Others have followed Kenya’s foreign
investment model: South Africa-based
VODACOM took up Mozambique’s second cellular license in June 2002, and roll-out contracts were awarded in August this year. Similarly, Uganda opened the door to
South African operator MTN in 1998.
A focussed and innovative deployment
program has seen the company lift the country out of its post-Idi Amin telecommunications doldrums. Today—courtesy of its fixed wireless solutions—teledensity has
increased tenfold since 1998. Subscriber numbers have exceeded 400,000 and
coverage has been achieved across 38
districts and 100 towns.
But all is not a wireless ‘bed of roses’ in
East Africa—the early-2003 failure and
subsequent license loss of Tanzania’s fifth operator, Tritel, is clear evidence of the
potential pitfalls. As Reynolds points out, there are very real African practicalities to be addressed in this market. “In any African wireless market the major challenge facing anybody is the ability of the prospective customer to actually afford the service,” Reynolds says. “Here, we’ve seen some clever solutions introduced in the area of pre-paid phones, and the ‘community phone’ service in particular.”
A further major challenge, he cites, is site access. “In many locations, you’re lucky to reach these places in a four-wheel drive
vehicle. On some sites, they have actually used manpower —teams of villagers —
to physically haul the towers up the
Partnering with vendors and system
integrators who know and understand these uniquely African issues is an essential ingredient for success in this region. The African wireless market also has a great need for sustained local stock levels, and provision of ongoing technical support and training. To address these important points, RFS has made two very significant moves over the past two years: the February 2001 opening of its regional operations centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, followed by the appointment of its East African sales partner, International ROM, in early 2003.
A decade in Africa
International ROM is a leading turnkey
solutions provider for the African
communications industry. Headquartered in Mauritius, the company has over a decade of experience in African RF and broadcasting projects. Its expertise includes radio planning; tower design, manufacture and installation; RF system (antenna,
feeder, BTS and power supply) design and development; and site commissioning.
Outside of Mauritius, it has opened offices in Kenya, Tanzania, and most recently, Nigeria and India.
The company is a specialist in African site tower construction, offering a range of unique ‘precast’ monopole tower designs. These are part-assembled (including
foundation slabs) prior to shipping. This permits the entire base station —
power supply, BTS, tower, security fencing and antennas — to be up and operational
in just four days.
Reynolds believes the RFS/International ROM team is an important addition to the East African wireless landscape. “RFS technology now enjoys a very strong reputation right across Sub-Saharan Africa. Teaming with a leading system integrator and site developer such as International ROM allows us to extend our offerings beyond the
products, and provide our customers with a complete package — a total turnkey
RF solution tailored to meet African
needs,” says Reynolds.
International ROM’s Business Development Manager, Kiran Kumar, concurs, citing the success of CELLFLEX foam-dielectric feeder cable in East Africa as an example of RFS’s reputation. “Major cellular operators in this region have switched from competing products to CELLFLEX. This is not solely a pricing issue—security of supply is vital in our region,” Kumar says. “In Africa usually no-one stocks and supplies. International ROM now offers this service out of its Nairobi warehouse.”
Training for the future
Training and technical support is also of great importance in a region that is hungry for technical expertise. “Recently RFS has completed a series of internal seminars for the International ROM team,” Kumar
explains. “Our people were trained in
advanced feeder connection and installation principles, earthing and so on. With RFS, we are planning in the near future to provide the same courses for local
operators here in Kenya. This sort of thing is very important.”
Working hand in hand with International ROM, RFS is now well placed to support the next wave of exciting deployments across East Africa. This wave will be powered by a number of major events: a third Kenyan
cellular operator is to be announced in
early December 2003, VODACOM is to
rollout Mozambique’s second cellular
network over the next year, and Kenya is predicted to nominate a new fixed line
operator (demanding extensive wireless
infrastructure) sometime in 2004/2005. East Africa—once one of the world’s
poorest telephony serviced regions—is on the fast-track to an unwired future.