LIQUID ASSETS

Zambia 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Andrew Kapula, Managing Director of Liquid Telecom, on fiber-optic networks, increasing ICT efficiencies, and the growth of Zambian communications.

Andrew Kapula
BIOGRAPHY
Andrew Kapula graduated as a Telecoms Engineer from the University of Zambia in 1995, and then earned a degree in Computing Systems Design at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in 2002. He worked for ZCCM until 1997 and then he joined Copperbelt Energy Corporation up to February 2014. Then he became the Managing Director of Liquid Telecom.

Liquid was established in 2011. What has been the company's performance since its inception?

Our performance has been very good, despite market competition. We have grown annual our turnover about five times from inception in 2011, and we are focusing higher turnovers in the coming years.

What have been the main drivers of the company's rapid growth?

There are a number of factors, but I think the main one is that we brought in new dimensions to the provision of communication capacity. The stability of our network, redundancy, and dedicated workforce coupled with efficient delivery of services are the main drivers.

The plan was to build 2,500 kilometers of backbone network. At what stage is this project right now?

So far in Zambia we have rolled out 683 kilometers of backbone fiber, and then in the Copperbelt we have about 520 kilometers of Optical Ground Wire (OPGW), through Copperbelt Energy Corporation the other joint venture Company with Liquid Telecom. Now we are in the process of rolling out another 560 kilometers to bring the total in excess of 1,700 kilometers on our Zambian network. Besides the backbone fiber, we have also installed 2,400 kilometers of last-mile fiber to provide access network to the Zambian business institutions and we are already in the process of rolling out additional kilometers of access network fiber through the implementation of a fiber to the home (FTTH) project, through which we will provide GPON services to the mass market through our resellers.

And how has this network improved the efficiency of businesses in Zambia?

Fiber optics and the internet have changed people's lives, especially in Africa. A few decades ago it was not easy to communicate with our families and friends living in villages, but now through the built communication networks we are able to communicate with relatives in far-flung areas where communications were previously unimaginable. But behind the scene is the high capacity that comes from the fiber network that provides mobile backhaul to base stations and other business nodes. As CEC Liquid Telecom, when we started we only had one fiber cable connecting to the marine cable through Chirundu, and obviously it was a challenge to provide a stable service, especially when the route to the south was affected. It meant disrupting services for longer periods. Nevertheless, since 2011 we have rolled out multiple cables to the south through Kariba Dam and Victoria Falls, which are the other two links through Zimbabwe. We have grown our network to the north through third-party fiber networks.

What role does Zambia represent in your global portfolio, because of its location it is key gateway for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, DRC, Kenya, and Tanzania?

Zambia is strategically located by virtue of its central location in sub-Saharan Africa; it has the potential to become what we can call a nerve center of communication for the region. As a company, we look at providing the infrastructure that actually makes Zambia the heart of regional communications. Zambia is already surrounded by eight neighboring countries, and if you look at the region, there is no other country with as many neighbors, and therefore it is strategically located to provide that kind of connectivity.

The long-haul optical networks require an amplifier every 100 kilometers, but in Africa sometimes the distance between cities is greater than 400 kilometers. How are you coping with this issue?

Of course that is a challenge, and anyone who is rolling out infrastructure in Africa has to be aware of this challenge. However, there are mechanisms to overcome this challenge. For example, we can use solar power to power up the repeaters. Where we have amplification stations along the route grid power become a constraint, solar energy performs the task.