Satellites, a solution for the digital desert in the poorest countries

The digital divide has grown in the last decade according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with more people unable to access the internet .


Only a third of the inhabitants of the world ‘s poorest countries are connected to the Internet , a UN agency said on Sunday , at a time when private initiatives are being developed to provide connection through satellites .

Only 36% of the 1,250 million inhabitants of these 46 States, known as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), can connect a computer to the network, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

In Europe, more than 90% of the population can do it.

Digital giants like Microsoft or Starlink propose solutions to alleviate this lack of connections.

The “digital divide” has increased in the last decade, notes the ITU on the sidelines of a summit of LDCs in Qatar.

The question has become one of the main themes of the meeting, since access to the Internet also represents access to knowledge, markets and opportunities.

“The digital revolution has forgotten you, deprived of the technological support you need,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced on Saturday.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose area is four times that of Germany, only a quarter of its population is connected. The network is relatively decent in Kinshasa and other big cities, but a huge part of the country — where fighting between rebel groups is taking place — remains a digital desert.

Cost reduction

At the Doha summit, several companies claim to have a part of the solution.

One of them, Microsoft , promises to provide Internet access to 100 million Africans by 2025.

The American company announced the launch of the first phase in December, with five million people connected by low-orbit satellites from the Viasat group .

Another 20 million will go through African telecommunications specialist Liquid Intelligent Technologies .

Microsoft President Brad Smith explained that these forecasts were possible because “technology costs have come down substantially, and continue to do so.”

“We can access a lot more people than 5, 10 or 15 years ago with fixed line technologies,” he added.

Starlink , owned by billionaire Elon Musk , has thousands of satellites placed in orbit by his company SpaceX , between 500 and 700 km from Earth.

“We are optimistic about what digital technology can do for development,” Smith stressed, while conceding that the private sector remained “underinvested and underdeveloped” in LDCs.

For its part, Liquid Intelligent claims to have some 100,000 km of terrestrial fiber on the continent, but also a solid satellite network.

“In remote regions, satellite is often the only or most reliable technology for fast, 24-hour broadband,” said Nic Rudnick, vice president of Liquid Intelligent .