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Liquid Telecom's Plans to Take Over Africa

When Nic Rudnick and Strive Masiyiwa partnered in 1994 to take on the monopolized telecoms industry in Zimbabwe, they did not foresee that their partnership would introduce an unprecedented new company across Africa.

In 1998, Strive Masiyiwa went ahead and founded Econet Wireless a telecommunications company, propelling him to be one of the wealthiest men in Africa. Years later, the company founded Liquid Telecom Company to connect the unconnected with the internet. It is now estimated to be worth US$500 million.

Liquid Telecom has rapidly developed into an independent pan-African company offering internet solutions across the African continent. As Africa moves to becoming a fully connected continent, Liquid Telecom plans to be at the forefront of major customer acquisition.

Since the beginning of the year 2013 Liquid Telecom has been making major acquisitions and forming partnerships with various ISPs around the continent. This is helping them realize their major goal of becoming one of the single largest internet providers in Africa.

In March 2013 the company began with its business strategy in East Africa by forming a partnership and eventual takeover of Kenya Data Networks, one of the largest internet providers in the region.

This was followed by the buyout of Rwandatel, a fixed mobile service in the landlocked East African country, Rwanda.

At the time of that acquisition, Liquid Telecom Group boss, Nic Rudnick, said “Liquid Telecom is expanding rapidly and this is an important and strategic investment. Rwanda is an outstanding foreign direct investment destination and we are very confident in the country’s economic future and growth prospects.”

The company has also added the Acquisition of East African companies like Swifglobal, Altechstream Rwanda and Infocom Uganda, which doubled the size of the company.

“We have expanded quite a lot in the last four years. I have been with the company for 11 years. We started by offering satellite for voice and for internet for the countries in Africa that did not have fiber [optic cables],” Ben Roberts, the current Acting CEO of Liquid Telcom Kenya told IDG Connect.

“Four and a half years ago we started building fiber from South Africa into Zimbabwe, into Zambia, and DRC. We have grown in that time from 30 employees to 750 employees.”

Plans for Greater Connectivity in Africa

Liquid Telecom revealed that it was working on greater connectivity for Africa through one single network.

Liquid’s aggressive expansion has not stopped. The company entered into an agreement with Tanzania Telecommunications Company over fiber connectivity.

“Traffic into and out of Tanzania will now interconnect with Liquid’s existing networks in the neighboring countries of Kenya, Rwanda, and Zambia as well as the other countries in which Liquid is operational; Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe,” the company said during the signing.

Liquid Telecom is the first country to have a direct peering with Johannesburg Internet Exchange, keeping internet traffic in Africa and speeding up connections.

New Products for the Continent

“In the last year, we have the biggest fiber network 16,000km of fiber. We are creating over that, a network which is allowing seamless connectivity, at a speed that is far well above anybody else,” Roberts said.

Subsequently, the company quietly started its internet protocol television (IPTV) product, IPIDI in Kenya and Zimbabwe and it is yet to announce the day it will commercialize the product to other fiber to home (FTH) companies.

One of the biggest achievements of Liquid Telecom is the fact that it unveiled a neutral carrier data center renamed East African Data Center from its parent company, KDN. The company says the data center is a separate entity from the Liquid Telecom Company to give the same level of service for anyone, including Liquid Telecom competitors.

But lack of infrastructure in most countries in Africa will slow down the uptake of such new products for the company. For IPTV, the company says that until proper structures are in place in parts of East Africa, it might take years for the service to be launched.

What Liquid is contending with?

Liquid Telecom already supplies internet to smaller ISPs across Africa including Internet Solutions, AccessKenya and iWayAfrica.

Being a new business in Africa, building the inland fiber infrastructure has been a great challenge for both the company and the countries. Roberts explained the times they have had their fiber cut due to the numerous developments going on in some of the African countries.

“Some of the things we have done have taken patience. You are trying to get permission to build fiber here and there. So sometimes it’s waiting and camping on someone’s door,” Roberts told IDG Connect. “Once you have gone through the right to go, then it’s very quick, compared in what you would do in Europe.”

Even as they look forward to the future, Roberts says that the working culture and values have not changed from the once-little ISP in Zimbabwe.

“The key piece of spirit we are maintaining is being entrepreneurial. Each of our operating divisions is operating on an entrepreneurial level. Our aim is to connect [as many] people as we can in Africa. The technology has changed a bit but our aim is still the same,” Roberts said.

 

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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