Opinion: Satellites as a solution to economic and societal challenges

A health worker uses the SATMED e-health platform in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. Photo by: SES

The space sector is thriving — in fact, according to Morgan Stanley, the global space economy will grow from $350 billion today to $1.1 trillion plus by 2040. Space technology is enabling new opportunities across sectors such as aerospace and defense, telecom services, media, and mobile connectivity — ground, air, sea — and generating new types of business and research. Satellites are at the core of this success.

In recent years, we’ve seen a proven link between connectivity and the ability to tackle global economic and societal challenges: Reducing poverty, climate change, saving energy, and building access to equal opportunities, disaster relief, education, job opportunities, and improved health services for people everywhere.

Sustainable development means tackling the digital divide and making it disappear.”

 Christophe De Hauwer, chief strategy and development officer, SES

Technological innovation has optimized the use of satellites and connectivity, positively affecting lives and businesses on a truly global basis. A collaborative approach is essential to achieving sustainable development, and the key to success in the digitalization process is cooperation between governments, regulators, society, and private and public sectors.

Sustainable development and space technology

Satellites are assisting in transitioning countries from analogue to digital television, and are providing a boost to internet connectivity across continents. The same connectivity used to broadcast video to millions of viewers can be used to provide broadband services and “fiber in the sky” capacity. Increased satellite connectivity in remote areas can have a positive impact on the productivity of business, governments, and institutions, as well as enhance knowledge exchange, skills, and even health. Here are some examples how.

Satellites for education and health

Being able to access online teaching material is a vital part of modern education, another key enabler of sustainable development. E-learning initiatives can bring education and knowledge-sharing solutions, as well as provide internet connectivity to bridge the digital divide, fuel economic growth, and foster societal development even in the remotest areas of the planet. In the last few years, SES has partnered with African governments and public institutions to encourage them to embrace satellite technology in the aim of accelerating education programs.

SES has also partnered with nongovernmental organizations to develop SATMED, a cloud computing-based e-health platform that operates on a global scale and reaches isolated areas with poor connectivity to improve public health in developing countries. SATMED enables communication between medical professionals, thus propagating the transfer and exchange of medical knowledge, as well as providing support tools for medical e-learning and e-teaching. An IT cloud infrastructure, accessible around the globe, further facilitates the data exchange between professionals and supports the setup of a medical infrastructure such as electronic medical records and teleradiology systems. It has been successfully deployed in Sierra Leone, Benin, Niger, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

Satellites as a governance tool

Training programs and e-health platforms

Launched in 2012, the SES Elevate program helps graduates set up their own businesses within the direct-to-home satellite industry, with the aim of opening up job opportunities and helping them develop small businesses throughout Africa. This program empowers women in particular with the skills needed to enter this dynamic field. To date, the program has trained over 5,000 installers across the African continent, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte D’Ivoire, Uganda, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Malawi, Tanzania, and South Africa.

Satellite technology can also be used to make election processes more transparent and efficient. During election periods, gathering votes and interacting with polling stations can be difficult in remote areas, and in those with limited communication access. For example, in 2012, following a request from the Burkina Faso Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante, SES worked with local partners to deliver an e-election solution for their municipal elections, helping collect electoral data from isolated regions. Satellite broadband was provided to the 45 electoral offices, connecting them to the central office in Ougadougou. This reduced fraudulent voting, enabled the quick delivery and dissemination of election results, and reduced the risk of political unrest or contested results. The engagement was repeated for the Burkina-Faso presidential elections in 2015. Citizens could access provisional results on the internet and over public TV broadcast, a first in Africa and a benchmark for future elections.

Satellites as a key part of disaster response

When disaster strikes, one of the top priorities is to establish effective response mechanisms, including fast and reliable means of communication. First responders including citizens, the government, and humanitarian organizations rely on communication channels to be able to coordinate effective relief efforts.

Satellite technology, immediately deployable, can provide the answer. Emergency.lu is a satellite based communication platform set up to deliver connectivity during disaster response. To date it has been deployed dozens of times in countries such as Haiti, Nepal, Vanuatu, the Philippines, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and most recently in the Caribbean following a series of devastating hurricanes. Each deployment contributed to restoring connectivity, saving lives, and ensuring the continuity of businesses and institutions. Emergency.lu is a public-private partnership between the Luxembourg government, SES, HITEC Luxembourg, Luxembourg Air Ambulance, the World Food Programme, and the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster.

Bridge the digital divide

Satellite technology is rapidly evolving and moving towards the next generation, and its impact is expanding. SES’s O3b mPOWER, the most powerful and innovative satellite system launched from 2021, will provide “fibre in the sky” connectivity, multiplying its beneficial effect on economies and society even in the most remote areas of the globe. It will bring high-performance and global cloud-scale connectivity to exponentially more people, communities, and businesses whilst challenging the conventional wisdom of where and how satellites are used in a world of seamless networking. Today, we are in a position to go further and explore new frontiers of opportunities — and do what just yesterday was thought to be impossible.

Sustainable development means tackling the digital divide and making it disappear. The challenge of our industry, in collaboration with governments and institutions, is to create a universal digital highway that is scalable, sustainable, flexible, transparent, and ecological. We must pursue and embrace the new “terabyte revolution.”

About the author

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    Christophe De Hauwer

    Christophe De Hauwer was appointed chief development officer of SES in August 2015. He is a member of the board of SES ASTRA and joined SES in 2003, holding several positions of responsibility in the areas of strategic marketing, strategic and business planning, and corporate development, as well as fleet development and yield management.