SIERRE LEONE: NEW ISP SHOWS ICT SECTOR COMING BACK TO LIFE

26 April 2002

Top Story

Sierre Leone is beginning to emerge from the nightmare of its recent civil war. It has considerable mineral wealth and much agricultural potential. The optimists are saying that the incumbent President will win the forthcoming elections and that with political stability the economy will begin to grow again. There is a steady trickle of interested investors and Sierre Leonians returning from overseas. One interesting sign has been the launch of a new ISP called Datatel Connections that has gone from being the new contender to the only kid on the block in no time at all. News Update spoke to its Managing Director Christian Ogoo last week.

 

How did Datatel Connections get started?

 

We could see the potential of ICT. We decided to find a partner (Gateway IP) who could help us provide a service. First it was pre-paid calling cards and then we could see the potential of the internet. The pre-paid calling card business now turns over US$40,000 a month.

 

The country had just emerged from war and it was a virgin opportunity. Apart from the PTO, there was no other competitor. We could see their weakness. The system they were using was designed for corporate not public use. They were also handicapped financially. Gateway IP were enormously helpful in providing solutions and expertise so that we could get started.

 

What number of dial-up subscribers are there?

 

There are around 1000 subscribers at the moment. We’ve been in operation for a year and have capacity to take on 450 or so more subscribers. There’s only one POP at the moment, in the capital Freetown. In six months time we plan to be fully deployed in other towns: Bo, Makeri, Kono and Kenene.

 

How many subscribers has the PTO, Sierretel got?

 

Well the PTO is now using us as their operator but they used to have 180. The PTO will probably be privatised in 18 months time. It has around 60,000 subscribers and there are plans to rehabilitate or replace the existing exchanges. We have a wireless network that we can offer to corporate customers. Gateway IP supplied the the wireless network and used Lucent Technology. It covers a 20 kms radius around Freetown and there are 12 repeater stations because Freetown is very hilly. We’ve also got 3 locations running off of solar panels.

 

The next phase is VOIP. Sierretel has agreed to enter into a VOIP agreement with Gateway IP. They will put in their own earth station and this will lower the cost of calls. The equipment has the capability of offering web-based phone calls.

 

What does it cost to subscribe?

 

US$50 per month. It’s high but we plan to restructure the whole thing and cut prices by half. The Government wants to open up access to the internet and therefore we’ll probably cut it to US$25 per month. There is a concession rate of US$20 per month.

 

Will there be other competitors?

 

It will happen some time but we’re trying to consolidate our gains by offering quality. We have seven reselling agents, people who have the capacity to set up IT systems for customers.

 

How many cyber-cafes are there?

 

There are 50 or so in Freetown but none outside. Most offer dial-up access but the four we run (with half a dozen machines in each) have access to our wireless network.

 

How did you fund the company?

 

We were funded by a Barclays Bank loan and the Roker (formerly Sierre Leone Commercial Bank) with some funding from Gateway IP. We’ve already spoken to our bankers about expanding to the provincial towns and they’re willing to fund this expansion.

 

What does the future of the ICT sector look like?

 

The country needs to catch up with the world in terms of ICT. It’s a virgin opportunity for ICT services. Everybody is trying to grab something. There are 20 organisations alone providing ICT courses and solutions. Citizens see the need for ICT skills. It’s like a hot loaf.

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