Connecting West Africa: Speaker Interview with Grant Marais

Grant Marais is the Managing Director of Intelsat Africa. The Com World Series team caught up with Grant ahead of the Connecting West Africa conference and exhibition, taking place at the (Radisson Blu Hotel, Dakar, Senegal, 11-12 June) to discuss Intelsat’s FREE, pre-conference workshop on Monday, 10 June, “Designing for tomorrow: Best practices for Africa 2020”.

Com World Series: What is your company’s position in the market and how do you see it develop in the coming year?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: Intelsat’s commitment to the African community remains unparalleled in terms of the coverage and depth of our services. Hundreds of companies on the continent, including virtually all of the region’s wireless operators, trust Intelsat’s highly reliable network to provide the infrastructure they need to offer best-in-class services.

For Intelsat, 2012 was a year of launches, with five missions that provided new and refreshed capacity around the globe, including three satellites – Intelsat 20, Intelsat 22 and Intelsat 23 – that added capacity over Africa. The African telecoms landscape will continue to generate excitement in 2013. Overall bandwidth availability to underserved areas is trending up via new inland network build-outs. The challenge that will remain is providing an acceptable user experience level into these areas via eliminating bottlenecks and single points of failure with a focus on reliability.

Com World Series: What do you think are the top 3 major trends that are affecting your business in the region in 2013?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: The continued growth of mobile subscribers and the delivery of mobile internet, data and video services will drive bandwidth demand. Mobile operators such as Airtel, Vodacom, Orange and MTN are busy deploying next generation networks in countries such as DRC, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad to support the demand.

Despite the deployment of terrestrial cables, there is still demand for Internet trunking for some landlocked countries such as Chad, Niger, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso.

Also the growing activities in mining, banking, and the oil & gas sector drive domestic corporate network requirements; for example the NSIA group is connecting its affiliates with their headquarters in Cote-d’Ivoire and Togo.

Com World Series: What are the main needs for operators in terms of connectivity in the region?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: High speed internet access by submarine cable or satellite to support IP MPLS networks and hybrid connectivity that includes satellite, terrestrial and wi-max for last-mile connections. In 2013, many telecom operators will focus on determining a proper strategy of matching fibre, microwave and satellite to address the needs of different regions.

With our fleet of more than 50 satellites and the IntelsatOne network, we are in favour of hybrid solutions which encompass all three, and mobile operators will need to allocate resources to each to provide cost-effective and reliable solutions for their customers. Satellite continues to support inland penetration, which is extremely exciting as the continent seeks to achieve fast improvements in connectivity through the development of game-changing solutions.

Com World Series: What is having the biggest impact on bandwidth needs in the region: content/data services, enterprise needs, cloud computing, other?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: Growing demand of high speed Internet backbone connectivity for data
Video content contribution to DTH platforms and roll-out of DTT

Com World Series: What strategies can operators put in place to improve their networks and facilitate access to communications?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: We do not believe that one strategy fits all operators. Our approach is to work with operators and provide them a platform that allows them to differentiate and tailor their networks to best meet customer requirements.

In June 2012, Intelsat announced the Intelsat EpicNG platform, a high performance, open architecture design that will provide greater efficiency and increased throughput–two to five times that of a traditional satellite–enabling cellular backhaul solutions with stronger geographic penetration and significantly improved economics. Intelsat EpicNG combines Intelsat’s premiere spectral rights in C-, Ku- and Ka-band with wide beams, spot beams and frequency reuse technologies.

The increased efficiency results in a dramatic increase in the types of networks and applications that can be supported by satellite-based infrastructure. Intelsat EpicNG complements and is backward compatible with Intelsat’s existing satellite fleet and the IntelsatOne network, meaning customers are able to achieve higher throughput with their existing hardware.

For wireless and other service providers, this allows the delivery of differentiated services, with flexible network topologies, service characteristics and speeds. Improved economics lower the revenue-per-site barriers, resulting in a cost-effective alternative to building microwave infrastructure in many regions, with the benefit of greater reliability.

Com World Series: How are satellite services evolving to answer new needs in a cost-effective way?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: The deployment of high throughput satellites could dramatically change the economics of satellite communications in the next coming years. By combining wide beams and spot beams, Intelsat EpicNG can extend the reach of mobile networks across vast rural areas, while concentrating high throughput bandwidth over highly populated areas. The system is designed to support 3G/4G mobile backhaul requirements, and it utilizes dynamic bandwidth allocation for asymmetrical multimedia requirements while allowing load sharing of links during times of high traffic or network congestion.

Com World Series: What are your expectations and objectives from attending Connecting West Africa?

Grant Marais, Intelsat: Engage our customers to better understand their strategy for the coming years and meet their demand. Intelsat will offer a free, pre-conference workshop on Monday, 10 June, “Designing for tomorrow: Best practices for Africa 2020.” We will discuss Intelsat’s thoughts on the benefits of the hybrid network and satellite’s role in the network of the future, as well as a thorough discussion of high throughput satellites.

The other aspect is to promote regional awareness of satellite communications capabilities and flexibilities.

Find out more at Connecting West Africa. Grant Marais will be leading the Pre-Conference workshop taking place Monday, 10 June with Steve Good, Broadband Product Manager.

Connecting West Africa Article Link