Benin's Isocel Telecom Gets Funding for Wider Roll-Out of Ftth Service and Etisalat to Build West African Cable Landing in Cotonou

6 November 2020

London — Long-standing Beninois ISP Isocel Telecom has obtained funding to roll-out its FTTH service to the Greater Cotonou area. Russell Southwood talks to Isocel Telecom's CEO Robert Aouad.

In its first phase of its FTTH roll-out, Isocel planned to reach between 500-1,000 premises and it has almost passed 800. There are currently 500 customers using the service. It has laid 90 kilometres of fibre in Cotonou's commercial district and a number of high-end residential areas. The numbers may sound modest but they are the foundation for phase 2 of its roll-out.

The company's goal is to acquire at least 10,000 subscribers over the next three to five years. To meet this objective, it has raised 6 million euros from France's Public Investment Bank (Bpifrance). After deducting export insurance charges, 5.25 million euros will be available for the deployment.

This funding will enable the company to reach an annual turnover of more than 10 million euros, 60% of which will linked to the supply of capacity to telecom operators in neighboring landlocked countries in the region and to extend its fiber optic network throughout the Greater Cotonou agglomeration (passing 30,000 to 40,000 homes).

The expansion will start in 2021, with the company placing the order for the equipment this quarter. Isocel Telecom has opted to sling the fibre on power line poles to reduce costs and the time taken to deploy the network. To become a subscriber will cost less than 50,000 CFA francs (around 70 euros), and offers will start at 25 euros for a speed of 25 megabits per second.

Isocel, which obtained authorization for deployment after the enactment of the new telecommunications code in 2018, is one of only two FTTH providers in the country, the other being the newly merged state entity, SBIN. (The merged entity has closed down its mobile arm, leaving only two players, Moov and MTN.)

"The Government is meant to be finding a private operator to run it for the state on a management contract. In terms of FTTH, it's not in the mindset of the regulator to let MNOs enter the market for now. It will be state capital funding SBIN's expansion and there may not be enough revenues so it's quite complicated for them."

The big news is that Moov's parent Maroc Telecom (owned by Etisalast) is to lay an international cable to connect all of its West and Central African opcos: Benin, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Togo. It has two other operations (in Central African Republic and Niger): the former currently has no fibre connection from Libreville and the latter can be reached via Cotonou.

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