5G won’t be here until 2025, says Liquid Telecom’s chief

Tuesday December 10 2019

A woman browses Internet on a desktop. The

A woman browses Internet on a desktop. The telecom says it can offer something better than 4G to the fixed users. PHOTO BY EDGAR R. BATTE 

By Justus Lyatuu

Liquid telecom has been here for quite some time. How is business doing?
The telecom business is characterised by cut-throat competition. Liquid Telecom is privileged to be operating in a space where there is competition but I think we are playing very well.

How much is it to use your Internet packages compared to other players in the market?
The key differentiator of our packages is the quality of service. Whoever subscribes would never call us to tell us they have depleted their bundle. We have uncapped services where you use as much as you want and we charge for what you have used.

The value we put on our connectivity; Uganda has about 20 service providers in the market. All are into connectivity. But we have additional value like our association with Microsoft as the Microsoft Cloud services provider.

As a Pan-African network, with presence in over 13 markets on the continent, we have tailored our services bundled with connectivity such as Microsoft Offerings -O365 and Azure and unified communications.

Why do we still have some obsolete technologies like 2G?
Technology is very expensive. The transition from 2G to 3G is such a gigantic step. It required millions of dollars. Similarly, the transition from 3G, 4G and finally 5G will be very expensive largely because of the research to get there.
We shouldn’t be worried as Uganda; 5G won’t be here until about 2025. It won’t be commercially viable here until 2025.

Government has been pushing for the adoption of fibre as seen from the launch of the different phases of the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) project and the e-Government. What are the benefits of NBI?

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NBI has delivered the 4G broadband faster to the users. But we can offer something better than 4G to the fixed users. For fixed networks, we are offering faster internet speeds.
We are a couple of years ahead with our wireless technologies than the mobile 4G technologies.

Government has found it a challenge in developing the NBI and eGovernment as a result of poor last mile connectivity. But why are Internet prices in Uganda still high?
NBI is a vision that is intended to extend fibre connectivity through the country. That’s a big plus since government has run about 2,500Km of optic fibre. Liquid Telecom offers last mile connectivity of the infrastructure hence of the service providers should be able to take advantage of the NBI to extend internet connectivity to the far to reach areas.

The beauty of prices is that the more people are connected, the more bandwidth requirement. The more bandwidth, the more economies of scale hence lower prices.

If the government reached other parts of the country, we expect that Uganda will use much more internet. So service providers shall be able deliver this internet at much cheaper cost.

What are your focus areas currently?
In a couple of weeks, we intend to announce ourselves to the market. There is a chance that 75 per cent chance that you are using our internet but they don’t know us. We want to make this announcement in eight weeks.

We are going to be different in terms of what we offer.

What the biggest threat to your business?
The regulatory framework. We never know what the regulator is thinking about and we never know how it will affect our business.

Lack of customers’ focus. As operators, we go out to develop our networks and forget our customers. Yet the only reason we are expanding is our customers.

The price wars have already cost life of a major telecom operator. In a market that is nearing maturity, we need to be very careful with these price wars.

What plans does Liquid Telecom have to encourage the adoption of ICT for businesses and government?
We have partnered with incubation spaces that drive collaboration and innovation. We have also created different internet solutions for communities, for instance, we have packages for churches, schools, Non-Government Organisations, Universities, hotels. This enables organisations to acquire affordable internet.

Additionally, we have set up connectivity hotspots at different places where categories of people such as students can access our services at an affordable cost.

We have heard about Telecoms’ push for the Internet of Things and the Artificial Intelligence narrative. Do you think Uganda is ready for this leap?
We have been slow to realise or accept that technology has been developing extremely fast. Over the last 20 years, we have roughly 3 billion people having access to Internet. It will take us only five years more and we shall have 3 billion more.

Research from the McKinsey Global Institute predicts the “IoT will generate as much as $6.2 trillion in global economic value over the next ten years.” This is an opportunity we should tap into as a country.

With the Liquid Telecom IoT, we shall deliver a disruptive suite of technology that enables companies to securely connect smart things, manage and analyse data, quickly create applications, and transform their business.

Liquid Telecom is willing to tap into it. We want to deliver Internet of Things which is disruptive technology in Agriculture, Wildlife conservation that will enable connectivity of devices talking to each other; generating data to enable people make quick decisions.
Uganda is ready, but what can define how to move will be the regulator. We are just waiting for government to be ready.

There have often been times when there’s been a sustained downtime as a result of a damaged or cut fibre cables due to infrastructure development. How does this affect your customers?
There has been suited downtime as a result of damaged cut fibre; the challenge is how fast we put it back. Our promise to the market is that our services are 99 per cent available.
We have invested in redundancy, backups for fibre and power; for example Liquid runs three lines to Katuna border, at any time one is cut, the two are working.

Internet access in Uganda is still low, why?
Current penetration is at 48 per cent that is basically lower than Kenya where it is 80 per cent. But we are doing something about it. With government investing in NBI, this will increase the usage of internet services and that will cause a drop in prices and more uptake of internet.

Do you believe that Uganda will have universal Internet access in the near future?
My belief is that internet is a utility. Health, education are human rights but internet just like water and power are utilities. We want to drive internet uptake in Africa.

Any expansion plans?
We have operating in Kampala its surroundings. Now, we are expanding to cover seven sites in the next three months and 24 sites in 18 months. This is an aggressive programme. As for fibre to the home, we are continuing to expand it to at least 6,000 homes in next six months.

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