Equatorial Guinea: Government signs with US company GridlineXstreme to roll out a national fibre network and data centre

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One of the biggest clusters of high-price monopoly fibre providers is to be found in Central Africa. Things are changing but not as quickly as they should be for these countries to remain competitive. This week Equatorial Guinea announced that it had signed up for a JV to create a national fibre network. Russell Southwood

In issue 688 I wrote about how the battle to liberalise fibre markets and get lower prices for the continent had moved to Central Africa. The reason this Central African battle matters is that there is likely to be more movement on prices and market structure than in places like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Hell will freeze over before anything happens in those places.

In February last year, Following a two day meeting of Ministers of Posts and Telecommunications in Brazzaville, the Ministers of DRC, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville signed an agreement called the Brazzaville Declaration, pledging to connect Central Africa with a broadband fibre network.

The Brazzaville Agreement commits the signatories to ensure open access to telecommunications infrastructure at any point in their respective territories and to establish and strengthen national policies conducive to the creation of favorable conditions for predictability and transparency competition in the telecommunications sector.

The signatories also pledged that they will mobilize both private and public resources and co-ordinate road and rail development with their fibre plans. These are words which many African politicians do better than actions but they indicate that the three signatories are at least beginning to engage with debates that have already happened elsewhere on the continent.

One of the missing signatories to the agreement was Equatorial Guinea which last week announced its intention to form a JV with GridlineXstreme (GXI), a wholly owned subsidiary of US-based Gridline Communications, for the implementation of a high-speed broadband network in the country. The JV will be equally owned by the Government and GXI with the latter doing the day-to-day management. The ambition also includes data centres.

In addition, GXI will provide ‘technical support, training and implementation as necessary to the existing communications companies currently in operation’. Further, GXI has identified the first level of system upgrades required to improve Equatorial Guinea’s existing communications infrastructure, with the parties now scheduled to ‘quickly negotiate and enter into a definitive JV in a professional and timely fashion’.

Gridline Communications, headquartered in Texas, is focused on providing broadband communications using Broadband over Power Line (BPL) technology solutions and has worked with municipalities and rural power co-operatives. This kind of track record must bode well for a more intelligent, less monopoly rent-seeking approach to selling wholesale fibre bandwidth.

Equatorial Guinea is both one of Africa’s smallest countries (with half a million people) and its only Spanish-speaking country. It is split into two parts: a group of islands opposite the coast of Cameroon, the largest of which contains the capital Malabo and a piece of mainland Africa squeezed between Cameroon and Gabon.

The new fibre infrastructure JV will undoubtedly use slung fibre on powerlines so the current state and extent of the national power grid will be an important issue. Equatorial Guinea’s power company is a joint venture between SEGESA in which the Government owns 62% and a Spanish company Infinsa holds the rest.

After a slow and rather inauspicious start in 2007, the resident “big man” ruler President Obiang announced: "Energy is [now] in almost every corner of the nation, in all provinces, provincial capitals, districts and towns." Even if that’s more a statement of intent than a current reality, the network will have reach.

So how will Equatorial Guinea connect internationally and to its neighbours? There is talk of a link to Cameroon. But there is also a more intriguing prospect. The African Development Bank has a US$150 million project to connect the grids of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. With GXI’s expertise, it could easily put fibre to the border and connect with the Cameroon state power utility. But the challenges of doing that are a story for another day….

 



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GSMA's Claire Sibthorpe on a study on the gap between men and women's use of mobile phones in Africa
Francis Dufay on breaking down the mistrust barrier to make a success of Jumia in Cote d'Ivoire
Mohamed Diaby on hackathons, start up seed funds and online potential in Cote d'Ivoire
Christian Kamayou, MyAfricanStartUp on launching African Start-Up Forum to get start-ups investors
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Fernando de Sousa, Microsoft on start-up barriers in Africa and good examples of African start-ups

 

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