Taking fibre connectivity, in the last mile initiative, to places it has never been before

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BY VICTOR ADAR

A picture painted of remote parts of the country is that of struggles, but these areas have proven to be a hot market especially since devolution began. As always the case, so much business is done in major towns like Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, or Mombasa. But now these perceived safe havens for investors are slowly becoming saturated, perhaps the reason as to why clever players are now seeking to tap remote parts like Eldoret, Garsen, Isiolo, Konza, Makueni and even Namanga. Are there opportunities? And will investors be able to gain significant market share?

As service providers roar to effectively compete for a piece of the pie a midst cut throat competition, Adil Youssefi who is Liquid Telecom Kenya’s chief executive says that out of the box thinking is what will make things click. Giving some interesting pointers as to why there is a shift especially as far as fibre cable and internet connectivity is concerned, and why high growth companies will need to place emphasis on remote areas. The most important thing is the strategy one would use to get the numbers, he says.

“We definitely need to connect more of these entities that are in various remote areas of Kenya, a move that will ensure that they tap the numerous advantages that come along with fast, secure and reliable Internet connectivity,” he says.

Liquid Telecom has three technologies for internet connectivity; Hai-Waya – which is seemingly the fastest, most reliable internet service today thanks to fibre –, Hai-Max and Hai-Sat. Hai-Waya Basic for example, is best for 1 to 5 users, and costs Sh4, 999 while the best for 35 to100 users, Hai-Waya Turbo Plus, costs Sh149, 999.

Yousefi terms Hai internet as “unique” in that it is run via an online platform that allows customers to join Hai through a web page that geo-maps Hai services by customer location, and allows new businesses to select the kind of Internet service they want, order, pay and track the delivery and service through one easy-to-use interface. Through Hai Internet, the telecommunication firm offers connectivity to both homes and offices with the cost of new connections largely depending on several factors including the location of the customer, the distance from the existing fibre network and the bandwidth requirements.

All office packages, however, are powered by a specific office strength Internet connection thereby giving priority bandwidth between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm as this is the busiest time of the day, a time when demand for bandwidth is extremely high.

“It takes 48 hours to connect new fibre customers and 72 hours for wireless connections. The exact number of hours depends on where a customer is located, and the bandwidth needed. These ensure that we cater for all our customers’ Internet needs,” he says:

After serving as the managing director of Airtel Kenya for three years, Youssefi is currently heading a subsidiary of Liquid Telecom (Liquid Telecom Kenya), an independent, data, voice and IP provider that is currently servicing over 80% of banks in Kenya, multiple parastatals, and many of the country’s leading manufacturers and retailers with internet and data services.

Actually, the visibly ambitious man is not new to senior management. For 15 years, he has tried his hands across Africa, Asia and Europe, with expertise in developing markets, leadership, strategy, telecommunications, sales and marketing, and digital TV. In fact, he had risen through the management ranks of global telecoms and media company Millicom, starting off as a senior advisor to the chief officer Asia in Sri Lanka, before moving to Chad to take up the chief executive position and then becoming chief executive of Millicom Ghana.

Mr Youssefi is glad that a recent partnership with Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO) that aims at upgrading fibre connections to areas already connected to the national grid with high voltage lines will finally accelerate the dream of always ensuring that the telecommunication firm remains true to its mission of connecting every individual as well as businesses of all sizes.

The firm has so far laid over 5000 kilometres of fibre traversing most parts of Kenya and will add another 4,200 (plus) kilometres of fibre, connections that are mainly aimed at allowing all the 47 counties access fastest, stable and reliable internet in a bid to accelerate the adoption of Internet-based services.

“We expect to reach over 10,000 new home connections by end of this year whilst increasing Internet speeds ten-fold. Liquid Telecom Kenya has invested in connectivity equipment to be installed in all KETRACO’s power terminating points. This will ensure that we achieve the largest data capacity possible and serve the region with the fastest and most stable Internet ever achieved in East Africa,” he says.

Internet has been seen to be significant to the economic development of the country, as it has powered the rise in technology hubs across Africa and particularly in Kenya, which has the third highest number of tech centres and incubation hubs in Africa, at 27, after South Africa and Egypt. This has contributed to Kenya being known as the “Silicon Savannah”, for its advances in using technology and the Internet to solve both social and commercial problems.

Internet penetration has also accelerated financial inclusion in the country, helped micros, Small and Medium Enterprises and is transforming government services, such as birth certificates, IDs, driving licenses, passports, company registration, and tax returns, all of which can now be done online. This is also driving county and government revenues upwards.

The advanced level of Internet access in Kenya is also driving business growth, with studies showing a 10% rise in broadband penetration lifts Gross Domestic Product by 1.38% in developing economies. But amidst the good things are lowest moments. As the investment towards the so called “last mile initiative” is taking up shape, Mr Youssefi is still struggling to counter many stumbling blocks.

“Sometimes we experience extreme challenges when we are laying fibre, digging tunnels, going through harsh climate conditions and the areas occupied by wild animals. Also, we experience ground fibre cuts from vandalism or rodents. All these issues are now resolved (and) mitigated by the partnership with Ketraco,” Youssefi says, explaining that his other task is to drive Liquid Telecom to new greater levels.