London — Five years after the first major Fibre-To-The-Home roll-outs in East Africa, Francophone Africa looks set to be getting its own roll-outs. There have been two announcements, one from a David in Senegal and the other from the French Goliath Bollore. Russell Southwood looks at what's happening.
At the end of 2011, Senegal's Peritel TV signed an agreement with the Government and regulators to expand its cable TV operation, which offered 22 channels.
At the end of last month, it took up big step up saying that it had launched a pilot test in several neighbourhoods in its home patch St Louis. It's now promising 100 channels, of which 50 will be high definition.
"We offer this innovation exclusively and for the first time here in St. Louis at an affordable price. There will be movies, sports, youth, general, interactive, discovery, entertainment and many other stations" Alioune Ndiaye, Director General of Peritel told NdarInfo in an interview.
The service is promising to introduce in 2017 innovations like having video on demand (VOD) services via a decoder and being able to power three TVs simultaneously. After covering St Louis, it is looking to complete a national roll-out. To accomplish its goal, Peritel TV has secured investment and sealed important partnerships with international TV channel providers such as Seeaiafrica.
The other contender is France's Bollore. An exclusive in July BFMTV.com revealed what had previously only been rumours: a subsidiary of Vivendi is quietly in the process of building a fiber optic network of almost 5,000 km covering half a dozen African countries. The five linked by the railway will include: Benin, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire. Fibre alongside a newly constructed railway will mean that it can build special fibre ducts and have access to rights of way in one fell swoop.
The second element of this ambitious fibre plan is to roll-out metronets in high-end neighbourhoods so it can supply Fibre-To-The-Home. Vivendi also owns Canal + and so would have a ready-made bouquet of content to offer subscribers. In addition, Bollore has logistics assets and has rolled out one of its e-commerce sites in Cote d'Ivoire. Acquiring high-end fibre customers would also improve e-commerce opportunities.
In the same week this story broke, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard was quoted by the French daily La Tribune saying he wanted a closer relationship with Vivendi and Canal + and that the pair are in permanent dialogue.
He said hat Orange and Vivendi had plenty of things to exchange given that Vivendi was a content player and Orange was a distributor of content. He said that the pair were also aligned geographically in France, Poland and Africa. On the FTTH front, Orange has not really made much headway so might be interested in partnering to see how things might develop.
In the same week, Orange finished the process of buying the "low ticket" operations from Airtel with the completion of the sales in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. Airtel was obviously concerned to reduce the footprint of its loss-making African subsidiary but could this be the start of the long goodbye?
Meanwhile former Vivendi-owned Gabon Telecom (now owned by Etisalat) announced that it had got the go-ahead for rolling out its own Fibre-To-The-Home coverage. Indeed Maroc Telecom has a presence in all the countries identified for the Bollore fibre roll-out. Will their now be some real competition in the Francophone African Pay TV market or will the big players simply re-align with each other to share the spoils?