Bollore’s Vivendi has a plan to build a rail-based 5,000 kms fibre backbone linking half a dozen African countries

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It looked like French mogul Vincent Bolloré had quit telecoms in Africa when Vivendi sold Maroc Telecom to Etisalat. But it seems that he has just shifted his focus to fibre networks and high-end, household fibre. Russell Southwood looks at what is known and what it might mean.

In an exclusive last week BFMTV.com revealed what had previously only been rumours: a subsidiary of Vivendi is quietly in the process of building a fiber optic network of almost 5,000 km covering half a dozen African countries. The five linked by the railway will include: Benin, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire. Fibre alongside a newly constructed railway will mean that it can build special fibre ducts and have access to rights of way in one fell swoop.

The second element of this ambitious fibre plan is to roll-out metronets in high-end neighbourhoods so it can supply Fibre-To-The-Home. Vivendi also owns Canal + and so would have a ready-made bouquet of content to offer subscribers. In addition, Bollore has logistics assets and has rolled out one of its e-commerce sites in Cote d’Ivoire. Acquiring high-end fibre customers would also improve e-commerce opportunities.

In the same week this story broke, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard was quoted by the French daily La Tribune saying he wanted a closer relationship with Vivendi and Canal + and that the pair are in permanent dialogue.

He said said that Orange and Vivendi had plenty of things to exchange given that Vivendi was a content player and Orange was a distributor of content. He said that the pair were also aligned geographically in France, Poland and Africa.

Orange would have an interest in using the Bollore railway backbone for its operations in Niger, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. And on the FTTH front, Orange has not really made much headway so might be interested in partnering to see how things might develop.

In the same week, Orange finished the process of buying the “low ticket” operations from Airtel with the completion of the sales in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. Airtel was obviously concerned to reduce the footprint of its loss-making African subsidiary but could this be the start of the long goodbye?

Meanwhile former Vivendi-owned Gabon Telecom (now owned by Etisalat) announced that it had got the go-ahead for rolling out its own Fibre-To-The-Home coverage. Indeed Maroc Telecom has a presence in all the countries identified for the Bollore fibre roll-out. A fibre project of this scale could help energise the development of fibre infrastructure in francophone Africa and maybe even give price competition a much needed shot in the arm.


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