Southern Sudan: SPLM bidding to put in place NGN communications

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For years Southern Sudan was engaged in a deadly civil war with those in the North of the country. Now peace is in the offing and the sharing of oil revenues and potentially large donor contributions for reconstruction make this an eldorado for potential equipment suppliers and operators. The country has only a rudimentary communications system and wants to leapfrog to a next-generation network. There are many companies beating a path to the SPLM’s door in Nairobi and subsequently making the journey north to assess conditions on the ground.

If the SPLM leadership accepts the proposals that are currently being put together, it will offer a licence relatively cheaply (USD50-70m) to encourage investment and is searching for contractors who can offer both GSM and VoIP solutions. Currently the country relies largely on Thuraya phones, although some small-scale radio solutions have been put in place. In the next 3-4 weeks there will be small-scale networks in place offering services to individual towns and these might be linked by VSAT.

The SPLM is talking of creating an ICT champion, drawn from amongst its senior leaders and it sees the sector as “a thrust” for the emerging economy requiring significant investment.

So who will operate the network? That issue is far less clear but there is talk of a private-public partnership with an existing operator. Currently the SPLM is talking to equipment suppliers about costs and network types and there is a buzzing of potential suppliers and contractors around the honey-pot. One consultant told us: "There’s a debate about micro-wave vs VSAT as a solution and currently the latter seems to be winning.” Apparently there was an operator willing to invest last Autumn but with no clear peace agreement in place they were unwilling to proceed.

The current peace agreement will have a pre-interim phase which will run for the first six months of 2005 when forces will be reduced. Over 3 years, the total number of troops will come down to 12,000 troops. There will then follow an interim period of six years after which there will be a referendum on whether there will be two states or some federal arrangement. There is already talk of two states breaking away on their own. However a lot is riding on the peace agreement. A split of oil revenues has been agreed which gives the autonomous South Sudan 49% of revenues and international donors are said to be discussing putting in a figure of e600m for reconstruction.

Meanwhile NEPAD has commissioned a feasibility study for a railway line from Rongai in Kenya through Uganda to Juba in Southern Sudan. Thormaehlen leads a consortium of 15 German companies involved in railway construction has obtained permission to build the line from the SPLM. Talks are also going on with Ethiopia and Rwanda about rehabilitating lines to connect to it. There are already early discussions about laying fibre alongside the railway line as part of the project.

As one of those involved – Thomas Maina of Knight and Day ICT told us:”We’re keen to get in touch with potential investors (for the new communications network). The project will be supported by the international community. But we need operators who will bid for a private licence. The costs could be relatively cheap if the proposals are accepted because the Government does not want the licence to be prohibitively costed.”