Banking on satellites in Africa

Microfinance office in Cameroon
20 June 2013

Satellites are making it possible to transfer money between remote locations in sub-Saharan African countries that are otherwise unconnected to the outside world.

An ESA project looking at ways to use satellites for services in developing nations where land networks are simply impossible or non-existent gave rise to the Agency’s SatFinAfrica pilot project in 2011. 

It was so successful that a company called SatADSL was set up in Belgium early last year to provide satcom for financial services to Africa. Microfinance offices in different villages, linked via satellite, allow people to transfer or withdraw money with ease.

The satcom service is sold via local African distributors who resell it to the microfinance offices on behalf of SatADSL.  

Currently, SatADSL serves more than 100 offices and the number is growing. Each branch has its own satellite terminal.

Withdrawing cash via satellite in Ghana

SatADSL has just received €1 million from a leading Belgian private equity investor to support this growth, with the aim of connecting thousands of branch offices of microfinance companies in sub-Saharan Africa via satellite.

Other services offered by SatADSL include cash machines to withdraw money at any time, even in remote and otherwise unconnected places.

The machines operate in the same way as they do in Europe, only in Africa a satellite terminal sits on the roof. For those withdrawing cash, the procedure is no different. Satcom also provides the same level of security as terrestrial networks.

SatFinAfrica uses Sat3Play satellite technology developed by Newtec in Belgium with assistance from ESA’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems, or ARTES, programme. The satellite link is provided by SES Astra in Luxembourg using SES Broadband.

SatADSL equipment

When someone uses a bank machine, the information is sent via satellite to the SES hub in Luxembourg. This is transferred via the virtual private network tunnel to headquarters in Africa.

The confirmation is sent back to the user through the same system. Business is conducted in a matter of minutes rather than the days it used to take.

“We are extremely pleased to have been instrumental in helping SatADSL become an important player in the African market of transactional services for the banking sector using Sat3Play, a leading technology created in Europe,” said Davide Tomassini,  ESA’s Technical Officer.

“Sea&Space Exploration is extremely happy to have been partnering up with ESA in this R&D activity that resulted in the creation of a commercial operating company, SatADSL. SatADSL is exploiting European Technologies for the benefit of African people, and supporting the development of financial services outside densely populated urban areas, “ added Caroline De Vos, Chief Operations Officer of SatADSL.

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