London — Vivendi Africa Group is about to make its first big push in its strategy to position itself in francophone Africa as an FTTH provider. In alliance with French Pay TV provider Canal+ it is just starting to offer a Triple Play service in one of Africa's wealthier francophone countries, Gabon.
On 10 October, TIC Mag reported that Canal+ was doing its first commercial tests for a Triple Play service. In January 2017, Vivendi Africa Group obtained a licence from the Gabonese regulator ARCEP to provide a fibre service, including FTTH. In August this year it signed a deal with country's electricity utility SEEG to use its overhead fibre to roll out FTTH: it was announced that this would initially be available in the capital Libreville, Akanda and Owendo.
Potential users were invited through an announcement in africtelegraph to submit an Internet application via a platform called "jeveuxmafibre". Once the service is ready, these applicants will get a home device called CANALBOX that will deliver the Triple Play service.
In an update to the August announcement about its roll-out plans, Canal + said that the deployment of its Triple Play offer will gradually take place from major cities to the most remote corners of the country.
This will provide much needed competition to Gabon Telecom. Even before the new competitor has started, it has been offering 50% discount on its ADSL service and dropped the price of its 50 mbps service from CFA 120,000 (US$216.29) first to CFA90,000 (US$162.22) and then to CFA 60,000 (US$108.14). These prices are still very high but are likely to fall further when the new competitor service arrives.
There is a certain irony about all this as the new competitor is Vivendi that used to own Maroc Telecom which owns the incumbent Gabon Telecom. However, it sold out to Etisalat before setting up Vivendi Africa Group, which has plans to open in several francophone countries (including Cameroon and Togo) using the same playbook it is putting in place in Gabon.
Three things are worth noting about this Triple Play announcement:
Although it has been announced as a Triple Play service, it is being pitched largely on the basis of giving customers the Canal+ package of Pay TV content and much increased Internet speeds. Voice is very much an also ran as (probably rightly) the Gabonese see voice as a mobile service and that ship has already sailed.
Although Jamii Telecom launched an FTTH service in Kenya five years ago, mobile operators did not found it easy to get their heads round this new-fangled content thingy that FTTH is meant to deliver. Despite the existence of significant numbers of middle class African consumers at the top-end in a dozen African countries, mobile operators were initially nervous about getting drawn into this capital hungry niche. It has largely been independent non-mobile operators that have pioneered FTTH. Safaricom in Kenya is now playing catch-up as it accelerates its FTTH roll-out.
There's a prevailing market wisdom in most African markets that says you don't need fixed fibre connections like FTTH and somehow 3G (or latterly 4G) leapfrogs all this messy stuff that involves putting money in the ground. Although a good 4G connection is a massive improvement, no-one can really pretend that it's rock solid enough for reliable streaming at home.