Strengthening the Fibre Backbone of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (Sierratel) was Sierra Leone’s first and sole telecoms operator in the country to offer landline telephony services in the capital and provincial cities. Since the advent of mobile telephony services, the Company has spent the past few years focusing on reinstating its position as the go-to telecoms provider in the country, leveraging its unique market position which it still retains as the sole provider of fixed line, mobile data and voice services. “The rapid uptake of mobile telephony and associated services dramatically impacted our landline business and made us realise the importance of diversifying our portfolio to include these new mobile and data services,” explains Sierratel Managing Director (MD), Adel Taher.
Through its enhanced offering of voice and data products aimed at both the corporate and consumer segments, including bundled voice and data packages tailored to meet the need of these different segments, Sierratel has been successful in strengthening its subscriber numbers, particularly those using data services at the corporate and SME levels.
“In addition to our varied bouquet of fixed and mobile products and their available combinations, we feel on our way to answering Sierra Leone’s demand for reliable services. Given the ever-increasing demand for reliable data services and the completion of the ACE (Africa Coast to Europe) fibre cable, we have been able to re-launch our landline service as a combination package that offers ADSL internet and broadband via fibre. This is available in all the key provincial cities now,” highlights Taher.
The recently renewed and re-launched landline service has provided Sierratel with a unique market differentiator as the only telecoms operator that provides fixed line and mobile voice and data services in Sierra Leone. And, even against the backdrop of the recent Ebola epidemic, Taher is confident that Sierratel will continue to gain market share as the Company continues with its customer-driven focus for the best landline and mobile products, and subsequent value-add services.
“We have the competitive edge as a one-stop shop communication solutions provider,” he justifies.
In order to remain ahead, the Company has several major additions and goals set out in the next few years, including an approximate US$40 million investment for rollout of a fully digitised landline network nationwide and a further US$7 million investment to upgrade the CDMA network nationwide. “This will complement the existing infrastructure for this service,” the MD adds.
Additionally, as more and more people subscribe to mobile data services and, given its rapid growth and importance to the continent’s economic growth, Sierratel will continue to focus on bringing financial inclusion products to its customers. “We recently introduced ERP and CRM systems and other OTT applications and portals, such as the web self care platform and advanced call centres in order to improve efficiency and promote corporate governance. All of these services have a customer-centric focus and will bring financial inclusion products to more customers,” he continues.
Moreover, Sierratel has identified that social media and content services are two key drivers of telecommunication consumption within Sierra Leone, which make them essential selling points going forward. “This has created the need for bandwidth and increased capacity to satisfy this growing demand, which is a challenge for us.
“However, as a government-owned entity, Sierratel has access to a huge network of infrastructure that, combined with our retail telecommunications business, means we find ourselves in a strategic position to exploit this emerging opportunity,” highlights Taher.
The main challenge for the Company stems from its position as a fully-owned government institution. “Navigating through the bureaucratic and cultural landscape in an emerging market such as Sierra Leone can sometimes present its difficulties. Nonetheless, a crucial part of our strategy is to always remain engaged with all the stakeholders and keep focused on the key business deliverables that benefit the end-user, and grow the landline and mobile penetration rates in the country,” he further details.
In order to provide much-needed skills development for the Sierra Leonean economy, Sierratel has undergone an extensive streamlining and restructuring exercise to ensure a leaner, more customer focused company emerges. “All Sierratel employees are local and have been subject to a right-sizing plan, to make sure that we have a sustainable business in the long-term.”
By partnering with a Lebanon-based telecoms management company, MDIC, who specialises in the management of mobile and fixed telecom operations, Sierratel has enjoyed a beneficial relationship in order to better deliver on the business objectives of the Company.
“Moreover, a key part of MDIC’s remit is to provide on-the-job mentorship to our selected local management team, who then share their knowledge with others; like a cascade effect down through the company,” further explains Taher.
This relationship and subsequent training is further complimented by other skills transfer initiatives including overseas training for key local staff.
Not only this, but Sierratel firmly believes that local is best and where possible, its suppliers are always locally sourced. “In terms of volume, approximately 80 percent of our suppliers are local and in value terms represent a significant proportion of our procurement expenditure,” affirms Taher.
As the only locally-owned telecoms operator in the country, Sierratel places corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities at the forefront of its country strategy. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, the Company sponsored a number of key events organised by the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce as Taher emphasises: “Some key examples include supporting a healthy environment campaign in Kroo Bay, an underdeveloped and heavily populated area of the capital city. We also sponsored the National Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in their annual media conference and outreach exercise in the north of Sierra Leone.”
Similarly, Sierratel made a significant financial contribution to the government in support of its efforts to eradicate Ebola in the country. “Now, we have a number of post-Ebola initiatives lined up to support the rebuilding efforts once the disease has been eradicated from the country,” he adds.
Through these activities, it is clear that Sierratel is committed to improving the lives of customers not just through telecoms, but via life-changing community projects. “Behind the scenes, over the next five years, our main objective is to achieve a sizeable market share across the voice and data market in Sierra Leone. Our fibre backbone and network infrastructure will ensure that we deliver attractive, innovative, reliable and competitive services and solutions to residences, businesses and government institutions across the country,” Taher concludes.