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MTN GlobalConnect, a digital wholesale and infrastructure services company, has set itself a goal to grow the fibre network from an 85,000 km of proprietary fibre to 135,000 km in the coming years and expand African connectivity. Leading the journey is CEO Frédéric Schepens, who is compelled and determined to grow social and economic benefits in Africa. Telecom Review Africa had the chance to talk with him and dig deeper into MTN GlobalConnect’s plans and ambitions.

MTN GlobalConnect has recently announced its fibre expansion plans. How are you able to distinguish yourselves among other players in this field?

We are proud to say that we started from scratch a few years ago to combine all MTN wholesale capabilities into an international company, MTN GlobalConnect. We are gaining traction by being customer-focused, and by changing the rules of engagement, making it easier for our customers to engage with the zero-touch network we’re building. It is noteworthy that we are currently implementing an impressive layer on top of the OSS and BSS which is a new way to open doorways into Africa, and that is important.  

Our key differentiator is owning 85,000 km of proprietary fibre in our network and in leading connectivity access in Africa. We’re linking most African countries with our fibre infrastructure, and recently connected Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Uganda with cross-border links. 

Furthermore, we are part of 15 submarine cable consortiums including 2Africa and it is adding massive capacity on the East and West Coast where we’re building landing stations. This submarine cable system will enable over 80 terabytes of capacity in 2023 and 2024.

In a nutshell, we have set an ambitious goal to grow our fibre network by 59% following our Ambition 2025 plans.

The fibre growth is indeed significant. What was its impact on wholesale mobility and fixed connectivity in terms of revenue? And how do you see it growing?

MTN GlobalConnect was established in 2018 and combined two international businesses under one roof: Wholesale Mobility and Fixed Connectivity. I am very proud of the team and the fantastic growth journey we’ve had so far. You would best describe us as an entrepreneurial company starting up in a massive Group. We are growing spectacularly fast and last year we recorded a 48% growth in revenue.

Wholesale Mobility is driving tremendous growth for the entire Group, serving around 280 million subscribers. We manage most of that business through the Y’elloConnect Hubs offering full value-added services in roaming, voice, data, and messaging. We’re also growing innovative new services for security, detection and authentication, and CNS (cloud numbering services). Our Ambition 2025 plans for Fixed Connectivity and Wholesale Mobility are set to generate three quarters of a million US dollars in revenue. We continue to strengthen our #1 position as the leading African subsea and terrestrial fixed connectivity player as we expand both our fibre footprint and revenue.

Can you tell us more about your FibreCo plans and where you will operate?

When we started, we managed MTN Group’s international assets. Today, we are embarking on a journey that delves more deeply into territories and countries across Africa. To do this, we are working within MTN Group to structurally separate the core fibre assets from MTN mobile operations. In phase 1, we are focusing on 7 countries, namely: Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia. Two countries are set up and already have their licenses.

We are transforming a network originally built for ourselves over the past few decades into an open-access model that offers network access defined by its first-class quality. To increase resilience, latency, and quality of service for anyone using our open access network, we are building our East to West Coast corridors. With this, we are well prepared to further fiberise the continent in the next few years.

Who will be your major FibreCo partners throughout this transformational journey?

It is important to emphasise that we can only grow together. There’s an African saying that goes “It takes a village to raise a child” and it’s the same with partners coming together to truly grow Africa’s connectivity. Africa is a massive continent that can fit in probably most of the US, Europe and Asia. The population in Africa is growing at a rapid rate, and the penetration of connectivity is a challenge. We will be proactive and bold in the next 5 years to drive and grow our Ambition 2025 alongside our partners. We welcome likeminded people all throughout. As an open-access provider, the future is about teaming up with other companies looking to expand their African footprint and grow. 

With growth come challenges. What strategies are you adopting to mitigate challenges and limitations that may arise throughout your journey?

There are a few key takeaways from what we’ve seen in the past and where we are seeing new challenges. One takeaway is the regulatory environment which is fairly different between countries. The open-access FibreCo’s will be significantly supported by regulators in each country. This is important to us because it dramatically enhances the socio-economic developments in these markets.

One of our beliefs at MTN GlobalConnect is that everybody deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. To this end, we are developing a neutral and independent model framing the circumstances that facilitate the launch of independent subsidiaries capitalising on the open-access model. The structural asset separation is the biggest challenge to mitigate. However, we are looking forward to its profound impact both on the network growth and to individual countries truly embracing the digital economy. 

Your 2025 ambition goal is to reach a fibre footprint of 135,000 km and maintain the #1 African fibre position. What elements do you consider key to achieving this objective? 

Collaboration with partners and stakeholders is paramount to make it as seamless as possible. Structurally separating a business is not always easy and takes time. We’re embarking on a two-year journey to achieve this goal.

Commitment and trust also stand out as important values to guide us on this journey. Regulatory approvals to obtain licensing can take time in certain jurisdictions. Through our open access model, we hope to demonstrate how we are adding real value to our partners and that’s why our message is and will always be “Let’s connect and talk about business opportunities. Let’s partner and plan something great together, and let’s grow Africa.” This is pivotal for us from an African viewpoint as we are an African company growing the African wholesale and mobility landscape. Accelerating Africa’s growth depends on us all growing together. 

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