Avanti’s commitment to connecting rural east Africa

21 April 2020

East Africa, and Uganda in particular, hosts some of the largest refugee populations in the world. Avanti is committed to mobilising its satellite technology to support refugees, host communities and humanitarian organisations in the region through providing access to connectivity in the remotest of locations.

Avanti’s first project is now live in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, based in northern Uganda. Bidi Bidi hosts over 270,000 displaced people predominantly from the neighbouring conflict in South Sudan, putting immense strain on host communities and local resources.

In July 2019, Avanti donated solar powered satellite broadband to The Social Innovation Academy (SINA)’s Bidi Bidi site, the first of three installations Avanti will be donating to the refugee settlement. SINA’s site is off grid, in a very remote location and is now able to provide its beneficiaries with access to the internet and an ICT lab. SINA provides refugees and members of the host community with access to connectivity where alternatives do not exist due to the lack of electricity and financial means in the settlement.

SINA tackles failing education and resulting unemployment in East Africa through creating self- organised learning spaces, where disadvantaged youth and refugees unleash their potential for positive change as social entrepreneurs. A “freesponsible” approach lets scholars learn the skills needed for their own enterprises by taking up responsibilities within a SINA community. Scholars start to understand their past as a strength, rather than a subject of shame and create solutions to local problems themselves.

The satellite broadband Avanti has donated is being used by SINA’s beneficiaries for access to job and grant applications, self-learning websites, researching project and enterprise ideas, online mentorship, independent news, reconnecting with relatives and the creation of social media pages for start-ups.

SINA’s connected centre is being used by over 70 people on a daily basis including SINA members as well as teachers and youth from the surrounding area. Refugees and the host communities are using their smartphones as well as laptops provided by Avanti to get online.

“Since knowledge is power, the internet has allowed refugees and the host community to gain access to information essential for self-determination, self-learning, and personal development through education. Social enterprises have emerged, which are solving local challenges while providing a dignified income”, says SINA founder Etienne Salborn.

Following the success of the donation to SINA, Avanti’s corporate social responsibility programme is expanding its impact in East Africa and connecting further sites in refugee settlements. Through 2020, Avanti is working with UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, as a corporate partner donating solar powered satellite broadband connectivity and laptops to seven UNHCR sites in remote refugee settlements in Uganda.

Avanti will be connecting sites in Palabek, Imvepi, Bidi Bidi, Kiryandongo, Maaji II and Rhino Camp refugee settlements throughout this project. The settlements, predominantly hosting refugees from ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, are remote and off grid.

The donation comprises of solar connectivity equipment, installation, laptops for each site, free bandwidth, maintenance and customer support. The connectivity will enable refugees and their host communities to access information, humanitarian and livelihood services; working to create revenue generating opportunities, increase refugee self-reliance and ease the pressure on host countries.

Avanti announced this contribution at the first UN Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2019 and is committed to supporting UNHCR’s work through the provision of connectivity, bridging the digital divide and increasing opportunities for people in some of the most disconnected locations.

“This is a big step for Avanti in terms of our commitment to Africa and the opportunity we can provide the developing regions in our network. Given the magnitude of refugees living across Africa, our work with UNHCR will allow us to increase our efforts in connecting the world, enabling people to build themselves a better future’, says Avanti Communications CEO, Kyle Whitehill.

The satellite VSAT equipment donated by Avanti to UNHCR was developed as part of the Every Community Online (ECO) project. The ECO project is led by Avanti and co-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), as part of its Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme. The primary objective of the ECO project is to ensure that no community in sub-Saharan Africa, no matter how rural or remote, is left without access to reliable high-speed broadband connectivity.

The ECO project team researched and developed satellite Gateway Earth Station (GES) equipment and Customer Premises Equipment (CPE). The equipment is specifically designed to meet the reliability, performance and affordability requirements of the sub-Saharan Africa environment where telecommunications infrastructure is usually limited, completely unavailable or unaffordable to the majority of the population. The CPE is available in two variants with both enabling multiple concurrent users to access reliable satellite based high-speed broadband and digital services using any Wi-Fi enabled device.

The ECO service integrates a solution for affordable micro-data purchases on smartphones via Pay As You Go (PAYG). The ECO service is suitable for the following sectors:

Commercial community markets where local resellers or entrepreneurs can sell the service in return for a share of revenues generated.

National governments and governmental agencies committed to reducing the digital divide in sub-Saharan Africa.

International development initiatives where the affordability of the micro-data purchase via PAYG model can be used to support financially viable and sustainable access to digital services in under-resourced rural communities.

The ECO project is led by Avanti Communications Ltd in the UK. The project has successfully demonstrated the technical and financial viability of delivering an affordable satellite-based Wi-Fi solution through deployment of advanced and specialised equipment across Avanti’s HYLAS 4 satellite footprint in sub-Saharan Africa. n