Infocom Uganda leases fiber from power utility

As East Africa anticipates the landing of two undersea fiber optic cables on its shores in 2009, Infocom Uganda has leased optic fiber capacity from power utility Uganda Electricity Transmission Company (UETCL).

Infocom has leased the fiber optic capacity, which covers 230 kilometers, from Kampala to the border town of Malaba that Uganda shares with Kenya to enable access to the much needed fiber when it lands at the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa.

"We have leased the fiber, but we have also made an investment of US$750,000 in terms of other infrastructure," Hans Haerdtle, the general manager of Infocom Uganda, said.

The fiber link between Kampala and Malaba then ties into another terrestrial optic fiber that has been laid by Infocom's partner, Kenya Data Networks (KDN). Infocom and KDN are partners thanks to a $85 million deal that saw South Africa's Altech buy into the two firms in March.

"The group [Altech] owns complete fiber stretch from Kampala to the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa," Haerdtle said. "That means we will be ready to receive fiber when it lands at Mombasa in 18 months."

He said there are plans of leasing additional fiber to extend coverage to the Uganda/Rwanda border by the end of this year.

In terms of international fiber, KDN is known to be on the list of shareholders for The East African Marine System (TEAMS) -- a fiber optic that has been pushed by the Kenyan government. KDN has been allocated a 10 percent share holding, costing $11.1 million for 65.8M bps (bits per second), in TEAMS.

Outside fiber optics, Infocom has started an aggressive roll-out of its WiMax technology to expand its geographical reach and capacity.

"In the next two months, we will have doubled our capacity," Haerdtle said. "We will cover all of greater Kampala, plus 16 upcountry locations."

According to Haerdtle, Infocom covers 65 percent of Kampala and has coverage in 14 locations outside of the capital. Under the same roll-out plan, Infocom is looking to upgrade some of its older wireless technology.

Under its WiMax platform, Infocom has two offerings, and plans are in advanced stages to introduce a third one, which will enable access on handheld gadgets like laptops and PDAs (personal digital assistants). Haerdtle said Infocom currently has 3,500 subscribers on its WiMax platform who pay between $280 and $850, depending on download capacity and connection rates. It has a voice offering using VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), called Talklite, which is also available to its broadband customers as an added service, having been introduced at the end of last year. Haerdtle said the service will be made available for any broadband client through the Uganda Internet Exchange point soon.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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