Mauritius: Bharat Telecom Ltd to launch island-wide fibre network and high-speed FTTH broadband

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A joint venture between local and Indian investors, Bharat Telecom Ltd has set itself the ambitious target of connecting every home and office in Mauritius to a fibre network. It has been testing its technology in one community on the island and is due to launch soon. Russell Southwood spoke to one of its directors, Baljinder Sharma.

Bharat Telecom Ltd is investing US$50 million in creating a 2,900 kms fibre network to cover Mauritius. The core 200 kms of that 10gbps network will be underground and a further 2,700 kms will be slung over the poles of the Central Electricity Board, consisting of single core and 24 core fibre. It wants to cover 70% of the population in the first phase and the other 30% in the second phase.

Licensed in November 2011, it has moved fast to get operational and so far has done 80 kms of its core network in a month and a half. It piloted the service with a demonstration at a number of test sites in Quatres Bornes and Rose Hill. It will offer high speed broadband (100 mbps) and IPTV through a GPON network.

The subscriber to the network will get a basic package for US$10 per monthwhich will give him or her a 2 mbps connection and 40 TV channels (a mixture of free-to-air and paid). The top end package will be US$200 per month, providing a mix of high-end bandwidth and a wider selection of premium content. The current content package includes Fox, HBO, Zee TV and UTV:”We will show most Indian news channels and soaps, Hollywood, French programmes and Bollywood.”

As Sharma told us:”I personally want us to disrupt the whole market. The competition will respond and it will therefore be beneficial to the country. The cheaper it is, the more uptake there will be and therefore there will be more subscribers, which in turn will sustain lower bandwidth prices. So far no-one has really tried this. We will breakeven on the low-cost packages and in some instances make money.” Overall average revenues will be US$20 per user. He wants to break the idea of long-term contracts:”We’re trying to free subscribers from long-term contracts. Typically users currently have to subscribe for one year. We want to offer them the choice of not needing to do so. We will offer scratch cards for a monthly subscription.”

It has set itself a target of 50,000 subscribers. The subscribers will be a mixture of corporate and household subscribers:”We want to be able to deliver e-commerce and education through partners and there’s lots of interest from people who want to do IPTV channels.

It will not offer voice:”We don’t have telephony licences and we deliberately kept out of voice. We didn’t want to get into a fight with the two local big boys. The set-top box has a telephone port and some of the subscribers might want to call within the network, no problem. That’s up to the subscribers.”

Once the network begins to start generating revenues, the plan is to start looking at other African countries in the next 18-24 months.

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