ISOCEL to launch first FTTH service in Benin, first in capital Cotonou and then more widely

8 June 2018

Top Story

FTTH roll-outs have slowly been made in a range of African countries but the recent news that Isocel will roll-out an FTTH service in Benin is a clear sign that even in smaller markets users will not miss out. Russell Southwood spoke to Robert Aouad, Founder and CEO, Isocel Telecom about his plans.

Q: When will you launch your new LTE network?

A: We finally decided not to go with LTE. A number of ISPs that have deployed LTE have had bad experiences, like YooMee in Cameroon and several other African countries. So we thought about it and are putting our efforts into fibre where the investment and ROI will be safer. We are signing a contract with the Benin electricity utility company this week and the regulator ARCEP has given us an official decision to deploy fixed fibre. The new digital law has been signed by the President and ARCEP will need to rewrite licences to take into account the new law which will be a slow process. An exception has been given to us by ARCEP. When Canal+ tried to deploy FTTH 2 years ago they were stopped. We have taken the time to get everything in place.

We’ll start by rolling out the first 70 kilometres to the most suited areas: business and high-end residential customers located in the capital, Cotonou. Early in 2019 we will continue the roll-out once we have concluded an investment agreement with Banque Publique d’Investissement who will put up 6.5 million euros and we will put in 1 million euros.

Q: So where will the second phase roll-out go?

A: It will still be in the south of Benin but it will go to a wider range of areas. In all we will build 350-400 kms over the next two years. We did a geo-marketing study using Open Street map. We will have teams on the ground going door-to-door so that we can clearly identify potential customers. We will not go to areas where there is not enough income to support the roll-out.

Q: What will be the balance between high-end residential customers and corporates?

A: The SME/corporates element will be 60-70% and the high-end residentials 30-40%. This will change as the roll-out gets wider and after 5-10 years. Wider uptake will take some time.

Q: At what speeds and at what prices?

A: The residential customers will get at least 10 mbps for US$40-45 per month and corporates will get 20-30 mbps at US$200 per month.

Q: How many customers do you think there will be?

A: In the first instance, thousands but over 5-10 years 20-25,000. We will be the first company to sell Fibre-To-The-Home in Benin so we will have first mover advantage and we’re not starting from nothing. We will be shifting existing customers to the fibre where there is coverage and improving our wireless network for those not covered so they will get a better service.

Q: What do you think your FTTH customers will do with all their bandwidth?

A: It will be different by segment. Corporates will use it for data transfer, cloud services, VoIP and video conferencing. Residential customers will use it mostly for Netflix-type streaming and gaming. iroko TV content is being sold by Canal+ and when we have the access networks in place that can provide high throughput, there will be a market for these kinds of services.

Currently potential customers are using fixed LTE devices indoors but the behaviour of customers will change. There will be more bandwidth buying but the cost per GB will change. Our FTTH service will be unlimited so it will be much cheaper.

Q: You’re also lining up a satellite service. How are you targeting that?

A: We’re working with Yahsat who are launching a new KA band satellite and we’ll be using this for areas where is no connectivity. We’ll be putting up a solar panel and a hot-spot for villages without 3G or with only poor connectivity.

Q: You’ve also been working on getting cheaper wholesale bandwidth to Niger. How’s that coming along?

A: It’s now around US$100 per mbps at STM16 level and at around US$2-300 at STM1 level.

Q: How does that compare to what’s being paid in Benin?

A: In Benin, it’s around US$50 at STM1 level so it’s 4-5 times the cost in Niger due to the high cost of the backbones.

Q: There were plans to split up the wholesale and retail parts of the incumbent telco, Benin Telecom. Has anything happened with that?

A: Not really. The idea is still to create an asset company and put the more healthy assets into it and find a private company to run this asset. There appear to be no options for the service part of the company.


Innovation in Africa is a fortnightly e-letter covering start-ups and investment, energy, 3D printing and makers, ICT4D and broader innovation in Africa. It’s essential reading for anyone interested in Africa’s digital transition. We have already produced 142 issues and these can be viewed on this link

Typical Top Stories will keep your finger on the pulse and have included:

Partech Ventures Africa Fund is looking to invest over US$100 million in Fintech, B2B segments and mobile internet services and offers door opening to corporates

Africa Tech Summit London: Herman Singh, MTN on Africa’s largest e-commerce start-up and others on over-priced deals, the missing exits and just surviving

When a Somalian met a Comoran: Afrobytes founders explain how it all started and why one of Africa’s best start-up events takes place in Paris

Bank of Kigali start-up BK TecHouse launches push agricultural platform with 500,000 farmers already on – disrupting from within

Travel tech start-up HotelOnline’s Co-Founder Havar Bauck on a merger that almost went wrong and fundraising global expansion in emerging markets

Nigeria’s start-up Farmcrowdy pioneers a new way of getting investment and expertise into small-scale farming

If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to info@balancingact-africa.com with Innovation in Africa in the title line.

Smart Monkey TV is our web TV channel that tracks what Africa’s Creators and Innovators are saying and doing. It now has 2104 subscribers. The latest video clip interviews that are relevant for you are below. Subscribe by clicking on this link:

Karanvir Singh on how Yego Moto provides Rwanda's moto taxi drivers and users a better service

Bilen Shifferaw, Gebeya on winning outsourced developer work on a game, mobile app & crypto currency

Toro Orero, Silicon Valley's DraperDarkFlow on its African Start-Up investments & what it looks for

EchoVC's Eghosa Omoigui on the risks posed by certain investors to African start-ups

Ido Sum, TLcom on its first three African start-up investments and why it made them

Afrobytes co-founders Ammin Youssouf and Haweya Mohamed choose 3 African start-up opportunities

Tope Omotolani and Sola Oyawale, Farmcrowdy on raising diaspora investment for small-scale farmers

Mobile money start-up MFS's founder Dare Okoujdou on how he raised US$4.5 million

Kelechi Ofoegbu on Impact Space Accra's expansion plans and barriers for Ghana's start-ups

Lukonga Lindunda on examples of the type of start-ups BongoHive supports and its future plans

Josiah Eyison on how iSpace supports Ghanaian start-ups and its Women & Tech Programme

Lebogang Madise, mlab on the two biggest barriers holding back start-ups in South Africa

Jeffrey Rusch, RenderHeads on a game to help informal community redesign itself

Vikash Govindjee on how start-up Carter helps South Africans buy a new car

Nithen Naidoo on South African start-up Snode's use of Big Data analytics for Cyber-security