Big Interview

Q&A: Chris Wood, CEO, WIOCC

As WIOCC prepares to launch another internet exchange point in Lesotho, Capacity's Agnes Stubbs catches up with the company’s CEO, Chris Wood, to find out more about its expansion plans for the region.

What have been some of WIOCC’s key developments in the last year?

In February 2014, we launched services in Somalia in partnership with Dalkom Somalia to provide connectivity to the country via the EASSy cable. 

Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen a rapid increase in capacity to and from the country, doubling every six to nine months. Almost every major operator in Somalia is now using WIOCC’s EASSy cable. 

We’ve helped stabilise connectivity in the country and provide opportunity for the average Somalian to reach the outside world, which wasn’t the case before we landed. 

In Zambia, we also opened four PoPs this year and now have PoPs in 18 countries around Africa and Europe, with plans to expand our IP network over the next six to 12 months.

What technological advancements has WIOCC made to the EASSy cable network? 

We upgraded the EASSy cable last year with an additional 400Gbps of capacity throughout the system, using Alcatel-Lucent’s advanced coherent 100Gbit/s technology. 

We are activating capacity quickly on the system across all landing stations. The increase in traffic on the EASSy cable has been largely fuelled by general growth from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Somalia.

Is the regulatory environment across Africa changing favourably to accommodate the growth of subsea and terrestrial connectivity? 

It is easier to build terrestrial connectivity today than it has been in the past. Regulatory approvals have been accelerated by many governments in the last 12 to 18 months. 

In South Africa, for example, there has been a spate of fibre rollouts from Liquid Telecom, which has acquired licences to build terrestrial fibre. 

In Kenya, there are presently multiple fibre networks between the coast of Nairobi and the borders of Uganda and Tanzania. However, the regulatory framework is still in its infancy in countries such as Somalia where the governmentis presently consulting with industry experts to ensure that its regulatory environment is properly framed. 

The only barrier to subsea cables is economics. If you look at the growthand technology advances of cables over the last five years, there’s still a huge amount of spare capacity in submarine cables today. 

I would question any business case to build a new cable in any country in Africa – with the exception of Eritrea, one of the few countries yet to be connected. If you look at the east and west coast, there is already enough capacity in existing cables to satisfy demand for many years to come.

What changes to the regulatory framework would you like to see?

In countries such as Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda – where there are six or seven mobile licences – it has become difficult for operators to have sustainable business plans.

Operators such as Airtel and Orange are rumoured to be exiting these markets, which is a sign that the regulatory framework hasn’t been quite right.  

There needs to be a balance between ensuring consumers are protected and making sure competition isn’t stifled. Changes need to be made to regulatory frameworks to ensure sustainable growth – not just in submarine cables, but fixed-line, mobile and every other part of the network. 

Regulators should also take a step back from owning and building infrastructure to allow more businesses to do the jobs themselves. I would like to see them add more competition in the development of networks. We need a framework that allows competition to take its own path.

How will the arrival of LTE services drive growth in the coming year?

While it can’t replace fibre in terms of capacity, LTE is certainly an important driver for growth. What we’ll soon see in some African countries is a mix of LTE and fibre deployment as well as new mobile technologies as they become available. 

The development of economies will be another growth driver as that will lead to increased mobile adoption and usage.

Which markets will you be expanding into in the coming months? 

West Africa will be important for us. We will see some growth in the Ivory Coast and Ghana as well as our core markets of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. 

We are about to open an internet exchange in Lesotho in Maseru, which will be key focus for us in the next six to 12 months. That is going to help the economy of Lesotho grow more rapidly by bringing in very stable internet connectivity with multiple routes.  

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