Africa's Liquid Telecom owns and operates what is arguably the continent's biggest fiber network. Having established itself as one of the key players in east Africa's wholesale markets, the company is now moving from being a connectivity player to one that develops "solutions" for its various customers, in the words of David Eurin, Liquid's chief strategy officer.
In the first of a two-part interview with Telco Transformation, Eurin explains why the enterprise sector is a strategic priority, what's driving growth in the wholesale business and why Liquid is building a new submarine cable linking Africa to the Middle East.
Telco Transformation: What growth potential do you see in the enterprise sector and what are your plans there? Is it fair to say that your cloud and managed service offering is still not that developed?
David Eurin: I would say enterprise is definitely a focus. We've been busy rolling out fiber as fast as we can. A few years ago we bought the Altech assets in Kenya and Uganda, which gave us the old KDN [a Kenyan wholesale network provider], and there is a big ISP in Uganda with a lot of infrastructure that we spent quite a bit of time rebuilding and modernizing. Then we realized that we have all these assets and are doing well on the wholesale side, but the enterprise was definitely lagging. So we strengthened the sales team through multiple factors -- we hired a number of people from other operators who are used to selling telco solutions for enterprises and we now have a very strong sales team completely focused on that.
We are moving from a pure connectivity play into a solutions-focused player because that is what clients are asking for. The large multinationals are quite happy to see that we own a big chunk of the infrastructure because we can give them end-to-end connectivity and control in the east of Africa -- so from Kenya all the way to South Africa -- entirely on our network all the way to the building.
Connecting the Unconnected
David Eurin, chief strategy officer of Liquid Telecom, at the company's central London offices.
We are now partnering with mobile operators that have built their own fiber so we can fill gaps. It's obvious to us that it's much easier to offer something in the east because we control the infrastructure. We better understand now what people who don't own the infrastructure actually face because the vendor management part is much more complicated than when you can walk in to the data center, put in the card and say "here we go." But that's the way it has to be because we want to have a pan-African offering -- that's what the client wants and that's what we are building for them.
So I would say yes -- enterprise is the largest piece we haven't had until now that we want to grab. Wholesale is doing quite well because as operators launch 3G and 4G they are needing IP transit and the fact we have got all those networks means it is natural to come to us. But the market is very mature and obviously focused on the pipe. The enterprise market is more interesting because there is a solution to be provided -- we get to hire people who visit customers and see what they are doing and provide something that actually sticks.
TT: Would you say the enterprise market is booming in Africa right now?
DE: It is booming. There are definitely hotspots. There is a lot of business in Nairobi and a growing business in Kampala and Kigali, although obviously much smaller. We are also looking at Tanzania -- Dar es Salaam is an interesting business center as well, but we haven't done a strong play there yet and are trying to fill that gap. Zimbabwe remains for us a central piece of the puzzle because it's where we started, it's where we have the largest network to date, key customers are there and our market share is vastly higher than anybody else's. We are trying to replicate the market share we've achieved in that market in other places and I believe there is nothing that stops us from doing that because the quality of service we deliver is better than anybody else's.
Next page: Wholesale and submarine opportunities