Yesterday, Zimbabwe celebrated the African Telecommunications/ICT Day. The rest of Africa celebrated it on the 7th of December but better late than never, I guess.
It is a commemoration of the establishment of the African Telecommunications Union. The union, a special arm of the African Union, exists to promote the development of telecommunications and ICT in Africa.
The Postal and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) made a day of it and invited us all to celebrate with them. The following were represented, RBZ, TOAZ, CCZ, and CEOs of players in the ICT sector were also present.
Honourable Dr Tatenda Mavetera, the Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services, was the guest of honour. She didn’t speak for too long when she gave her keynote address but left us with a few things to ponder.
The Minister gave a short summary of a resolution that was adopted by the World Radiocommunication Conference that involved satellites and spectrum. Read on and you’ll understand. Said the Minister,
I think you know traditionally, a lot of African countries were not very much privy to the satellite technology. To the extent that they would not even want to even to take any space because they were not very much exposed to it.
So, most of the satellite space, the orbital space, was then taken by other countries who felt they very much needed it. So, in 2019, Africa then decided to say, yes, we really need our satellite space. We need to regain back our satellite space.
So, … since 2019, every year, yes they were actually trying to make sure that at least we could regain back this satellite space.
We are very happy to announce that 31 African countries managed to be allocated orbital space where they can be able to also be broadcasting or also … telecoms satellites.
That’s one way to put it. Here is the full context of the resolution she was talking about:
- The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) of 2019 revised the Radio Regulations, which govern the use of radio spectrum globally.
- Part of this revision involved deleting certain satellite frequency assignments [for the nerds, this was primarily in the C-band (3.4-4.2 GHz) and Ku-band (12-14 GHz) ranges.]
- These deleted assignments were intended for fixed satellite services (FSS) and broadcast satellite services (BSS) but were deemed underutilised.
A resolution was made and countries that wanted to, applied to be reassigned spectrum. This is why she said we have been trying to regain our “satellite space” since 2019. The resolution of 2019 had the following provisions:
- Aimed to facilitate the transition for countries affected by the deleted assignments.
- Provided a temporary special procedure for eligible countries to apply for new frequency assignments as replacements for the deleted ones.
- Eligibility criteria for the special procedure included:
- Having experienced significant degradation of national FSS and/or BSS assignments due to the deletions.
- Demonstrating efforts to optimise existing spectrum use before requesting replacements.
So, Minister Mavetera was saying 31 countries managed to be allocated spectrum or “satellite space” as she put it. That list of countries has been hard to come by and so we’re not sure if Zimbabwe is on it.
However, there is a good chance that we are since we did successfully submit our technical papers.
You saw this coming. All that talk about satellites could only lead to Starlink.
A few months ago, the Director General of Potraz, talked about how Starlink could potentially interfere with our own fixed satellite projects. Said he,
You may be aware of the Starlink Constellation, but there are numerous other Non-Geostationary (nGSO) satellite constellations that are planned or are being launched. Without careful coordination, our planned Geostationary Satellites could soon be rendered inoperable due to interference from the nGSO constellations.
Do note: geostationary satellites stay in one place high above the Earth, while non-geostationary satellites move around as they orbit the planet, closer to the Earth than the Geostationary ones.
Before you take up your pitchforks, this is not why Starlink has not been licensed to operate in Zimbabwe. They are not holding out so that they can preserve clear space for our planned Geostationary satellites.
Our licensing of Starlink does not impact the number of their satellites that zip above our country.
Then yesterday, the Minister of ICT talked about Starlink some more. This Starlink elephant is in every single room she walks in and she will have to talk about it until it is licensed or a decision is made and communicated that they won’t be licensing it.
Said the Minister,
Let me also highlight the issue which has been talked about – about satellite technology. Let me be honest with you, we have got many satellite technology … providers which are around the world. There are some which have approached us as a country.
As a country, our President has said to us Zimbabwe is open for business, and what we need to do is … make sure that we engage and we make sure that we … provide accessible and cheap data as you so much want.
To the extent that, even us being able to also get some satellite technology companies which would want to come and also adhere to our rules and regulations within Zimbabwe. Definitely that is very much applicable and we are very much working towards that.
… I think you heard Honourable Mthuli also mentioning that, and also Honourable Mutsvangwa also mentioned the issue of other satellite providers which are also saying they also want to come and trade with Zimbabwe.
So, on that one, that’s something that we are also working towards…
She is saying it’s not just Starlink that’s knocking on our doors. You may be forgiven for thinking Starlink is alone in the low-earth orbit satellite game.
In South Africa, where Elon Musk grew up ironically, Starlink is yet to be licensed. However, a competitor called OneWeb by an organisation you might be familiar with – Eutelsat got the green light and will be launching soon.
So, could Eutelsat be knocking on Zimbabwe’s doors too? It’s possible.
Listen, we couldn’t care less if it’s Starlink or Eutelsat or the Chinese one that gets licensed in Zimbabwe. We just want one to get the ball rolling and achieve 100% internet coverage. Once achieved, we can focus on tackling device access and other pressing issues.
Again, the Minister has been consistent in saying they welcome Starlink and its competitors. However, we are left wondering how welcome they are since none of them have been licensed. Is it a rules and regulations thing or are we being played?
There was a chilling way that the Minister said “adhere to our rules and regulations”. We shall have that discussion some other time.
The word is that the potential short-term decrease in tax revenue should Starlink be licensed is weighing heavily on the government. As well as some security concerns we somehow have but that’s a discussion for another day.