Experts call for South Africa to launch its own ‘internet’ satellite

 ·26 Oct 2020

The presidency has published its 4IR diagnostic report for South Africa, outlining the new technologies the country will look to in response to the ‘fourth-industrial revolution’.

The report has been prepared by a 4IR commission – composed of 33 experts and 60 groups, including listed companies and government departments – appointed by president Cyril Ramaphosa.

A key focus of the report is ‘connectivity’, and bringing the internet to previously disadvantaged communities across the country.

As part of this, the commission recommends the ownership of a government geostationary telecommunications satellite, which would offer its services to the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

Alongside South Africa, the SADC includes Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Zimbabwe among other countries.

The commission said that the satellite would provide quality connectivity of marginalised communities in the SADC region, at no cost to them, so that they may access 4IR applications, especially for smart health, smart learning, smart ammunition, smart minerals, smart agriculture, smart contracts and smart financial services.

“The (satellite) would create an enabling environment that opens opportunities for shared economy that would empower all Africans to change their material social conditions and alleviate poverty, inequality and youth unemployment. We would create much-needed redundancy by large global enterprises,” it said.

The commission said that the geostationary satellite would also add value in setting up an African central exchange for voice, data and other communication media – and enable smart contracts for the African Continental Free Trade Agreements (AfCFTA).

These combined factors mean that the SADC-owned geostationary satellite would result in significant increase in gross domestic product (GDP), it said.

The launch of an internet satellite has previously been mooted minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande as a means of improving remote-learning in the country,

In May, Nzimande said that the department is considering the use of ‘Space Science and Earth Observation technologies and platforms’ in support of its plans to reach to vulnerable students.

“The Department of Science and Innovation, in conjunction with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, Sentech and South African National Space Agency, is currently looking at a long-term solution to supporting the digital transmission needs for the national education system through the launch of a locally-produced communications satellite,” he said.

“The CSIR is also completing the task of establishing a Geospatial planning map identifying the location and distribution of learning and co-learning sites in all the districts of South Africa to enable us to support students in the period before full return to campuses.”

Read: New unemployment database launches in South Africa – how it works

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