Wananchi to use KPLC network for fibre rollout in Kenya


Kenya’s Wananchi Group is to use the national electricity transmission network to build a fibre optic platform expected to open a new front in the bruising battle for control of Kenya's lucrative media market.

The platform - a product of an agreement between the media firm and Kenya Power and Lighting Company -- puts Wananchi on a converged media highway that enables it to compete in television content, internet provision, data and voice transmission markets.

"We are deploying the "design unseen" network in key urban areas that enables us to install our fibre network on KPLC's electricity poles," said Suhayl Esmailjeee, the chief operating officer at Wananchi Group.

A national fibre optic network running on KPLC's power transmission system offers Wananchi the potential to play in TV broadcasting and telecoms markets and a chance to compete in the internet service providers (ISPs).

Replicating KPLCs power transmission network gives Wananchi access to the more than one million electricity customers and substantially reduces the cost of cable TV transmission that is currently only possible with the expensive infrastructure support involving the digging of trenches to lay terrestrial cables.

It gives Wananchi a head-start in the race for control of premium TV market currently under the grip of MultiChoice Africa (with its DStv brand) but local analysts warned that Wananchi could also use the massive bandwidth it offers to transmit self-generated local content making it a direct competitor in the Kenyan television scene.

Wananchi offers cable TV services under its Zuku brand, which was hit by negative publicity after its high profile launch last year yielded strong market interest that consumers said was not matched with prompt delivery. Wananchi said it had lacked the money it needed to drive its plans.

"There is so much noise about data right now but for us TV is the growth market. We sign up between 50 and 400 new TV subscribers every month," he said.

Wananchi has been a main benefactor of the Africa Telecoms Media and Technology Fund (ATMTF) that bought strategic stakes in two Internet Service Providers -- Wananchi Online and Simbanet as well as cable TV operator, Mitsuminet in May last year. The company recently completed the purchase of a five per cent stake in state owned undersea fibre optic cable TEAMS.

For Kenya Power, the fibre networks opens a new revenue stream that will help reverse profitability trends that have been dropping with increasing reliance on expensive thermal power from independent producers to meet rising consumer demand.

KPLC got the licence it needed to diversify into data transmission in April this year after it met the regulator's conditions.

The company plans to use its new mandate to create a 1,500km fibre optic backbone helped by the existing electricity transmission network. The Sh2.6 billion System Control and Data Acquisition (Scada) project is being financed by the European Investment Bank with the Swedish firm ABB as the contractor.

Wananchi's fibre network will run parallel with KPLC's own fibre optic network that the power firm is building for the planned entry into the data, audio and visual transmission market. KPLC entered the telecoms market early this year and plans to launch the service in the first half of next year.