GVA is targeting the big cities of Francophone Africa with its FTTH vision – High-speed household access at more “affordable” prices

17 May 2019

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At the end of April 2019 Groupe Vivendi Africa opened up another city for its FTTH roll-out in Congo-Brazzaville’s second largest city Pointe-Noire. GVA is slowly and systematically working its way through the big cities of Francophone Africa. Russell Southwood looks at its ambitions and its likely impact on the market.

GVA wants to be the “premier operator in Africa with high speed broadband and fibre offers of exceptional quality accessible to the greatest number of people in the big cities of Africa.” In October 2017 it rolled out an FTTH network in the Gabonese capital Libreville and in March 2018 in the Togolese capital of Lome. The other cities the company has in its sights include: Ougadougou (Burkina Faso), Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire), Kinshasa (DRC), Bujumbura (Burundi) and Kigali (Rwanda).

Its only misstep has been in Cotonou in Benin where in 2016 it was asked to stop its roll-out after a regulatory dispute over whether it would share its fibre infrastructure. The matter is currently in dispute resolution.

In business style, it’s not really a challenger player and it is more likely to look for a comfortable market it can dominate than be a market disruptor. And although it talks long-term, Vivendi’s long history has always been trading in and out of companies and things can change very quickly. There has been open speculation that the company will sell off Universal Music Group.

Nevertheless, in Gabon, it made a sufficient impact on the market for prices to fall by 30%. Currently it is offering 10 mbps at FCFA25,000 (US$42.77). Most of the markets it is entering have not had high levels of competition or anyone with an FTTH product. It is noticeable that that its plans do not include Dakar where Orange might give it more of a run for its money. Orange might also provide stiffer competition in Abidjan.

Its parent company Vivendi has an interesting spread of assets in terms of its African markets including: Canal + (pay TV operator and sales end for the Canal Box on the FTTH service), Universal Music Group (which operates its music streaming service called Digster in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal), Havas (a chain of advertising agencies), Editis (publishing), Vivendi Village (an online ticketing platform) and Gameloft (games). Among its digital assets is the Daily Motion platform that it bought from Orange in 2015.

According to a 26 April 2018 report in The Drum, it is alleged that managers at the Bolloré Groupe offered the services of Havas at a massively discounted price to help with the 2010 presidential campaigns of the Guinean President Alpha Condé and Faure Gnassingbé of Togo. The agency’s involvement in the campaign was linked to how the Bolloré Groupe then gained control of two container terminals in the ports of Lomé, the capital of Togo, and Conakry, the capital of Guinea, in the same year. French judicial police questioned a Havas employee and Vincent Bollore, investigating the allegations.

The GVA Pointe Noire launch in April was attended by Leon Juste Ibombo, the Minister for Post, Telecommunications and Digital Economy. The 50 mbps FTTH service costs FCFA45,000 ((US$76.99) and although most of its high-profile marketing is aimed at households, it is also available as an enterprise product. GVA claims to have 300 points of sale throughout Pointe-Noire. If all goes well with Pointe-Noire, GVA will look at opening up in other Congolese cities.

Its continent-wide expansion is being spearheaded by its D-G Marco de Assis who spent 10 years in various management positions at Global Village Telecom in Brazil. The company was eventually sold to Telefonica.

So what do the numbers look like? As ever with companies that are starting out, it is reluctant to give out numbers but talked to one publication of having “tens of thousands” of subscribers across its operations. It has passed 100,000 households and wants to have reached 150,000-200,000 by the end of 2019.

FTTH in Africa (and as elsewhere) is a deep pocket investment but its only real current competitors in Francophone Africa are Orange and Etisalat. Neither company yet has a clear FTTH strategy. Whilst GVA talks a good game on making its product affordable to the widest number of people, it is still a high-end product aimed at a niche, middle class audience.

However, if it is genuinely of the exceptional quality that it claims, then it will raise that bar both for household broadband and enterprise customers. Although the prices are high in terms of household customers, enterprise customers may well find that this more reliable product is much cheaper than the fairly uncompetitive existing offers in Francophone Africa.

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Find out what African users might do with an FTTH connection…

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