overseeing the strategic deployment of Konnect Africa’s technology and overall business strategy. He has over 25 years of experience in Telecommunication and a strong entrepreneurial background. He has been involved in Konnect Africa project since its launch.

“This initiative echoes a broad ambition. Connecting Africa means changing the way people live, study, perform business, and transforming daily life. We aim to take broadband further and closer to multiple development sectors such as the healthcare system, education, agriculture or SMEs”, explained Laurent Grimaldi, Chief Executive Officer of Konnect Africa.

1) Is Konnect Africa a purely African company or do you operate outside of Africa as well?
Konnect Africa is working to bridge the digital divide in Africa, and our team – based in Africa and Europe – focuses exclusively on developing our activities throughout the African continent. On 6 June, we officially launched services in nine African countries: Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda.

We work hand in hand with local partners in each country to make sure our services are well implemented and that specific local needs and requirements are addressed. Our ultimate goal is to provide local populations with offers in line with their expectations, purchase habits and preferences.

We are a subsidiary of Eutelsat a world-leading satellite operator, whose 39 satellites provide global reach, covering Africa, Europe, Asia the Americas and parts of Oceania.

2)  Konnect Africa is focused on sub-Saharan Africa, are there plans to expand into other parts of Africa?
Sub Saharan Africa is facing a huge challenge regarding its connectivity rates, which is the reason why Eutelsat decided to create Konnect Africa as a subsidiary dedicated to this market.

Eutelsat is already active in North Africa with satellites providing access to digital TV and HDTV channels to Arabic communities across the Middle East. This is a very significant market for the company. As an example, Algeria’s Echourouk media group announced earlier this year its selection of the Eutelsat 7 West A satellite to broadcast its news channel, Echourouk News – now accessible to 5.7 million homes in Algeria only.

3) From an African context, what are the advantages of Satellite broadband over another solution?
At Konnect Africa, we consider satellite broadband as a complementary solution to the other technologies available on the market. Fibre and ADSL schemes cannot extend far beyond urban or peri-urban areas, hence the advantages of satellite broadband which can offer universal coverage to communities in areas difficult to reach.

We are very excited about this project which reflect our objective to reduce African digital divide.

4) What are the advantages of satellite broadband over other forms of connectivity?

Today, 70% of Africans, live outside urban areas. In order to be impactful, you have to find ways to deploy technology beyond cities and make it accessible to those living in most remote locations.

Satellite broadband is part of the solution. It comes from above and does not require huge terrestrial investments. We use High-Throughput Satellites (HTS), which provide 30 times more capacity (100 Gbps) than satellites designed for broadcasting.

It is also easy to set up: with a simple antenna, we can guarantee affordable, practical, universal, fast and reliable internet connectivity to millions of people across the continent.Thanks to the characteristics of satellite technology – affordability, reliability, universal coverage – we can truly transform internet access into a driver for development.

Thanks to the characteristics of satellite technology – affordability, reliability, universal coverage – we can truly transform internet access into a driver for development.

5) One of Konnect Africa’s goals is to help bridge the digital divide in Africa, how do you plan to achieve this?
There are two main stages in the process. First, we have to provide access to the technology, in all senses of the word. Access means being everywhere to support any type of internet users and enable them to easily get connected, regardless of their location. Access also means that local populations can afford high quality satellite broadband – hence the reason why we work with our partners to offer a flexible approach on pricing.

Reducing the digital divide is not only about technology access; it is also about inclusive ‘growth’, i.e. supporting, beyond the traditional premium customers, these sectors and these communities that will generate opportunities for the many. So the second – and as critical – stage is to target as end-users strategic sectors such as business, education, egovernance, health care… throughout Africa. This is what we do with our local partners, with the view to democratise access to internet.

6) Are there any specific countries of focus for Konnect Africa?
The first step for Konnect Africa was the official launch on 6 June of our services in nine sub Saharan countries: Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda.
Now, we are working on our deployment plans to cover most of the African countries by 2019.

7) What role will your partnerships with telecoms companies have in developing your services?
These partnerships are at the core of our business model – we rely on their local expertise and market knowledge while we can provide them support to grow their business, through specific marketing and commercial trainings and tools.

It is because of this collaborative approach that we have decided to implement a new ‘pay as you go’ business model, deeply inspired by the telecommunication industry. If end users expect to be charged for the capacity they need, and if it is easier for our partners to be charged on the same basis, then why not adapt our offers? This is a big shift in the satellite business – and actually a successful move as it helps attract to our business newcomers as they are not required to buy huge capacity upfront.

By Dean Workman

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