Liquid Telecom’s Nic Rudnick on rolling out Fibre-To-The-Home in eight African countries and launching a VoD platform

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It’s been a busy few months for Liquid Telecom as it gears up a new phase of its roll-out plans and it’s not over yet. It’s also launched a VoD platform that it can either operate itself or run “white label” for other operators. Russell Southwood caught up with Liquid Telecom’s CEO Nic Rudnic at Capacity Africa 2015 in Dar es Salaam.

Q: Does it make sense for mobile operators to continue to build their own fibre networks?

A: The business model for fibre is changing in Africa. It’s no longer enough to find an anchor customer and everything will be OK. All mobile operators are under pressure and need to sell data to their customers. The question they then face is: do we build our own network or not. We have to change our business model to respond to this and able to build out at less cost than they would build for. Some operators still believe they should be doing everything.

Q: Why did you sign a co-operation agreement with MTN on providing capacity to enterprise customers?

A: We’ve always competed and co-operated: it’s a symbiotic relationship. We have the most extensive network in East and Central African than MTN has and they have a stronger presence in West Africa where we’re much more limited. Our customers want to be able to connect anywhere on the continent.

Q: Does the agreement prevent you from going into West Africa?

A: We may well go into West Africa. The agreement doesn’t limit either our or MTN’s growth. The agreement is framed for providing continental co-operation. We both have operations in Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe and although these are overlaps, we have included them in the scope of the agreement and will co-operate closely there.

Q: Has your VoD platform Ipidi TV launched?

A: We have rolled out trial services and will launch in Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. We have licensed content for the whole of Africa. Service is working and some people are using it, although the numbers are not large yet. It can be accessed with any of the following devices: a set-top box or using an app on a tablet or a mobile phone. It can be “white-labeled” and used by other operators.

Q: Why are you rebranding your ISP operations as Hai?

The company has a plethora of retail names. We’ve been developing marketing across several territories so why not have a standard brand? We won’t immediately standardize all the names but there will be a common look and feel. The majority of the brands will use Hai and the brand is about a modern and exciting digital lifestyle.

Q: How’s your FTTH roll-out going?

It’s now available in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Rwanda and we’ll be adding four more countries in the next few months. We’ve now passed around 100,000 houses but in terms of subscriber numbers it’s small because we’ve only just launched.

The early users are watching a lot of entertainment and are doing lots of streaming. There are quite a number of foreign and international content services being used. (Laughs) Some shouldn’t be available but they’re accessing them using proxy servers. It seems like half of Africa’s watching BBC iPlayer.

Q: You’re very enthusiastic about Crash Plan. What is it?

We’re providing this through an agreement between Liquid Telecoms and Code 42, a Minneapolis-based company, which is one of the largest providers of back up to enterprises in the USA. It was designed for companies who wanted to have a back-up solution. Their customer list reads like the Fortune 500 and they’re a great bunch of people. They weren’t interested at first. They must have thought who’s this Afrian company that keeps harassing us. But when we met we absolutely hit it off.

We thought about developing one ourselves but decided to prtner with a specialist company. You can back up on to the cloud, or on to someone else’s computer or on to your own server. 

There’s not enough data continuity solutions being used in Africa. Some of our packages have it bundled in and some not. The vast majority of data in Africa is on end-user devices and it provides a cost-effective way of backing up. If your computer is stolen or corrupted or you buy a new one, you can transfer your contents back on to your machine. You simply log on with the Internet to Crash Plan and download them.

Q: Is there further county network expansion coming?

A: It’s now mainly FTTH and Fibre-To-The-Business but we are still expanding our network and you’ll see more announcements soon. We’ll be going into two new countries before the end of the year.

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