In Uganda, no one can hear you scream…..at your computer while waiting for a file to download or a video to buffer. Fortunately, there are number of reasons these frustrations may soon be a constraint of the past.
On Saturday I spent the afternoon with Thibaud Weick, CCO, and Mark Pritchard, Head of Sales & Marketing of Smile Communications (U) Ltd. Smile is one of few organizations bringing super-fast internet connectivity to Africa’s urban centers and rural areas. There are a number of things that Smile is doing very different to other mobile operators in the region that make them a company to watch in the coming years.
Their LTE technology is new to the continent, having only been deployed in two other African countries to date. Thus, their launch in Uganda earlier this year puts the country on the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes consumer accessible mobile telecom solutions. Because LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology works over long distances, Smile is keen to service rural African markets as well, not just the densely populated urban markets.
The Smile Communication Uganda headquarters in the Bukoto area is an unassuming campus, located just around the corner from the local Nakumatt grocery store. It’s easy to forget you’re visiting a telecom company, that is, until you enter their data center.
One of the advantages Smile has over their competitors is that their infrastructure is new, optimized for LTE from end-to-end. This is vastly different from the incumbents in the market who, more often than not, have to maintain legacy GSM equipment in addition to any new systems they wish to deploy. This makes deploying new technologies like LTE much more cumbersome and expensive for them, one of the many reasons innovation with local telecom infrastructure may appear to have stagnated.
At Smile, their data center is compact, small enough to fit in a mid-sized bedroom. If the team there ever wants to expand, and realistically only utilizes about a third of the room it’s contained in, so there is plenty of room for expansion.
The Smile team performed a test on my behalf downloading 35 gigs of the RACHEL courseware repository. Download speeds peaked at 17mbps by averaged at closer to 4mbps. The team assures me that this was during peak hours (2pm on a Saturday) and that during non-peak hours the speeds increase dramatically (for instance, at night).
The most exciting thing about Smile is their commitment to driving the local market forward instead of simply maintaining the standard.