Key to being a new-age telco is listening to what customers are saying. Worldwide, we are functioning in an age where customers are increasingly knowledgeable around technology and connectivity, with people in touch with what they need and want, which includes superior customer service. Despite its pivotal role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the connectivity sphere is no different from any other business sector when it comes to profitability challenges and a hyper-competitive environment. Yet, as with any industry, engaging with customers, listening and orientating business decisions towards their empowerment, returns dividends for all parties.
As one of the leading private telcos operating on the African continent, SEACOM has adopted this approach to better serve local business customers with an appetite for high-quality connectivity – and the emerging technologies that hinge on it.
The African context
There’s no question that Africa is playing catch-up in the arena of telecoms, with longstanding infrastructure barriers to overcome, along with government attitudes that have been slow to warm to sector privatisation. That has changed, though, over the past decade or so, with governments in countries like Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia prioritising ICT development and access to broadband Internet as a key enabler of socio-economic upliftment for their nations.
With such positive developments and receptiveness to private investment, telcos are operating in a local environment rich in opportunity. As a result, providers’ strategy and moves regarding their own growth and investment decisions, can tap into this enthusiasm. Even better is to have measures in place already to meet demand as it emerges.
Cloud comes to the continent, with localised providers
For example, on 6 March this year, enterprise-grade Microsoft data centres finally launched in Johannesburg and Cape Town as Africa’s first Azure cloud regions. With media reports citing AWS plans for similar South African facilities in the first half of 2020, SEACOM took preparatory steps by expanding its national and continental footprint so that businesses in South Africa, and elsewhere on the continent, could enjoy the benefits of access to leading public cloud providers that now have local physical presences.
This “setting up shop” in Africa, of course, has helped to mitigate the security, territorial, latency and general compliance concerns that discouraged cloud adoption in the region in the past. And even for African businesses outside South Africa, connecting to data centres on the continent will still be faster and provide a more seamless experience than relying on computing power that is generated half a world away.
Connectivity expanding beyond metros
In a move that reflects the general trend in African telecoms towards the consolidation of fibre assets, SEACOM acquired South African connectivity provider FibreCo Telecommunications towards the end of 2018. FibreCo owned and operated a national open access dark fibre network which ran along South Africa’s highest-traffic transmission routes and connected over 60 points of presence across the country, including key data centres. The acquisition therefore further enabled SEACOM to scale and upgrade its “African Ring” by connecting its East and West coast submarine assets with a robust network of trans-South African fibre.
The result is an end-to-end fibre that connects the SEACOM subsea cable system (which runs along the east coast of Africa and lands in Mtunzini, on the east coast of South Africa) to the WACS cable (which falls at Yzerfontein, on the west coast of the country). This ensures fully redundant high-speed ring protection around the African continent – a benefit that SEACOM can pass on to African business customers demanding standard-setting reliability no matter what.
For the record, SEACOM is the only African carrier to cover all five of the largest exchange points in Europe (London, Frankfort, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Marseille), in addition to Mumbai.
A further point to note is that with providers starting to look beyond saturated metros for new markets, lighting up additional fibre across South Africa also creates a platform to deliver affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity and cloud services to traditionally-underserved mid-tier cities and towns along the new routes. This is as true for home users as business customers, and the trend is set to reflect across Africa, with fibre rollout naturally progressing from main centres to secondary cities, and then on to more remote areas as investors make back their initial outlay.
Infrastructure improving across Africa
SEACOM’s system upgrades are not confined to South Africa either. In the greater African region, SEACOM has added seven other PoPs to enable more African businesses to connect to cloud facilities worldwide, as well as to the new continent-based Microsoft Azure data centres, and their soon-to-debut equivalents from other major cloud providers. The move has been accompanied by an upgrade of backhaul to include additional separate and resilient routes.
In preparation for higher demand and expanded services to business customers in the region, SEACOM has plans for new open-access PoPs coming to Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda. These will provide a direct on-ramp to the SEACOM network. Before that, though, SEACOM has extended its presence in the brand-new icolo data centre in Mombasa, which offers both IP/MPLS and transmission services.
The significance of the full-service Mombasa PoP for the telecoms industry is that it is Kenya’s first open-access data centre. Rare in the region, in comparison to operator-owned data centres, this carrier-neutral facility (in addition to the impending Nairobi and Kampala centres) encourages competition in the local ICT sphere, helping to increase cloud-based service offerings for customers while driving down costs.
Convenience is king
As we’re seeing, strengthening regional systems is necessary for the evolution of the market at a technical level, particularly with the increased demand for data owing to the growth in fibre-based connectivity and emergence of technologies such as 5G.
However, strategic decisions around network expansion also provide a better experience for customers, from services to support. And the importance of convenience and flexibility for customers can never be understated. One case of this is digitally-enabled and automated self-service, providing customers with the power to manage their account at a time and location convenient to them.
A further example of convenience that pleases the customer is a diversity of services from the same provider, turning them into a one-stop-shop for all their solution requirements – from connectivity to cloud. There will always be a space for specialist providers of all manner of services, but right now organisations in Africa, from SMEs right up to large multi-national corporates, place value in any ICT company that simplifies their cloud migration. For example, SEACOM’s PoPs are key to its direct access offerings, which bypass the public Internet in connecting company networks to digital business solutions, whether stemming from data centres in Africa, or cloud providers located in Europe.
SEACOM’s subsea cable system, which connects East Africa to South Africa, Europe and Asia, offers a fibre express route that carries terabytes of capacity, with speeds ranging from 50 Mbps to 100 Gbps.
Forgetting for a second the global cloud providers, the opportunity for African businesses to leverage dedicated enterprise-standard services to connect directly and reliably to the local data centres will enable more companies on the continent to embrace the cloud in a compliant manner, and enhance their digital transformation. In addition to laying the foundation for explorations of artificial intelligence and edge computing in years to come – enabled by the elimination of lag inherent to long-distance data transfer – in the near future, locally-delivered Azure cloud services will be joined by popular everyday business tools like Office 365 and Dynamics 365.
New-age business is customer first, always
New-age business is at its core about putting customers first, and making every decision by considering their needs. When that comes to telcos, that may even mean partnering with competitors in the development of a new product or system, if necessary. Furthermore, for ICT companies promising greater fluidity in operations for their customers, pace-slowing rigidity is to be avoided in their operations at all costs. Customer experience should always be as easy and enjoyable as possible instead of introducing resistance.
Investment and development of systems in the region should similarly be orientated towards the business user. On one level, such a future-minded, outward-looking approach helps to position SEACOM and other telcos as a partner to businesses across Africa, by thoroughly equipping them for competitive performance in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, aside from reputational (and hopefully profit!) advantages for the telecoms industry, there are more far-reaching repercussions too.
Access to faster and more powerful processing on the African continent supports the development of African solutions, and reliable fibre-driven connectivity allows these homegrown solutions to reach markets worldwide. This way, African businesses are gaining access to new opportunities and appear as substantial social and economic contributors at a global level, shattering negative perceptions of the continent. It’s a fundamental shift that advances in connectivity systems in the region are making a reality.
SEACOM launched Africa’s first broadband submarine cable system along the continent’s Eastern and Southern coasts in 2009.
Today SEACOM is the preferred partner for African businesses, network carriers, and service providers.
Through its ownership of Africa’s most extensive ICT data infrastructure – including multiple subsea cables and a resilient, continent-wide IP-MPLS network – SEACOM provides a full suite of flexible, scalable and high-quality communications and cloud solutions that enable the growth of the continent’s economy.
SEACOM is privately owned and operated, allowing the company the agility to rapidly tailor-make and deploy new services, commercial models, and infrastructure in response to customer requirements. Without the red tape or hidden costs often prevalent in this industry.
For more information, visit www.seacom.co.za
Image credit: Internet Society / Nyani Quarmyne / Panos Pictures