Liquid Telecom is one of the leading independent data, voice and IP provider in eastern, central and southern Africa. It supplies fibre optic, satellite and international carrier services to Africa’s largest mobile network operators, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and businesses of all sizes, payment solutions to financial institutions and retailers, as well as award winning data storage and communication solutions to businesses across Africa and beyond.
Since starting up operations in Uganda four years ago, the telecom has led a drastic cloud-based services such as Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Azure across its fibre footprint. Among many other global awards, the company has been named Best African Wholesale Carrier for the last seven consecutive years at the annual Global Carrier Awards. Nile Post’s Frank Semata caught up with the Chief Executive Officer of Liquid Telecom Dennis Kahindiand the conversation proceeded as follows.
Qn: Kindly share the background of the company and a summary of what Liquid Telecom is offering to the Ugandan community?
Liquid Telecom is a subsidiary of Econet Global, It began life as the satellite and voice operator Econet Satellite Services, which was founded in 1997 and currently head quartered in Mauritius. It is in Zimbabwe but has operational offices out of the UK. Our biggest operation is in South Africa and we operate in over 13 countries.
The story of Liquid telecom starts at the point where our chairman Mr. Strive Masiyiwa intended to run a fibre from Cape Town to Cairo and he completed that particular project. He is currently running a fibre from Adis Ababa to Dakar as part of the infrastructure project.
Coming into Uganda four years ago, Liquid telecom acquired a company called Infocom, we did a re-branding from infocom to liquid telecom and now the main reason we are engaging with our stakeholders is to let them know that we are no longer infocom but liquid telecom. Not just any other telecom but a different kind of telecom that is totally multi foresighted with services of wholesale business, corporate businesses, home users and even student minded (wifi services).
Qn: The government of Uganda has been pushing for the adoption of fibre as seen from the launch of the different phases of the National Backbone Infrastructure project and the e-Government. What is Liquid Telecom offering that is different from that?
Over the last couple of months, Liquid telecom has been agreesively going out to the market because of the investment we have made. An investment in over 1300km of fibre in this country alone. With a comparison to NITA-U which does national backbone infrastructure (NBI) for the Government of Uganda has acquired 2500 km of fibre and we have half of that in less than 4 years of operation here. Our fibres print is very huge to support the wholesale enterprises, retail and wifi business. But, the fibre foot print feeds into the narrative around liquid as the Pan African network with presence in over 13 active countries with the newest baby being South Sudan which we will be lighting up in early 2020.
Qn: We have heard about Liquid Telecom’s push for the Internet of Things and the Artificial Intelligence narrative. As a market, do you think Uganda is ready for this leap?
Liquid telecom has positioned itself as a choice partner for innovation and adaptation of new technologies. One of the key new adaptations awaiting regulatory compliance with UCC is IOT (Internet Of Things). With our IOT which is a fourth industrial revolution kind of technology, we are coming in to totally change the way Internet is used. Firstly in agricultural use, industries such as fish farming, tourism. We will be directly impacting by our deployment of this technology whilst following regulatory guidelines.
Qn: Government has found it a challenge in developing the NBI and eGovernment as a result of poor last mile connectivity. What solution is Liquid Telecom offering in this regard?
In the formative years of the implementation of the National backbone between 2006, 2010-11. We witnessed government installing the National backbone infrastructure. Part of the challenges they faced was stealing the cables, generators, vandalism but have since been mitigated because the service is much better now.
We have collaborated with the national backbone (IT authority) to offer last mile connectivity from the national backbone to users in far-to-reach areas.
Qn: Currently government is prioritizing industrialization, tourism and agribusiness. What solutions does Liquid Telecom offer to these sectors that government believes will be the drivers of job creation?
We currently support ICT through supporting innovation hubs, collaboration hubs within the city that enable or employ young men to develop ideas right from idea generation to acceleration of those ideas. So we come in and support with connectivity but we have also created packages for schools, health services, universities (value connectivity ).
Our target markets include enterprises, wholesale (telecom and Internet providers). Retail (homes and smaller medium enterprises).
Qn: There have often been times when there’s been a sustained downtime as a result of a damaged or cut fibre cables as a result of infrastructure development. Doesn’t this instead mean unreliable connectivity for your customers?
The connectivity business globally is prone to service breaks. The key differentiator for liquid telecom is what we are defined as, a Service legal Agreement (SLA) what we define as uptime on percentage. Our promise is to guarantee an uptime of up to 99.99% service availability that we are so far away from down time for any of our customers and to achieve this requires a lot of investment through backup links, for example liquid telecom supports connectivity to western Uganda though at least 3 alternative links to one particular location so that if one of the links is down, we are able to sustain the connectivity with the other links.
Qn. What has Liquid Telecom done in ensuring costs of Internet go down and also encouraging the adoption of ICT for businesses as well as government?
“At the time the NBI was operationalized by NITA-U(2013/2014) the cost of Internet Bandwidth across Government entities was on average USD 1200 for 1Mbps per month, however this cost was reduced to USD 300 to allow MDAs have access to affordable services and reduce the cost of communication.
As a result, Government has realized a reduction of Internet costs from USD.1200 in 2013 to USD 300 in 2014 to USD 190 in 2017 per Mbps to the current USD 70 per Mbps. Further price reduction is expected to be realized in the subsequent financial years as more MDA sites are connected to the NBI/EGI.” NITA-U report.
We are over 2000 miles away from the submarines cables and it costs a lot of money to carry Internet across a land mass of a sovereign country like Tanzania and Kenya over which we have to carry capacity to Uganda which causes the services to be a little bit slow and costly. We believe that with the growth of the up time connectivity in this country. We will be able to take advantage of the economies of scale to bring that price down and make Internet more affordable to the masses. About 17 years ago, a 1 mega Internet was at USD 9000 which was 1000 times more expensive than it is right now. So the costs of Internet are coming down.
Qn: What are Liquid Telecom’s key focus areas?
Firstly, Quality service delivery, Secondly, Customer focus and having a very engaged workforce.
Our future-focused approach to new product development makes our services enduringly adaptable. Our flexible and dynamic business model keeps us at the forefront of telecoms innovation. And by listening to customers, we ensure that our solutions are constantly evolving to meet their needs.
We are very excited to be working in Uganda, Liquid telecom is a pan African network which is here to make Internet affordable for the African market and to also guarantee value on top of the Internet connectivity. Liquid telecom through partnerships with entities such as Microsoft is bringing value In items of productivity to entities such as business and government at large and we are glad to be apart of the African story.