Interview: Mohamed Assoweh Bouh
Which services are driving mobile usage, and how can added-value products be promoted?
MOHAMED ASSOWEH BOUH: In terms of our mobile data network, we currently have a 3G+ network that was installed in 2011. While our 320,000 clients use mostly calling services, we have seen that, especially since 2014, data traffic has been on the rise. People are increasingly using their phones to go online, watch videos and interact. In Europe data traffic has surpassed traditional mobile usage. However, in Africa this is not yet the case, though it is starting, and mobile devices are a good way to enhance internet access and penetration across the country. The focus currently is on the development of the machine-to-machine system, where a sim card can be used to pay one’s electricity or water bills and to manage other utilities. We have already implemented what is called e-tracking, enabling trucks leaving the port of Djibouti to Ethiopia and vice versa to be tracked by the client in real time.
Where do you see room for growth in the fixed-line and mobile segments?
BOUH: The fixed-line segment has not been as developed in Djibouti. We have put in place a strategy to cover 70% of all public places in each neighbourhood by investing in the expansion of existing cable connections. At the same time, we have also developed the “fibre-to-home” network, which offers fast and reliable data connections to large clients such as big hotels, universities and enterprises. Within the African continent, the focus has been mostly on the mobile network, yet the growth of that sector has been made easier by the fact that it requires less investment. It is important to find the right synergy between expanding our permanent data infrastructure and the mobile network. We are considering the establishment of a 4G network to enable users to have 1 GB of data on mobile devices. We have foreseen tests for the implementation of 4G in the first quarter of 2016, with the selection of 10 testing sites that will allow for a swift implementation. We want tourists coming here to be able to plug in their sim card and have access to a quick 4G connection.
How can Djibouti best exploit its strategic advantage as a hub for submarine cables?
BOUH: Our strategy is based on three levels: the international, regional and national. On an international level we aim to become a hub for data – the gateway for the rest of Africa. In order to achieve that, we have invested in two new submarine cables called Africa-Asia-Europe which are expected to be operational in 2016. This will bring the total of submarine cables to seven, leading to an increase in capacity that should be enough for the coming 10 years. Moreover, we have a fibre connection that goes to Ethiopia, for which we plan to expand data capacity to a terabyte, alongside a fibre connection to Somalia and a submarine cable to Yemen.
Thus, we have linked Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia as part of the strategy called Djibouti-Africa Regional Express, aimed at centralising all incoming data to Djibouti and from there relaying it to other countries. Some 25 out of 41 African operators are now connected to Djibouti’s submarine cable system. In terms of internet data leaving the region, there is currently 700 GB, from which we are taking 10-20%, and we would like to see that figure triple. It is at the same time important to expand our capacity in terms of human resources, increasing digital literacy among our youth through initiatives such as the one-laptop-per-child programme. Given the country’s strategic geographic advantage, it has the potential to become a place for data storage from companies in Kenya, Ethiopia and beyond, in the near future. This is in line with the Djibouti 2035 framework, which aims to make Djibouti a regional hub for data services that can match the rising demand of regional operators.
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