WILL LAUNCH LARGEST DATA CENTER AND CLOUD SERVICE IN AFRICA IN 2017

Tanzania 2018 | INDUSTRY & MINING | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Eric Mwenda, CEO of WiA Group, on entering a crowded sector, recent successes, and setting up cloud services in Africa.

Was it difficult to enter the ICT sector as a small company and grow into a successful business?

We started when ICT was in its infancy. Telecoms were just arriving in Dar es Salaam, and service providers were still lacking focus. It required a lot of capital intensity; we had to compete with MNOs that were highly funded and boasted substantial infrastructure. However, we were also seeing that services were only being successfully provided within urban areas, specifically the capital city of Dar es Salaam. WiA's ambition was to integrate with existing network facilities, becoming a pioneer in that realm, focusing primarily on data and connectivity, as that was where more volume in terms of customers was to be found. We started primarily as an enterprise corporate service provider, with a strategy focused on the need to address true connectivity beyond city borders and provide full-unified communication. We wanted to move away from VSAT technology, since its high-cost was excluding many SMEs. I started lobbying heavily to teach MNOs how to leverage in each other's infrastructure, and to encourage more pairings between MNOs and ISPs. We had never previously seen the likes of an ISP-MNO integration, so there was uncertainty surrounding whether it could succeed. For us, the challenge lay in the next steps. If we were to succeed, there would be the question of then how to grow the sales, predominantly dictated in terms of e-1 connectivity, with capacity to feed data as opposed to voice. We aimed for a strategy of optimization. We spoke with the network, optimizing at 30%, and said we could bring in that 70%. It did not have to do anything other than give us capacity. In the end, we managed to achieve our goals, becoming the first ISP to integrate with an MNO in Africa. This is a substantial achievement, allowing us to be a major regional player. Now we have developed cross-border relationships with other companies as well.

What have been the most recent achievements at WiA?

Our focus on building mission-critical facilities has transformed us into without a doubt the biggest players in Tanzania today. Over the past few years, we stepped into a strategy underscoring ICT as an enabler for businesses, specifically when it came to edging competition. We needed to participate in mission critical services, not only in connectivity, if we wanted to drive this strategy forward. Prior to this, building connectivity was our core business. Now we are looking elsewhere in a bid to diversify and solidify WiA's prospects for success. For example, in the past year we have launched the largest data center in Eastern-Central Africa for one of the largest bank in the region, currently the largest player in the Tanzanian banking sphere, moving it from being a financial institution to an IT company that offers financial services. At the same time, we have been able to roll out the continent's biggest super-cluster. This is actually the world's first end-to-end Oracle super cluster that has been built from hardware to software. We also provide the largest aggregated financial network for banks and all their branches with complete end-to-end wireless microwave network. Now, they can provide online services outside of brick and mortar services for clients all across the country. We also launched the largest network in the country for a public institution, the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA). With our help, TANAPA has been able to expand upward into the service end, allowing customers to pay for their packages online.

How do you view the impact ICT has had on business and services in Tanzania?

ICT has moved from being a value-add to a necessity. ICT is increasingly becoming a major contributor to our GDP. In addition to concrete infrastructure like ports and roads, now we have to add network infrastructure to the must-haves in order to create a flourishing business environment in the country. Today, we cannot talk about trade without ICTe. ICT is taking on more of a utility role. It will be needed for anything and everything. Tanzania is beginning to demonstrate and market its capacity in the industry. Today, we have incubators all over the country, and a lot of young people that are becoming involved in the sector. These young people are providing solutions locally, and the next challenge will be to start driving these local content application internally and externally.

What is your vision for the company in the medium term?

In the past, we have been self-funded, however now we have reached a point based on our size, growth, and achievements, at which our funding structure will have to undergo some changes. The economic and administrative changes enveloping Tanzania at the moment are also impacting the business community, and we believe these changes will be a huge enabler for people like us to provide more services. We are seeing many organizations, enterprises corporates, and SMEs holding back a little in terms of spending, with people reluctant to invest heavily in IT, instead of focusing on their core services. Because of this, more companies are outsourcing ICT services, and WiA is responding to this with major projects this year to address the fully outsourced IT-model. We are going to be launching the largest cloud in Africa this year, as well as the largest data center that will act as a catalyst for SMB, corporate, and enterprise. We are working with partners to drive 4G/5G services. Finally, we are working on providing a state-of-the-art cyber solutions, which we believe is becoming more and more vital for businesses.