By enabling ISPs and MNOs to better serve their customers, CSquared is helping to drive the fibre revolution across several of Africa’s most prominent urban centres
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Vivek Valmik
“Working in an organisation that is committed to investing and developing broadband infrastructure in Africa is quite honestly a dream come true for me. I have worked in the ICT sector across the continent for almost 21 years and I know firsthand the real connectivity challenges facing the region. So, the opportunity to be part of a unique set of people and investors that are committed to changing the status quo was obviously a thrilling proposition.”
For Lanre Kolade, joining CSquared as its Chief Executive Officer in 2018 was something of a no-brainer.
A problem solver by nature and passionate believer that broadband access will enable Africa to fast-track economic development, Kolade is especially driven by the potential of technology to upskill populations and drive GDPs upwards, what he calls ‘FibeRising Africa’.
Central to this is boosting connectivity.
“Across the continent, submarine capacity is increasing but overall usage of these cables is still low since metro networks are not very pervasive,” Kolade observes.
“Hence, access to connectivity across the continent is limited, expensive and inefficiently deployed with various technologies still in use. Intra Africa connectivity is an even bigger challenge, and we need to bridge the gaps by increasing cross border links between the countries.”
The CEO points to the World Bank’s Africa Digital Moonshot 2030 report as evidence of the need to accelerate broadband installations, while also citing that 31.6 percent of African’s have access to the internet (as of June 2018). This number drops to just six percent when looking at broadband specifically.
CSquared is determined to address this challenge. Having first incorporated in September 2012, it has been breaking ground across Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Liberia ever since, making marked progress in the past year since Africa Outlook last spoke to the company.
For example, in August 2018 CSquared Uganda began building and deploying a broadband access network based on GPON technology and offering fibre to the home access to suburbs in Kampala. Covering 1,000 homes in its pilot phase, the project represents an effort to capture the upcoming growth in the fixed data market as the Ugandan economy and ecosystem matures with a rising middle class.
“As the first broadband company to offer wholesale FTTH services in Uganda, we are excited about uptake,” comments Kolade.
“With our wholesale service expansion into the residential market, end users have the freedom to choose any service provider using the same fibre connection, allowing them to access and enjoy large amounts of data at lightning speed.”
In Liberia, CSquared has been working tirelessly to connect the capital city Monrovia. Breaking ground in January 2018, it has successfully installed 165 kilometres of broadband cabling from which leading telcos such as Orange, MTN, Libtelco, PowerNet and Electroshack have all been able to offer fibre directly to customers.
This connectivity also extends, crucially, to governmental functions. The partnership with the Government of Liberia and USAID has enabled 51 institutions to be connected to CSquared’s fibre network, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Post & Telecoms, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Justice, National Elections Commission and the University of Liberia.
“Liberia remains one of the least connected countries in the world, with only five percent of citizens able to access the internet,” says Kolade.
“CSquared brings the best-in-class, reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure to Liberia’s capital, directly impacting essential health, education and government systems, as well as helping to unlock the potential of the digital economy for Liberian citizens and private enterprise.”
Early 2019 further saw the company expand its investment into Ghana with expanded coverage into Kasoa. CSquared now operates more than 1,025 kilometres of fibre covering 23 service providers and 2,300 end-users across four Ghanaian cities, the others being Accra, Tema and Kumasi.
Beyond broadband connectivity, the company is also acutely aware of the need to meet other market needs, a specific example being in the form of providing platforms to host content.
“We are open to what we do in our future markets,” adds Kolade.
“CSquared is actively exploring partnerships with both local and global content providers to facilitate fast and affordable access to their content through connectivity at the relevant data centres.
“In markets where we do not own infrastructure, we know it might make sense to partner with other infrastructure owners. It is crucial that we continue to add value to our offerings to further meet the needs and challenges of our customers.”
These forward-thinking statements from Kolade tie into what he and CSquared believe will be a defining period for urban development across the continent.
From digitising key businesses, education, health, energy and other important policy processes to reducing costs and improving security, the creation of smart cities is paramount if the region is to handle projected population rises.
“African policymakers need to fully embrace the role of technology in spurring the development of urban cities,” Kolade says.
“Africa is undergoing impressive urban growth and is envisioned to reach 2.4 billion inhabitants within the next decade, favouring cities over rural areas. By 2030, it is expected that six of the world’s 41 megacities will be African.
“The urbanisation process undoubtedly has the power to transform an economy, however, it also comes with a set of challenges such as the need for mobility and access to urban services, access to clean water and sanitation, public health and safety issues as well as policy-related matters.”
People, as well as technology, will be the key to unlocking this potential.
In terms of CSquared’s own fortunes, the importance of identifying and developing talent is not lost on Kolade.
“We engage in various cross-training and educational activities to help individuals advance their skillset,” he continues.
“The fourth industrial revolution is here and the only way we can participate is to upskill our people in the relevant technologies. So, continuous training with a view to accelerate innovative thinking is how we approach this issue.
“We do not find recruiting skilled people a challenge – there are plenty of skilled individuals in Africa, and many have gone through training either locally or from overseas.”
A rapidly developing urban landscape and promising pool of skilled technicians who can help advance this ongoing socioeconomic story, Kolade signs off in confident fashion.
He concludes: “Yes we are optimistic. Africa is maintaining its position as the fastest growing region in terms of internet usage, though data volumes remain lower than other parts of the world. We expect this trend to aggressively continue.
“In terms of CSquared, we currently operate in four countries in Africa. We consider the entire continent as home and look at it as a four plus 50 strategy, so what we have is 50 more countries in view!
“However, we are also very pragmatic and will look at the markets where policy and regulations allow private participation with open access wholesale networks first. Our focus is very keenly on West and Central Africa for growth as well as exploring ways in which we can improve the value offerings for our existing customers.”