Pan-continental connectivity challenger Paratus is joining up the fibre gaps and eying West Africa for expansion
26 November 2021
Over 9 years, Namibian-based Paratus Telecommunications has been expanding the reach of its fibre network to the point where it now reaches 14 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. Russell Southwood spoke to the Group’s Chief Operating Officer Schalk Erasmus about the journey the company has made and its vision for the future.
Paratus Telecommunications started in 2005 as an ISP and inn 2014, it rebranded to its current name and focused a portfolio of connectivity services including: leased lines, copper, MPLS, WiMAX and satellite: “Over time we evolved to become a fibre player, offering metro and a GPON network, with microwave.”
“In 2009 we visited Zambia and thought we should look at expanding there. (A multinational connectivity provider) was dominating the market. Wholesale fibre was US$6,500 per mbps. We thought that we can compete with that and do it cheaper. We set up shop and started offering IP services at half the price.”
It achieved this by building fibre just over the border and then buying capacity from power utility ZESCO: “We did the same to South Africa, crossing using microwave and it meant we could land much cheaper pricing. We went on from there to Maputo using MOTRACO fibre to connect to EASSy and Seacom. We started closing the gaps. We’ve now activated from Swakopmund to Dar es Salaam on one network. We also sell VSAT services in 26 African countries.”
The network is a combination of its own build to close the gaps and buying capacity from power utility and railway companies. It built 2,000 kms of fibre to the north of Namibia and has a further 4,000 kms of fibre in Angola. Erasmus estimates that between its own-built network and bought-in capacity there is in excess of 8,000 kms. Its latest link covers more than 1,000 kilometres, beginning in Lobito, in Angola’s Benguela province, running across the central plateau through the Huambo and Bié provinces, and ending in the city of Luena, Moxico.
It sees Liquid Intelligent Technologies as its biggest competitor but:”We also compete with other global operators like Orange, Verizon and PCCW and they also buy services from us.”
In 2016, it launched a 4G LTE data service in Namibia and applied for national numbering to offer VoIP services, something that it is now also doing in Angola. A key milestone in its development was the putting in place of the independent regulator CRAN in Namibia. This enabled it to get two key licenses, one for building infrastructure and the other for selling services, allowing it to compete with the incumbent Telecom Namibia.
It sees the market’s evolution as a series of successive waves: submarine cables, backhaul, metro, data centres and cloud services. To become part of the latest wave it has launched data centres in Angola (where it has two), Zambia (launched in October) and Namibia which is “halfway done. We’re already selling services and have pre-commitments from two banks and one other operator.”
From these data centres, it offers tailor-made cloud solutions to its enterprise clients: “We’re offering Infrastructure as a Service with virtual machines and back-up as a service.”
It has constructed a cable landing station in Namibia and is the landing party for Google’s Equiano cable: “The landing station will connect back to the data centre in Windhoek where Google will co-locate.”
The finance for this expansion came from selling 30% of the company (through existing and new shares) to the Capricorn Investment Group for US$17 million, which also owns Bank Windhoek. The company is listed on the Namibia Stock Exchange and it registered a bond that has been used to invest in the data centres, the landing station and some of its fibre network.
So what are its future plans?: “We started in the first countries from scratch and then bought an ISP offering satellite services in South Africa, before expanding to Botswana and Mozambique. The aim is to link up more countries. We’re looking at countries like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and DRC. We plan to expand further into Africa and are looking for new opportunities, acquisitions, smart partnerships or starting from scratch.”
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