TdM (Telecomunicações de Moçambique), the national fixed line operator in Mozambique just launched its broadband offer at the beginning of last month. Connections start at 64/64 kbps up to 512 kbts for the download link. A basic connection of 64/64 kbps retails at around $60 per month. The amount of data transferred is capped at a certain level – above the cap, each extra mega-bit of data costs an additional $5. The internet package also includes email and mailbox services. Salvador Adriano, TdM’s COO, reckons that TdM’s high speed internet connection is not the cheapest solution available on the local market –the main pay TV provider in Mozambique, TV Cabo, offers a lower-priced deal. Nevertheless after one month out and without any advertising, customers are queuing up to get connected. As the need for faster and more reliable connection increases, word of mouth, combined with an offer that goes for quality (and not price), has attracted customers to TdM. The DSL modem that comes with the connection has either one ethernet port or four – four network ports are convenient for small businesses that can connect all their office computers. Adriano is confident that TdM will have 1,000 subscribers by the end of this year. Their current platform can accommodate up to 8 megabits of data flow – full capacity will be reached with 4,000 lines deployed in Maputo and the main cities of Beira and Nampula.

While TdM’s ADSL connection offer shapes up, behind the scene there have been several years of infrastructure work, which has seen the building of a national backbone which should be completed by 2008. All this started in 2002 with the rollout of a fibre submarine cable that reaches up from Maputo to Beira. Further north, a second fibre cable has been laid to link Beira to Quelimani, a 500 km long stretch built by Alcatel and another company. The third phase of the construction is another cable between Quelimani and Nampula that should be completed by the end of April/May this year. This portion of the network has been contracted to Siemens. In a fourth and last phase the backbone in the north of the country will be extended to reach Quissanga, Nacala and Lichinga. Applications following a tender are currently under evaluation and Adriano reckons that the winner’s name will soon be announced. These are major contracts. The stretch of fibre cable from Beira to Quelimani cost US$8.2 million while the stretch from Quelimani to Nampula rolled out for the sum of US$12.5 million.

Following this extensive network build up, TdM hopes to be in a position to become the data supplier for the other operators in the country – in other words become a carrier’s carrier. To increase its connectivity capability, the company has further built a fibre link south towards the border of South Africa to interconnect with Telkom SA’s network. This link will enable TdM to make savings, once it switches off the satellite links that are currently backhauling its international voice and data traffic.

Access to the international backbone is vital to any communications/data provider. Furthermore, the access price is even more important, as it will impact on the retail price of services to both businesses and end users. TdM is one of 10 signatories to the EASSy project Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – that sets out the plans for the submarine fibre cable for the East coast of Africa. Affordability of access to this potential international bandwidth has been the latest hot discussion point with the NEPAD’s SPV proposal. Salvador Adriano reckons that there are two sides to the World Bank proposal. He acknowledges that it would be good to have the bandwidth as cheaply as possible on an open access basis. But he is also wary that with such new underlying principles the EASSy project might no longer make any business sense - or would not generate enough money for the members of the EASSy consortium. Adriano wishes that NEPAD would try to reach a deal with the consortium to prevent further delays to the rollout. Connectivity is needed and NEPAD and the Consortium have to find a compromise even if this implies regulating the profit of the operators.