Forsway looks to tap into underserved broadband market

Link to article on Connectivity Business, by Laurence Russell (needs subscription) 

Satellite communications developer Forsway continues working to provide access to underserved regions of the world, enabling connectivity by engineering for limitations in local infrastructure and product cost in line with performance.

Bengt Jonsson, Forsway chairman of the board

The Stockholm-based company, which enables broadband promotes access to broadband as a human right, recently named longtime company investor and former managing director Bengt Jonsson as chairman of its board.

Outgoing Forsway board Chairman Mats Andersson said in a press release, “Combining the disruptive trend of lowering satellite broadband costs with low-cost hybrid satellite terminals and technology can be a game changer for regions previously not able to afford reliable internet access.”

Forsway’s latest offering, the Odin F-60 terminal, produced by Taiwanese connectivity manufacturer Zinwell, aims to meet enterprise needs by serving more advanced demands, building upon its existing portfolio of more affordable solutions.

“It’s important to use existing technologies that are produced and used widely,” Jonsson, who was appointed in mid-June, told Connectivity Business News. “This way, we can keep costs down while still delivering a state-of-the-art solution.

The economic case 

Forsway announced in March that Stockholm-based Rymdkapital, a venture capital firm for European space startups, had invested in the company. Forsway declined to disclose the amount.

The Forsway Odin F-60 satellite router

“Space services are enablers and the next frontier for long-term value creation,” Ulf Palmnas, co-founder of Rymdkapital, said in a release. “Forsway has a vision for significant scale-up in coming years, backed by technology that can offer broadband to over 1 billion people around the world that are underserved today. Their solutions can rapidly make a significant difference to people, businesses and rural municipalities.”

Jonsson told CBN that the company has recently established a high-profile customer in Southeast Asia, whom he declined to identify, and a new distance-education project for schools in rural India.

The digital divide doesn’t exist solely in the global south, but it’s also in underserved rural communities in advanced economies. Forsway has previously worked on trials in Arizona and the United Kingdom in areas lacking reliable connectivity.

Northern Sky Research analyst and digital divide specialist Sarah Halpin told CBN that rural connectivity programs are estimated to contribute billions of dollars in economic benefit inside the U.S. as part of digitization in the agriculture sector.

The potential in the digital divide

Addressing the digital divide brings economic potential. With huge portions of countries still unconnected or under-connected, an enormous consumer base and workforce remain unrealized.

Data courtesy of Northern Sky Research

“We estimate that the global south has a market of 3 to 4 billion people that have unsuitable connectivity,” Jonsson told CBN. “If we can deliver an acceptable and cost-efficient broadband and content delivery solution to just a fraction of these people, then we strongly believe local economies are capable of substantial growth.”

Halpin told CBN that consumer broadband and social inclusion would account for nearly 38% of satellite connectivity revenues by 2031 and would include 4.7 million new sites coming online.

Jonsson said that, in many cases, Forsway would be able to offer a solution that would stand on its own commercially, but for other circumstances, the company was working with NGOs and local authorities to support a connectivity roll-out.

Halpin agreed that success required a mix of models and that local subsidies and the work of foundations would enable the connection of ultra-low-income areas, potentially enabling transformational growth there, but it won’t solve the issue of the economically disadvantaged.

Conventional consumer broadband cannot capture lower-average revenue customer bases, and likewise the best-effort social inclusion program will not reach every target user,” Halpin said. “Overall, the hotspot model tends toward being the most effective to the end-user, as more sites do not equal more end-users — more users per site do.”

The hotspot model Halpin mentions includes community WiFi solutions provided by companies like HughesEutelsat and Viasat, which provide coverage at critical sites like schools, libraries, hospitals and city centers.

Halpin speculated that mass-produced low-Earth-orbit broadband technologies that see sales offset research and development costs can result in lower equipment pricing in regions like Africa, but there is no guarantee that this trend will play out.

“Broadband access is a human right, and we are proud to support the goal of a truly connected world,” Jonsson told CBN.