International carrier Djibouti Telecom already has the strongest presence in Eastern Africa. Now it has ambitious plans to expand further across the region and become the gateway to Europe. General manager Abdourahman Mohamed Hassan talks to Jayne Alverca.
Djibouti is a tiny state, but it has a strategic importance that far exceeds its small size and population of around one million people. It lies on a peninsula that divides the Gulf of Adenfrom the Gulf of Tadjoura in the Horn of Africa. At a crossroads between continents and sharing borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, Djibouti critically also has more than 300 kilometres of coastline.
Abdourahman Mohamed Hassan is general manager of Djibouti Telecom, the sole provider of telecommunications services in the country. He explains that domestic revenue streams are obviously limited and the real opportunity is derived from Djibouti’s unique geographical position, which makes it ideally placed to reach out to eastern and southern Africa and to the Middle East and Europe.
As a springboard and launching point for a new era of high speed connectivity, there could be no better place to position a hub. “We are the only provider in the country and we want to leverage the special advantages that Djibouti’s strategic position offers,” he states. Moreover, the deregulation and opening of markets in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania has created a raft of new opportunities in the continent: state-managed monopolies are only the order of the day in a dwindling number of countries.
Hassan is keen to emphasise that there is another dimension to the company’s work. “Djibouti Telecom is not just about bringing the internet to Africa; it is also about putting Djibouti on the map. It is a very small country that deserves more recognition for its role as the gateway to Europe,” he adds.
Djibouti Telecom has been operational since 1999 and is already established as the international carrier with the strongest presence in eastern Africa. Now it is in the process of growing a regional hub which will deliver a complete portfolio of voice, data/IP and capacity services over state-of-art network infrastructure. The customer base consists of telecommunications service providers and multinational organisations including international carriers, mobile and fixed telephony operators, internet service providers and major government and private sector clients.
“Our strategy is to reach out with different nodes of achieving connectivity,” Hassan explains. “Every operator wants diversity in terms of the international linkages at their disposal with the security of a solid back-up so traffic can be diverted by a secure route if necessary. By offering a number of different points of presence (POPs), we become a very attractive proposition.
“Secondly, we aim to obtain capacity and then offer it to different areas where there is growing demand, but limited supply,” he continues. “To date, we have invested in transcontinental as well as regional submarine cables and we are steadily expanding our geographic reach. For example, we are negotiating a new agreement with MENA-ICS [the Middle East North Africa International Cable System] investors in order for Djibouti to become a landing point and own capacity over this submarine cable system.” Djibouti so far owns capacity over six submarine cables: SMW3, EIG, SEACOM, EASSy, Aden-Djibouti (in the upgrade process) and MENA.
The underwater fibre-optic cables that are the pre-requisite for a new era in communications have only recently arrived in Africa. “Poor infrastructure in the region is our biggest challenge,” he declares. “Underwater cables such as SEACOM and EASSy have only recently become operational and have transformed Africa’s connectivity, but there is still a terrestrial backhaul problem because many African states are land-locked.”
SEACOM financed and developed the first broadband submarine cable system along the eastern and southern African coastlines, bringing with it a vast supply of high quality and affordable internet access. It became live in July 2009 and has already bought a tenfold increase in bandwidth penetration to some African countries.
EASSy is a 10,000 kilometre submarine fibre-optic cable system deployed along the east and south coasts of Africa to service the voice, data, video and internet needs of the region. It links South Africa with Sudan via landing points in Mozambique, Madagascar, the Comoros, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. The cable incorporates the latest developments in submarine fibre-optic technology, making it economical to connect the eastern and southern coast of Africa into the high-speed global telecommunications network. In a related project, investors in the EASSy system are building terrestrial fibre backhauls to link the land-locked countries of the region to the cable.
This acceleration in activity on the part of cable operators has generated many new opportunities. Working in partnership with Telecom Italia Sparkle, the international wholesale arm of Telecom Italia, Djibouti Telecom recently launched its new top-tier IP point of presence (POP). The link will provide cost effective, high quality and secure global IP connectivity to TLC operators, ISPs and service providers that are connected to Djibouti through existing and upcoming cable systems and other bilateral infrastructure.
The fully protected IP hubbing node in Djibouti will bring the internet thousands of miles closer to East and South African customers. Customers will be able to access the world’s most popular content hosted in Sicily through an extended global IP transit backbone, Seabone. Customers will also benefit from the additional advantage of exchanging their intra-regional traffic directly in Djibouti, instantly improving performance by saving hundreds of milliseconds with respect to any other European IP hub.
“With the deployment of a new generation of submarine cable systems in East Africa, our IP node/exchange will play a significant role in the region by offering improvedsolutions to support the increasing demand for international service from Eastern and southern Africa,” Hassan declares.
“It was very important to us to partner with a top tier provider to offer the most reliable and robust service possible to meet Africa’s soaring demands, both now and in the future. Moving forward, it will also enable us to look more closely at new connections with the Middle East and Europe. In five years’ time, I want us to be recognised as the East African countries’ gateway to Europe.”