No AfCFTA or digitalisation without democratised connectivity says CSquared
Telecommunications and ICT services provider CSquared has quietly but definitely made its mark on Africa’s telecommunications, specifically the provision of broadband connectivity. Lanre Kolade, CSquared Group CEO said the company’s objective is to democratise broadband connectivity, which he believes is absolutely essential for initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to bear fruit.
CSquared was originally a pilot project in Google and became an independent company in 2017, with existing operations in Ghana and Uganda. It is backed by investors including Google, Mitsui & Co (Japan), Convergence Partners (South Africa) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC, World Bank Group).
Speaking on the sidelines of recently concluded AfricaCom 2022, Kolade said, “The African Continental Free Trade Agreement will not work if there is not enough connectivity on the continent. If I want to make a phone call from here to Namibia, I shouldn’t have to go to Europe and have the call routed back from there.”
Kolade and his team are determined to connect more people in Africa and ensure that African content stays in Africa, along with enough capacity to leverage ICT infrastructure.
But this requires investment. According to CSquared, this year the African Development Bank (AfDB) estimated Africa's infrastructure financing needs to be as much as US$170-billion a year by 2025, with an estimated gap of about US$100-billion a year.
CSquared’s go-to-market model is based on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and the buy-in of key stakeholders like government. Kolade believes PPPs hold the key to upgrading broadband infrastructure to next generation networks and driving the future advancement of ICT in emerging markets.
The company’s business in Togo has served as a blueprint for its expansion on the continent.
In March this year, CSquared and Société d’Infrastructures Numériques (SIN), a public telecommunications asset company, announced a strategic partnership to create a joint venture (JV) - CSquared Woezon.
CSquared Woezon is a Togolese company with a minority public shareholding, 56% owned by CSquared and 44% owned by SIN. The entity is in charge of maintaining and operating Cable Landing Station for Equiano, Google’s subsea internet cable running from Portugal to South Africa with Togo as its first landing in Africa; as well as the existing Lomé metropolitan optical fibre network (e-Gouv); and the national fibre backbone network (Communauté Electrique du Bénin (CEB)).
In Liberia, CSquared established a new partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish a 350km national fibre backbone in the North African country. The network will extend from Monrovia to the Ivory Coast and Guinea borders, crossing more than 13 cities, and enabling the country’s ISPs and MNOs to reach over one million Liberians and 50+ businesses and social institutions.
The backbone will also provide Liberia with critical redundancy to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable, currently the nation’s single source for international bandwidth and will become part of CSquared’s West Africa backbone carrying traffic from Liberia through to Nigeria.
CSquared explained that the new partnership falls under USAID’s Digital Invest program, part of the US government’s Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership, and a flagship project of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment announced by President Joe Biden in June 2022.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The company’s focus has also shifted to include Africa’s second largest country by land mass, DRC, where at a recent World Bank connectivity conference held in Kinshasa, it was estimated that between 8 to 9 billion US Dollars will be needed to fully fiberise the DRC.
In October, CSquared kicked off this commitment with the signing of two major deals.
The first was an MoU with SCPT (Société Congolaises des Postes et Télécommunications), enabling the government’s goal of driving the country's digital transformation by leveraging government assets through Public Private Partnerships.
“Our Accord Cadre will initially have three key components: to facilitate the landing of a second submarine cable in DRC, which CSquared said is similar to its collaboration with Google and the government of Togo landing Equiano in Lomé, Togo; as well as the construction of a second Cable Landing Station (CLS) to connect to the Equiano Cable; and to expand and upgrade the National Fibre backbone network,” CSquared stated.
The second was with Africell, CSquared's first anchor customer in DRC. Africell is a fast-growing mobile network operator with a pan-African footprint.
As an open-access network provider, CSquared has partnered with carrier-neutral datacentres to make reliable connectivity available on demand to all ISPs and MNOs, who access large amounts of critical data in these datacentres and the public cloud.
“These providers can then focus on delivering quality services to their end users while benefiting from our open access network, providing wide and seamless coverage to data centers and hosting facilities across the continent. A datacentre located PoP caters for layering Cloud offerings to provide simplified and tailored access, migration & consumption of multi-cloud services to businesses cost effectively to drive digital transformation across Africa,” CSquared added.
According to Kolade, Africa is undergoing impressive urban growth and is envisioned to reach a population of 2.4 billion people within the next few decades, favouring cities over rural areas.
“By 2030, it is expected that 6 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, safety issues as well as policy-related matters.”
He added, “If there is one thing CSquared has proven over the past 5 years, it is that we build broadband-enabling infrastructure for the future that guarantees a better, safer, faster customer experience, democratising connectivity and achieving #InternetForAll. Get ready Africa, the future is promising and exciting.”