The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

15 February 2014

Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom Pledges Quick Service Fixes

With the deteriorating telecom service fueling nationwide anger, Ethio Telecom, the government-owned provider that enjoys a monopoly in the sector, has promised to halt disruptions and restore weakened services in the coming six months.

According to Abdurahim Ahmed, corporate communications officer at Ethio Telecom, the two Chinese giants Huawei and ZTE have been busy preparing for their operations here. The USD 1.6 billion expansion project is eagerly awaited, with many looking forward to the proposed increase in countrywide performance. After the departure of France Telecom, originally brought in to improve the telecommunication services, Ethio Telecom has struggled to manage expectations and satisfy the country's 27 million or so customers. The disturbing service disruptions persisted long after the French firm had left Ethiopia.

Abdurahim admitted that originally the network disconnections were due to be resolved last year, however the two Chinese firm have been in a dispute that has delayed the process. The two rivals eventually agreed to share the expansion project, and nationwide improvements have been targeted, especially in what Abdurahim refers to as the "Nokia areas", such as Assko, Keranio, Mekanisa, Lebu, Jemo, and Hanamariam, that had networks installed by Nokia some 11 years ago. The outdated infrastructure in these towns is causing increasing disillusionment, according to the officer. For Ethio Telecom a dominant cause of network failure includes frequent cuts to the fiber optic wires, while unpredictable electrical power surges alone account for some 80 percent of connection failures.

To alleviate the critical failures, Ethio Telecom is to install an additional 414 towers in the capital. Seventy-four skyscrapers have been selected for this purpose, and manholes dug to host some 893 installations beneath the ground. Abdurahim added that a new 125 km optical fiber line is set to stretch across the city. The country already possesses around 12,000 km of optical fiber cables extending in some 35 directions.

He confirmed that the expansion project is back on schedule, yet progress is hard to judge with ongoing land acquisitions for tower installations, logistics and equipment continually arriving by sea and airfreight. In addition to easing the current blackouts, Ethio Telecom has to provide quick services to 14 mega projects currently run in the country, which Addurahim said will have the required access in around four months. The rest of the country will have a proper network and telecom service in the next two years, he said. In a related news, Ethio Telecom has amassed some seven billion birr in revenues in the first six months of the current Ethiopian fiscal year.

The profit before tax and expenses stood at some five billion birr, a ten percent increase on the same time last year. Active mobile subscribers stand at 19 million, while some three million remain inactive. In two years total mobile subscribers will reach some 39 million, while 400,000 people will have 4G-network access in the capital.

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