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Adressing The Digital Divide
Nimrod Kapon, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Oasis Networks


The digital divide is a global issue affecting billions of people, especially those living in the world’s least developed countries. The reasons for the digital divide are complex, and include the developmental level of a country, low literacy, poor digital skills and awareness, income levels, as well as access to available and affordable connectivity.


The divide has become far more apparent over the last decade, as technology has advanced and global reliance on internet connectivity has increased. According to recent analysis, a third of the world’s population does not use the internet, and in the world’s least developed countries, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that this rises to two thirds of the population.

Satellite has the potential to play an important role in bridging the digital gap as it’s capable of providing affordable connectivity in areas where terrestrial networks are unfeasible. However, to fulfil that role, Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) systems need to be installed and maintained in areas that are often remote or hard-to-reach, — this goal is challenging for several reasons.

Barriers To Satellite Connectivity

Regions that are underserved by terrestrial connectivity solutions often have very basic or limited infrastructure and this causes an entire host of difficulties. Transport infrastructure may be poor and, even where there are routes or roads, they’re not always accessible by vehicles all year round.

A lack of good, reliable access routes makes it quite difficult for engineers and technicians to travel to sites. In these cases, it will also be logistically complex — somtimes even impossible — to transport the equipment and materials needed for VSAT installations.

It’s not just the traveling to these sites and actual physical transportation of materials that is challenging. There may also be a lack of available supplies and resources needed for installation and maintenance. Sourcing materials can be more difficult if engineers do not have any local knowledge or contacts.

It’s not uncommon for VSAT systems to be installed in areas where there are extreme weather conditions, including high temperatures, wind, and heavy rain. Weather conditions can add to the difficulties already faced by engineers when accessing the sites and transporting equipment. Additionally, the need to site the VSAT system in an open, unobstructed location means that installations are often susceptible to weather related damage, prompting the need for as-rapid-as-possible repairs.

The lack of communications infrastructure in these areas presents another challenge. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) signals can be unreliable — it’s not unusual for networks to go down for hours or even days at a time. When this occurs, engineers are unable to communicate updates or request additional equipment or support.

There may also be a skills gap, where workers with the necessary knowledge and technical expertise needed to install the VSAT system and keep it connected, are not locally available. If this is the case, engineers must travel from further afield, often across borders or even countries which, of course, increases cost as well as logistical difficulties. This can also create language and cultural barriers which could create further delays and push costs up even more.

Focusing On Solutions

While the barriers to installing and maintaining VSAT systems in these challenging conditions are numerous, they are not insurmountable. It’s vital that the correct information is gathered early in the project, in order for effective planning and preparation to be carried out before commencing installations.

Weather conditions, for example, may be much worse at certain times of the year and this can make some roads or routes impassable for vehicles. If this has been identified as an issue, whenever possible, installations should be planned to avoid periods when the site’s weather is typically at its worst — transport and access issues are, therefore, minimized. If communication between field engineers and teams has been identified as a potential issue early on, satellite phones can be distributed to mitigate the issue.

When armed with knowledge and information about transport and communication infrastructure, weather patterns, and potential access issues, it’s possible to plan how to mitigate potential problems before they become a reality. Of course, there are some issues that can’t be foreseen, no matter how much prior planning and preparation is carried out. In order to solve these problems as quickly as possible, operators need expertise and experience.

Some of the challenges encountered may also be lessened by using local field engineers or teams. Access to equipment, materials, or even individuals with specialist skills, can be improved with local knowledge and their knowledge of local languages and culturals. Having expertise on the ground in these regions also reduces the cost and time involved in installation and maintenance as travel costs and maddening delays are reduced.

VSATs are often the only means of connection that an entire community or region may possess with the rest of the world. When they are able to access a broadband internet connection, people have greater educational, employment and economic opportunities open to them. By overcoming the hurdles encountered when installing VSAT systems and keeping them connected, satellite connectivity truly has the potential to transform people’s lives.

It would be remiss to say that the digital divide is caused by a lack of available connectivity alone. The problem is far wider than that — it’s a multifaceted problem that encompasses geographical, political, social and economic factors. Governments, international organizations, and private companies must work together to address these issues, empower people and promote digital inclusion for all.

Although satellite technology may not have all of the answers to negate the digital divide, it can definitely play a highly crucial role in providing the much needed connectivity to encompass the digitally excluded.