Delivering internet via the moon
Africa’s digital revolution is bringing with it the potential for numerous opportunities — particularly in health care and education — however, according to an October 2019 World Bank report, barely a third of the continent has access to broadband internet. Dr Harold Omondi, a lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi is setting out to change that by delivering connectivity from out of this world, literally. Via the moon, to be precise.
Above Omondi’s office, he’s configured a small satellite dish to connect with transponders on the moon via a specific line of sight. He says that “line of sight is capable of creating internet packets, which are then turned into internet signals, which are then terminated to a server, then to a modem.” The moon, in effect, acts as his base station.
NASA positioned equipment on the moon several years ago that can receive and send back information via satellite. Because the moon keeps the same face pointing towards Earth in what is called synchronous rotation, this connection is never lost.
The service is currently provided free within and around the university as a pilot project; there are more than 1200 logins every day. The university has another station in South Sudan that serves between 300–500 people each day.
Omondi told David Owino of the Africa Development Journal, “My goal is to provide 1MBps to each household in Kenya so that at least each and every family within our community will have access to this valuable commodity called the internet.”
“Broadband is a human rights issue because we are now online — all of us,” says Bilange Ndemo, ICT Specialist and an associate professor at the University of Nairobi. “The kids are learning online. We need online to do shopping because when there was lockdown the only solution was to use e-commerce platforms. Everybody is into that space now. Because of the pandemic people go online to do that, so broadband facilitates enterprise.”
Omondi says he hopes to deliver affordable broadband to the whole of Africa, beginning with last-mile connections in Kenya. Two things that make internet from the moon particularly relevant to Africa is the capacity to reach remote locations and to reduce costs to the consumer. He adds his current satellite has 5G capacity, making it possible to provide bandwidth for heavy-use tasks.
For Omondi and his team to take their internet to every household in Kenya they will need multiple satellite dishes. Ndemo says satellites are relatively expensive in Africa, and acquiring enough of them to meet Kenya’s demand would require subsidy. He hopes the government might do that or at least pay to plug the gaps in the more remote parts of the country.
ABOVE Dr Harold Omondi adjusting his roof satellite to deliver broadband via the moon
PHOTO Zulani TV