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Ethiopia’s Ethio Telecom May Acquire Communications Satellite

Image courtesy of NASA.

Ethiopia’s state-owned telecommunications provider, Ethio Telecom, is considering acquiring a communications satellite in order to provide connectivity to rural Ethiopia as well as to economic sectors in the northeast African country that will benefit from telecommunications infrastructure, such as agriculture and mining, according to a news story published in Ethiopian news outlet The Reporter.

“Satellite is used for commercial and military purposes. For civilian purposes it can be used for broadcasting and telecom services. We are anticipating to use satellite to cater telecom services for the health, education and agriculture sectors where we do not have telecom infrastructure,” an unnamed official at Ethio Telecom is quoted as saying in The Reporter.

The official added that he envisions the satellite providing much needed connectivity to underserved areas and economic sectors in Ethiopia, such as agriculture, resource management, education, and healthcare, especially in rural areas.

It appears that this is not the first time that Ethio Telecom has considered acquiring its own communications satellite. A previous effort to do so was eventually nixed when it transpired that another Ethiopian government entity, the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) was also proposing to acquire its own communications satellite. “There was a similar plan launched by INSA. The same proposal was made by two governmental organizations. So it was a waste of resource. The former management of Ethio Telecom suspended the plan,” the Ethio Telecom official told The Reporter.

The INSA communications satellite ultimately did not transpire, and now Ethio Telecom officials and executives believe that the timing is right to go ahead with another communications satellite acquisition proposal. “We are working on the plan. We will work on the strategy and present it to the government for approval,” the Ethio Telecom official said.

According to The Reporter, Ethio Telecom spends at least U.S.$12 million a year leasing commercial satellite communications, and this sum does not include money spent by Ethiopian media, military, business, and other government departments on satellite communications. A number of Ethiopian analysts believe that this reliance on foreign commercial providers for satellite connectivity poses a strategic risk to the country, and so the number of Ethiopian experts and officials advocating for a sovereign communications satellite capability is growing.

“By having its own communication satellite the telecom company could reduce its operation cost,” one Ethiopian telecommunications expert told The Reporter.

In 2018 it was reported in SpaceWatch Africa that the Addis Ababa University, in cooperation with China, is building a small Earth observation satellite that is expected to be launched in September 2019. Additionally, the Ethiopian cabinet recently approved its space policy and passed it into law, and it has also been reported that the Ethiopian defence ministry and military are considering establishing some kind of military space unit to track threats to Ethiopian space interests.

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