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BALANCING ACT INTERVIEW - FRANCIS NDOROMA, MD, TELECOM NAMIBIA

Balancing Act’s News Update speaks to Telecom Namibia’s Managing Director Frans Ndoroma about privatisation, a Next Generation Network and its membership of the SAT3 fibre consortium.

Where did you work before you came to Namibia Telecom?

I used to work for Namdeb, part of the De Beers Group. I was headhunted for the position of Managing Director.

How many fixed lines has Telecom Namibia got?

In terms of DELs, 135,000 subscribers which continue to grow slowly despite intense competition from mobiles.

We understand the Government has a mobile operation. How does this work in relation to Telecom Namibia?

The mobile operation, MTC is not directly owned by Telecom Namibia but both of us have the Government as our main shareholder. There are currently over 300,000 subscribers. There has been a bidding process for a second operator and that is still in process.

What’s happening about the privatisation of the company?

The Government has taken a decision to privatise the telecoms industry. The regulations to implement that are still in progress. The Cabinet is just considering them.

So when will something happen?

It’s difficult to say but probably within 1-3 years.

How many employees have you got?

Plus or minus 1500. We’re in the process of trying to address the level of employment in the company. We consider the current level to be in excess of our requirements, especially when the markets are opened. The cost base of the company needs to be reduced to reasonable levels to be competitive.

We understand you’re implementing wireless to poorer rural areas?

We want to be able to find the right technology to connect to the poorer communities, like the scattered rural communities in the north of the country. We’re continuously searching for technologies that are cheap enough to be able to do that. At present we’re using wireless technologies to connect those places where fixed line is not cost effective. This is part of our social responsibility and we are obliged by the Government to connect these communities.

What will happen to this kind of work when you’re privatised?

Of necessity, this responsibility will change when we’re privatised. We’re currently investing heavily in uneconomic business. The Government will have to come up with a way of sharing this economic burden between all the new private telcos.

Are you going to invest in IP-based networks?

We are looking at implementing IP-based networks for the whole country and these will hopefully replace the current systems. It’s the way the world is moving.

What’s the scale of the grey market in Namibia?

It’s very difficult to quantify. There are things like call-back and VoIP calling which are not legal but they are happening extensively.

What’s your position in the SAT3 consortium?

We are a member of the consortium but have no landing station. Our link is extensively used but we have no direct access. Our fibre goes up to the border and then the traffic goes over Telkom SA’s link to Cape Town. The cost is currently a constraint. We are currently looking for opportunities to find other ways.

Does Telecom Namibia operate an ISP?

We’ve got our own ISP called iWay which has the largest share of the market. We are looking at doing broadband because that is a world trend and there is a demand for it in Namibia. It could either be supplied by DSL on the fixed network or over the wireless applications. We have an extensive copper network in all the major centres.

Where are you on the high price, low volume to low price, high volume spectrum?

We’re somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Our prices are not too bad but we are still working on our international rates and continuously revising them downwards of necessity.

Are there any other developments?

We’re looking at wireless CDMA to deliver the local loop and we’re now in the advanced stages of tendering. We could use it extensively in terms of both major centres and rural areas.

Will the phones be completely mobile?

They will probably have limited portability, around the home or office. Provided everything goes according to plan, we will start to roll out by the end of the year.

ON THE MOVE: Microsoft South Africa has announced the appointment of McKay Motshabi as National Technology Officer from 1 May 2005. As part of the company's executive management team, Motshabi's role will include engaging with senior government, education and business leaders around information technology strategies...Arivia.kom announced the appointment of Hugo Knoetze (35) as its Chief Operating Officer (COO) this month.