Archives For telecom

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.

smile

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.

smile

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.

network

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.

Wananchi, a Kenyan telecom group, made an announcement this week that they have immediate plans to extend their services beyond internet services to include television and telephony. “All in the same cost-effective package and coming from one provider,” according to CEO Euan Fannell.

The product roll out has been made possible by the group’s expansion of its cable services that saw it acquire Mitsumi TV, a cable TV network.

Through Africa Telecom Media and Technology Fund (ATMT), the company has also acquired a 10 per cent stake in the TEAMS cable, whose bandwidth capacity will enable it to set up a video streaming and conferencing network.

“Our goal in Kenya is to migrate from dial-up to wireless broadband using WiMax technology and VoIP. These should be in place by early next year,” added Mr Fannell.

Suhayl Esmailjee, the company’s chief operating officer, commended the government for initiating the TEAMS cable.

“When the cable finally becomes operational, operators will be able to save on major costs,” he observed, adding that the government was also doing a good job by providing a conducive regulatory environment.

Wananchi’s new brand, Triple Play, will no doubt revolutionise communication and entertainment in Kenya.

Via AllAfrica