Orange Mauritius turns IPTV and Fibre-To-The-Cabinet into “a driver for growth”

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Fibre-To-The-Home is beginning to be announced in Africa’s larger markets: Jamii Telecoms in Kenya (see issue 540), i3Africa in South Africa and Algerie Telecom has been piloting it. But for most telcos, the next stage after fibre metronets is rolling out Fibre-To-The-Cabinet. Both offer a route for fixed line telcos to re-invent themselves and position themselves ahead of the competition but there is a need for a good combination of a strong fibre network investment and content services to deliver over the newly created network. Last week Russell Southwood spoke to Sarat Lallah, CEO of Orange Mauritius about its experience.

Mauritius is part of Africa but is very different from it. There are higher wealth levels and it is a geographically compact island with good infrastructure, including a high level of fixed line penetration. Nevertheless, it has always provided a good pointer to what will happen in the rest of Africa because it has invested in technologies ahead of the pack: for example, it was the first place where a commercial implementation of 3G was carried out. The Government’s Cyber Island strategy can be criticized in a number of ways but its successful focus on outsourcing as a vector for growth shows what can be done and has a number of less successful imitators elsewhere on the continent. Therefore there are lessons which can be learned from its experience even if it is very different from other parts of Africa.

Orange Mauritius started investing in Fibre-To-The-Cabinet with a pilot test in the west coast resort of Wolmar as far back as 2006 and by 2007 it had 15 cabinets in place and that has been built up to 77 cabinets this year. According to CEO Sarat Lallah:”We’re still rolling out and want to increase the coverage so that it’s island-wide. We place the cabinet on the street and the last mile is copper.”

The overall objective is to give fibre coverage to all but a very small percentage of the population by 2015. Alongside this network, it has rolled out Fibre-To-The-Company:”We’ve deployed fibre to hotels using our GPON network and to companies in Cyber City in Ebene. All Government offices have four 100 mbps connections.”

To grow user use on the fibre network, Orange Mauritius has a branded IPTV service called MyT which was launched in 2006 with 400 VOD titles and 18 TV channels. This has been built up over time as it slowly cracked the content rights obstacles: in 2010, it added a Bollywood Bouquet with 5 channels and there will be an additional 10 channels ready for the launch of its Orange Expo later in the year. Furthermore, there are now 500 VOD titles, with 20% Mauritian content.

When it started in 2006, there was only 60% coverage but this has increased considerably and by 2015 there will be almost universal coverage. The overall download speed on this service is 5 mbps and the upload speed is 684 kbps and it is sold to customers in the three plans: 1 mbps, 2 mbps and 4 mbps with varying contention ratios.

Africa’s failing incumbent telcos seem mesmerized by the success of the mobile operators and where they don’t have their own operation are in a lust for GSM licences. However, the next phase of Africa’s development (for both voice and data) will be fibre-based IP traffic. Therefore, they need to “stick to their knitting” and invest in creating national fibre backbones, metronets and fibre access.

Content will be the driver for household services and there is a middle class of a significant size in all but a few countries that will be the first customers for these services. The key choice for the incumbent telcos is whether simply to be transporters of content services (making alliances with existing Pay TV bouquet providers) or to become content providers in their own right.

But whichever way they do it, this is the route to re-inventing the fixed line assets. Mobile data with LTE will offer so much more but those who can will want to sit at a decent size screen with a keyboard and have a near rock-solid connection. They will want to sit down round a television screen to watch movies and sport, not huddle round an LTE provisioned smartphone. The CDMA 2000 wireless provision was a phase the incumbents went through but now they need to find the money to get serious. There is life after mobiles…

This week on Balancing Act’s Web TV Channel:

Mauritius Special: The state of the mobile market in Mauritius and international bandwidth and new technology developments (Fibre-To-The-Cabinet and Mi-Fi)

Sarat Lallah, CEO, Orange Mauritius on the Net PC, Fibre-to-the-Cabinet and International Bandwidth

Shyam Roy, CEO, Emtel on the mobile market, Mi-Fi and international bandwidth

Viv Padayatchy, CEO, Cybernaptics on a PC and mobile app for logistics companies

Plus IPV6 transition:

Adiel Akplogan, CEO, Afrinic on the transition from IPV4 to IPV6