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NigComSat-1R: Nigeria wants to put its Satellite to Full Use 3 years to Expiration
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NigComSat-1R: Nigeria wants to put its Satellite to Full Use 3 years to Expiration

Recent activities of the newly appointed Managing Director of the Nigerian Communications Satellite, Jane Nkechi Egerton-Idehen suggested that the country now wants to put its communication satellite to good use after being underutilized over the last 12 years.

This may, however, be coming a little late as the 12-year-old NigComSat-1R satellite is to expire in the next 3 years. The satellite which has 15 years lifespan was launched in 2011 and is to reach its complete lifespan in 2026.

The satellite was launched with the hope that it would save Nigeria billions in foreign exchange by providing service for Nigerian telecom operators and broadcast stations.

It was also expected to help boost the country’s broadband penetration, but all has been a mirage since its launch as many businesses, including government agencies like the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, have shunned the satellite over the years.

Egerton-Idehen’s revival talks

While the industry is awaiting her actions, the newly appointed CEO of the satellite company, Egerton-Idehen has been sharing what she described as her vision to transform the company.

According to her, NIGCOMSAT is now better positioned than ever to provide the nation with reliable internet services that will stimulate innovation and other advancements in the technology industry.

Talking tough during her maiden tour of the company’s facilities in Lagos, she boasted that NigComSat will double up on the ways it used to deliver services to the ICT sector, in order to match the aspirations of the present government on digital economy.

She assured that the satellite company would help the Ministry of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy to build the necessary infrastructure that will fasten the technological growth of the country.

Egerton-Idehen said the first step towards doing that would be to reposition the satellite company and put it in a position that will help to escalate broadband penetration to un-served and underserved areas of the country.

“Picture Aminu, Ada, or Ade on his/her remote farm, engaging on a marketplace platform with an AI chatbot to determine the current price of cash crops for his suppliers. Envision a Nigeria where the utilization of ICT impacts all spheres. A good example was the significant impact of ICT during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, imagine a country, Nigeria, and a continent, Africa, where we utilize ICT to drive transparency in government and improve the quality and cost of public service delivery. This is not just the future; it is the goal. It will significantly increase ICT’s GDP contribution (17.8% in Q1 2023 and 19.54% in Q2 2023) for Nigeria.

“These are big and audacious goals, yet we are not the first to attempt them. In a similar stride, countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia are pursuing diversification despite their extensive oil and gas reserves. This is the picture of the future we want for Nigeria, with intense efforts from NIGCOMSAT in collaboration with other sister agencies, government bodies, and the private sector,” she said.

NIGCOMSAT’s edtech solution

Coming as the first action to back up Egerton-Idehen’s words and promises, NIGCOMSAT last week unveiled its Educational Technology (EdTech) solutions during a strategic meeting in Abuja. According to the company, the solutions will utilize satellite broadband connectivity to revolutionize education in Nigeria.

At the meeting themed, “NIGCOMSAT is open for business” the company’s MD said the desire to advance education through tech was what spurred this edtech project from NIGCOMSAT.

“By providing schools with a bundled solution, access to affordable reliable internet, and leveraging edtech resources and interventions designed in alignment with the Nigerian curriculum, a more equitable and effective education can be achieved,” she said.

According to the Executive Director of Marketing and Business Development of NIGCOMSAT, Mr. Najeem Salaam, NIGCOMSAT now has a new goal with its upgraded broadband and broadcasting capacity platform to provide Nigerians with better access to opportunities.

“NIGCOMSAT is therefore open for even greater business opportunities for all. The Nigeria of our dream is achievable, and we have started doing the work already. NIGCOMSAT is ours together as Nigerians, and we must grow our own and make the best out of it,” he said.

Failed moves to replace NIGCOMSAT-1R

While the new management of NIGCOMSAT is trying to reposition the company, the fact that its main asset, NIGCOMSAT-1R will be expiring in the next 3 years may create a setback except the government launches another satellite to replace it before 2026.

Before his exit in 2019, one of the former Ministers of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, had insisted that Nigeria needed two new satellites to act as a backup for the current one. He had announced plans to approach China-Exim Bank to secure a loan of $550 million for the purpose.

This, however, met stiff resistance from stakeholders, who argued that the current satellite operated by the country has been a wasted investment as it is not profitable and is being underutilised.

In 2021, former of NIGCOMSAT, Dr. Abimbola Alale, also announced at a stakeholder forum that the company was about to acquire two more satellites.

“l am pleased to inform stakeholders of our desire to acquire more satellites between now and 2025 with the NigComSat-2 (Hight Throughput Satellite) due for launch in 2023 while NigComSat-3 will be launched in 2025,” she said at the time.

Legal Adviser and Company Secretary of the company, Alma Okpalefe, added that the planned launch of the two satellites in 2023 and 2025, would help NIGCOMSAT meet up with its mandate to commercialize satellite resources in the country and provide quality and cheap satellite services to Nigerians.

Last year, the federal government had also budgeted N2.5 billion for the acquisition of a second satellite, NIGCOMSAT 2, but it was not implemented.

Provision for NIGCOMSAT in 2022 approved budget

Why Nigerian businesses have shunned NIGCOMSAT

One major factor that has led to the underutilization of the NIGCOMSAT satellite is the fact that many businesses in Nigeria, especially, telecommunications companies have refused to patronize it over the years.

According to a former President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr Olusola Teniola, most telecommunications companies in Nigeria are sourcing their satellite services from abroad because it is cheaper than in-country.

“The issue with NIGCOMSAT is the pricing. Service providers are taking capacities from foreign satellites because of that and this has been going on for quite some time,” he said.

Teniola said for the company to attract local operators, it has to review its pricing and also create service differentiation by offering what the telcos cannot get from foreign satellite services.

Similarly, the President of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), Mr Destiny Amana, said high-cost service from NIGCOMSAT had been driving many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to patronize foreign satellites.

According to him, it is far cheaper to obtain satellite services from outside the country, compared to local facilities.

NigComSat-1R journey

On March 24, 2009, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, NIGCOMSAT, Limited, and China Great Wall Industry Corporation, CGWIC, signed a contract for the in-orbit delivery of the NigComSat-1R satellite. It was a replacement for the failed NigComSat-1 which was launched on May 13, 2007.

Subsequently, on December 19, 2011, NigComSat-1R, paid for with the insurance policy on the de-orbited NigComSat-1 according to former President Goodluck Jonathan, was successfully launched into orbit by China in Xichang.

The satellite was designed to function in the areas of communications, internet services, health, agriculture, environmental protection, and national security before completing its 15-year lifespan.

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