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DIGITAL ECONOMY & TECHNOLOGY

Starlink: SpaceX’s New Internet Service Could be a Gamechanger in Africa

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By Marian Selorm Sapah

It’s hard for many of us to imagine a world without instant, limitless internet access. Some have even argued that it should, alongside access to clean water and electricity, be considered a basic human right. But in fact only 64.4% of the global population as of January 2023 are internet users. Asia and Europe are home to most of the people who are connected.

Africa comes in third. However, accessibility varies wildly across the continent. About 66% of people in southern Africa are internet users. In east Africa the figure is 26%; it is just 24% in central Africa. People in rural areas have far less access than those in the continent’s urban areas. Internet access opens up the world in many ways. It can entertain, educate, enable payments and even bolster democracy.

That’s why advances in providing internet access to people in Africa are worth celebrating. In January 2023, the US company SpaceX, which manufactures and launches spacecraft and communication satellites, announced that its Starlink service was available in Nigeria. This was a first for the continent. It has also since become available in Rwanda. Starlink is a satellite-based internet service. It is set to be rolled out elsewhere on the continent, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya and Tanzania, later this year. More coverage is to come in 2024.

This could be an important way to fill Africa’s connectivity gaps, which have arisen because of poor digital infrastructure and the high costs of investing in fibre optic cables or mobile phone masts, particularly in rural and remote areas. The United Nations has a strategy for reaching universal access across Africa by 2030, but this won’t be possible without innovative approaches. Starlink is one such innovation. Since all its users are tapping into the same infrastructure, in space, there’s less need for erecting mobile phone masts or laying fibre optic cable on land.

What is Starlink?

Starlink is a network of thousands of satellites located close to the Earth – about 550km from the planet’s surface – that provide broadband internet access. Of course, satellites are already used for internet connectivity. But a traditional internet satellite is a single geostationary object; its position in orbit is fixed in relation to the Earth. These satellites are also located more than 35,000km from Earth, so it takes a long time for the signal to reach the end user. As anyone who has tried to use the internet in a remote area knows, the further a signal travels, the worse it gets, so traditional internet satellites tend to be slow and can be unreliable. They aren’t able to adequately support activities like live streaming, online gaming and video calls.

Starlink’s Low-Earth Orbit satellites are able to interconnect and relay signals between each other, creating fast, stable internet service. There are also a lot of them: on 17 February 2023, SpaceX said it had launched 3,981 satellites in total, with 3,639 currently operational. The company can launch its own satellites on demand and update them with the latest technology as required, which it says adds to their reliability.

Much of Africa’s internet access is currently being provided through mobile, wireless internet – signals are relayed from land-based towers. This has less coverage and is slower than satellite internet access. One area of concern when it comes to Starlink is the cost. For example, at the beginning of February 2023, FiberOne, a broadband internet provider in Nigeria, was providing internet with speeds of up to 500Mbps, which is fast. The installation fee was N32,231 (about US$70) and the monthly subscription cost around N100,000 (US$220). Starlink in Nigeria, meanwhile, costs about N276,000 (US$599) once-off for the kit and installation, then charges a monthly subscription fee of about N198,000 (US$43).

Starlink is cheaper in the long term than both fibre optic and mobile internet providers. But can an average rural Nigerian household with a monthly income of less than N28,000 (US$60) afford it? Given that average incomes are similarly low in most rural and remote parts of Africa, there’s a risk that Starlink’s targeted users on the continent won’t be able to use the service.

Research uses

These concerns aside, there’s no doubt that faster internet can propel Africa forward. Despite the shortcomings of mobile, wireless internet, it has been credited with greatly advancing Africa technologically. Services like Starlink could fuel even greater growth in several areas. These include education, participation in democracy and governance, disaster risk reduction and mitigation, health, and agriculture.

As a researcher in planetary and space science whose work includes, among other things, the use of satellite data for monitoring and modelling in relation to geology, I am especially interested in the ways these satellites could be used beyond internet access, for tasks like remote sensing and Earth observations. I hope that Starlink’s arrival in Africa will help usher the continent into a new phase of technological development.

For example, satellite images can give information on crop yield, helping farmers to make better decisions on irrigation, fertilisation and harvesting. They also allow for widespread and effective monitoring of reservoir levels, as well as increasing transparency about how much water is available, thereby providing early warnings of shortages and uniform data among countries with common water sources.

Governments, researchers and industries can buy access to specialised Starlink satellites called Swarm for data they need for these kinds of projects. The sheer number and speed of Starlink’s satellites means they can gather a lot of data, quickly, and offer frequent updates. Starlink’s arrival in Africa is a great opportunity for the continent’s scientists, governments and industries to collaborate.

Marian Selorm Sapah is a Lecturer/Research Scientist, University of Ghana

Courtesy: The Conversation


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DIGITAL ECONOMY & TECHNOLOGY

Aeon Bank Officially Launches Malaysia’s First Islamic Digital Bank

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Aeon Bank (M) Bhd has officially launched Malaysia’s first Islamic digital bank, marking a significant milestone in the country’s banking sector. The launch aims to provide comprehensive, Shariah-compliant digital banking solutions to all Malaysians, setting a new standard for financial services in the region.

Comprehensive Shariah-Compliant Solutions

At the public launch ceremony, Chief Executive Officer Raja Teh Maimunah Raja Abdul Aziz outlined the bank’s vision. “We aim to offer safe, simplified, and inclusive Shariah-compliant digital banking solutions such as savings accounts, retirement savings plans, various borrowing options, and payment services,” she stated. “This will allow us to offer financial services to our customers comprehensively, helping us achieve our mission.”

Innovative Banking Products

The Islamic Digital Bank’s services currently include personal banking products like Savings Account-i and customizable Savings Pots with optimization features. These products were developed and refined through extensive testing phases. Raja Teh Maimunah highlighted the success of the beta testing phase, which involved over 1,800 participants over 12 weeks. “The beta test was meant to identify any necessary improvements and fixes. We received a lot of positive feedback on the overall architecture. We did not rush the test and also conducted an alpha test before the beta, ensuring platform stability,” she explained.

Seamless User Experience

Users who activate their Aeon Bank account will immediately gain access to their virtual Aeon Bank x Visa Debit Card-i and can request a physical Debit Card-i. To celebrate the public launch, Aeon Bank is offering a sign-up bonus of 3,000 Aeon Points and triple Aeon Points for transactions using the Aeon Bank x Visa Debit Card-i, along with a profit rate of 3.88% per annum.

Additionally, Aeon Points Programme members will have their memberships automatically linked with the Aeon Bank (M) app, providing extra benefits and rewards to Aeon Group’s outlets and merchants.

Revolutionizing Digital Banking in Malaysia

Jointly owned by Aeon Financial Service Ltd and Aeon Credit Service (M) Bhd, both subsidiaries of Japan’s largest retail group Aeon Group, Aeon Bank is set to revolutionize digital banking in Malaysia. Raja Teh Maimunah expressed optimism about the bank’s potential to perform detailed financial analyses and promote financial inclusion.

Competitive Landscape

In addition to Aeon Bank, a consortium led by KAF Investment Bank Sdn Bhd has also secured an Islamic digital bank license from Bank Negara Malaysia. Other recipients of digital banking licenses include a consortium of Boost Holdings Sdn Bhd and RHB Bank Bhd, a consortium led by GXS Bank Pte Ltd and Kuok Brothers Sdn Bhd, and a consortium led by Sea Ltd and YTL Digital Capital Sdn Bhd.

Promoting Financial Inclusion

With the launch of Malaysia’s first Islamic Digital Bank, Aeon Bank is poised to make significant strides in promoting financial inclusion. The bank’s innovative products and services are designed to cater to the diverse needs of Malaysian consumers, providing them with Shariah-compliant, convenient, and efficient banking solutions. This initiative aligns with the broader goals of enhancing financial accessibility and inclusion across the country.

As Aeon Bank continues to expand its offerings and reach, it is expected to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of digital banking in Malaysia. By leveraging advanced technology and adhering to Shariah principles, Aeon Bank aims to provide a robust banking platform that meets the evolving needs of its customers. The successful launch of Malaysia’s first Islamic Digital Bank marks a new era in the country’s financial landscape, promising a future of inclusive, innovative, and customer-centric banking services.


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DIGITAL ECONOMY & TECHNOLOGY

Crypto Miners See ‘Enormous Potential’ in the Gulf

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  • Crypto miners drawn to Gulf
  • Electricity is 80% of cost
  • Tech-savvy population

With cryptocurrencies edging up again after last weekend’s “halving” – in which the rewards Bitcoin miners get for solving problems is cut in two to maintain scarcity – these are heady days for holders of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Bitcoin miners have been attracted to the Gulf by cheap electricity and established infrastructure.

“GCC countries have enormous potential in relation to the development of the Bitcoin mining sector,” Abdumalik Mirakhmedov, executive president of Dubai-based Bitcoin miner GDA, told AGBI. “In the past year, the region has been experiencing active growth, with several significant launches.”

Bitcoin “mining” is a process in which information in a blockchain block is validated by specialist machines. When a complex solution is reached by this equipment, a reward – in the form of Bitcoin and fees for the work done – is then issued. Initially, mining was often done in back rooms and sometimes-unofficial data centres. These days, however, it is increasingly dominated by larger businesses.

This equipment, however, also requires a lot of electricity.  In 2023, the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) estimated global electricity usage associated with Bitcoin mining to be around 120 terawatt hours – about the same as Australia’s total electricity consumption that year.

Working day and night, Bitcoin miners also generate a lot of heat.  In colder climates, this has sometimes been repurposed to provide heating.  In the Gulf, however, the heat creates even greater electricity consumption, as powered cooling systems are used to keep the machinery within its operational temperature range.

A further problem in the Gulf recently has often been the lack of a clear regulatory framework for the industry – sometimes because of a general suspicion of cryptocurrencies.  Kuwait, for example, has banned all virtual asset transactions, investments and mining. In Saudi Arabia and Qatar, crypto has only quasi-legal status.

Yet, despite the obstacles, “the GCC region is the world’s sixth-largest adopter,” said Paige Aarhus, Paris-based director of crypto news and analysis site DL News. And figures from Chainalysis, a US-based cryptocurrency software development company, estimate that total crypto transaction levels in Saudi Arabia alone amounted to $36 billion and in the first two months of 2024 it hit $6 billion.

In the UAE and Oman, too, a more positive approach has been taken. A regulatory framework has been established, enabling facilities such as the DMCC Crypto Centre in Dubai to provide a wide range of services, including mining. In Oman, $800 million is now invested in crypto mining in the Sultanate. Abu Dhabi’s Green Data City in Salalah was Oman’s first licensed mining entity, while Exahertz International has also now joined it in the southern – and slightly cooler – Omani city.

Power plays

With electricity representing around 75-80 percent of a data farm’s average cost, cheap power is a major draw for miners when it comes to the Gulf. In Oman, although subsidies for electricity are being phased out, typical costs remain at around $0.05 per kilowatt – much less than the US average of $0.23, which is itself lower than average tariffs in Europe. “Innovations such as liquid cooling and immersion cooling are expected to significantly contribute to the expansion of operations within the region,” says Mirakhmedov.

This was recognised at the recent Global Digital Mining Summit hosted by mining server manufacturer Bitmain, held in Muscat. The “Hydro-mining Wins in the Desert” gathering highlighted progress in water cooling.

Green, renewable energy from solar is also available in abundance in Oman and other Gulf countries, providing miners with more sustainable credentials. At the same time, the Gulf offers a developed infrastructure and few restrictions on land for large data farms.

Oman, and other Gulf states, have also all invested heavily in education and training in IT, producing large, tech-savvy populations. “Key benefits of the Gulf also include the region’s access to capital and the ease of doing business,” says Mirakhmedov.  These benefits may help Gulf miners weather the storm of the recent halving.

Larger mining companies, or groups of miners, stand a better chance of absorbing that loss, while “some smaller mining companies may well go out of business as a result,” Aarhus says. With miners in the Gulf generally larger operations with lower overall costs, they may now be well placed for further expansion. More data farms could therefore be springing up around the region, in the months to come.


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DIGITAL ECONOMY & TECHNOLOGY

Zakat on Stocks and Shares: A Modern Dilemma Solved

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In today’s fast-paced world, where the buzz of the stock market is as familiar as morning coffee, a timeless tradition meets the modern age: the practice of paying Zakat on stocks and shares. This intersection of faith and finance might seem like a modern dilemma, but “Zakat on Stocks and Shares: A Modern Dilemma Solved” can be achieved with a blend of ancient wisdom and contemporary understanding. Let’s dive into the world of stocks, shares, and spiritual duty, and discover how this blend enriches both our wallets and our souls.

Understanding Zakat in the Digital Age

Zakat, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is a form of almsgiving to the less fortunate, calculated as a percentage of one’s wealth. Traditionally, it applied to tangible assets like gold, silver, and livestock. But what happens when your wealth is tied up in the intangible world of the stock market?

Imagine you’re in a vast, bustling city where skyscrapers are filled with traders, analysts, and investors, all meticulously tracking the rise and fall of stocks. In this modern jungle, your investments grow, sometimes unpredictably, reflecting not just your financial acumen but also the global economic heartbeat. Here lies our modern dilemma: how do we apply the ancient practice of Zakat to this digital-age wealth?

Calculating Zakat on Stocks and Shares

The key to solving this puzzle lies in understanding the nature of your investment. Are your stocks purely for capital gain, or do they yield dividends from companies that deal in tangible goods and services? The answer guides how Zakat is calculated on these modern assets.

  1. For Long-Term Investment: If you hold stocks as a long-term investment, Zakat is due on their market value. Think of it as if you’re a farmer with fields (stocks) that grow crops (dividends). Just as a farmer would calculate Zakat on the harvest, you calculate Zakat on the annual value of your stocks.
  2. For Active Trading: If you’re an active trader, your stocks are akin to the goods in a merchant’s caravan, constantly moving and changing. Here, Zakat is calculated based on the total value of your trading portfolio at the end of the lunar year.

Stories from the Stock Market

Let’s take a moment to walk in the shoes of Aisha, a dedicated software engineer by day and a savvy investor by night. Aisha’s portfolio is a mix of long-term tech stocks and short-term trades in renewable energy. When the time comes to calculate her Zakat, she reflects on the nature of each investment. Her tech stocks, akin to a golden wheat field, are valued at their current market price, while her active trades are tallied up like a merchant’s inventory at year-end. This careful consideration ensures Aisha fulfills her spiritual obligations without overlooking her modern investments.

Similarly, Omar, a retired teacher with a passion for philanthropy, uses his dividends from healthcare stocks to support various charities. By calculating the Zakat on his shares, Omar turns his investments into a powerful tool for social good, illustrating how ancient practices can meet modern philanthropy.

Embracing Modern Dilemmas with Ancient Wisdom

The dilemma of paying Zakat on stocks and shares illustrates a broader lesson: that our faith and traditions are not static, but rather, they evolve with us. As we navigate the complexities of the modern financial world, we’re reminded of the adaptability and enduring relevance of Islamic teachings.

Zakat on stocks and shares: a modern dilemma solved, not just through numbers and calculations, but through the stories of individuals who bridge the gap between their faith and their finances. In doing so, they enrich not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them, weaving a tapestry of spiritual and material prosperity that spans the ages.

In conclusion, the practice of paying Zakat on stocks and shares: a modern dilemma solved, offers a fascinating glimpse into how timeless traditions adapt to contemporary realities. It’s a journey that not only addresses a modern financial challenge but also deepens our connection to our faith, our community, and the wider world. As we move forward, let’s carry this wisdom in our hearts and portfolios, ensuring that our investments reflect our values and contribute to a better world for all.


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