India’s Tejas Networks eyes dawdling SA Connect project

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Lavine Singh, CEO of Tsiko Africa Technologies.
Lavine Singh, CEO of Tsiko Africa Technologies.

India-based telecommunications equipment maker Tejas Networks believes it has what it takes to boost South Africa’s dawdling SA Connect project.

The Bangalore-headquartered company has entered a strategic partnership with local ICT services provider Tsiko Africa Technologies to bring Tejas’s solutions to SA, targeting the unconnected rural and peri-urban communities of the country while complementing the SA Connect project.

The partnership has resulted in the establishment of Tsiko Tejas Africa, a South African company wholly-owned by Tsiko Africa Technologies that will deliver a range of broadband-based technology solutions in the local market.

The pact will enable Tsiko Tejas Africa to utilise Tejas Networks’ metro optical and backbone products, setting up local equipment assembly and testing facilities for these products, and extend Tejas’s technical, marketing and sales support to its customers.

SA’s ambitions broadband connectivity project – SA Connect – aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country’s population by 2020, and 100% by 2030.

The South African government is also looking to the project to meet the technology goals of the National Development Plan (NDP). As part of the NDP, government has undertaken to connect its offices across the country, starting in the rural areas, to ensure South Africans have access to the most modern communication tools and services.

Snail’s pace

However, progress with the big broadband push, which was initiated in 2013, has been limited and characterised by various uncoordinated initiatives.

In February this year, the communications department, which oversees the project, said its new implementation model for SA Connect will result in the provision of broadband services to 970 government sites by the 2021/2022 financial year.

Broadband Infraco was named as the lead agency for SA Connect’s infrastructure deployment, Sentech became the provider of microwave and satellite capacity, and the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA is contributing in some priority areas. The State IT Agency provides the applications.

South Africa has a large peri-urban and rural-based population distribution, the Bombay Stock Exchange-listed Tejas Networks observes.

It notes the ability to deliver efficient, reliable, scalable and cost-effective transport and access services to these areas and communities is a key determinant of participation, inclusion and socio-economic advancement of these areas.

“Tsiko Tejas is very keen to work closely with the South African government on the ambitious SA Connect project and provide direction on how best to optimally utilise backhaul connectivity currently available within state-owned enterprise (SOE) assets,” says Lavine Singh, CEO of Tsiko Africa Technologies.

Singh notes that Tejas Networks, through its partnership with Tsiko Africa Technologies, believes that dormant, common backhaul transmission assets can be leveraged to reduce the cost of connectivity in peri-urban and rural SA.

“Beyond providing the technology to activate fibre assets, we believe we have experience and understanding to align SOE utilities and broadband entities to drive a national connectivity agenda. We will leverage the experience and expertise of our partner Tejas Networks in building countrywide broadband networks in India and other emerging markets to achieve these objectives,” he adds.

Optical fibre transmission

Tejas recently partnered with BTCL, Bangladesh’s government-owned telecommunications company, to construct a high-capacity optical fibre transmission network to distribute high-speed Internet bandwidth from the SMW-5 undersea submarine cable system to key locations within Bangladesh.

The company says it is currently the largest supplier of fibre broadband products (based on GPON technology) for India’s BharatNet project  – one of the Indian government’s most ambitious projects with a mission to deliver broadband services on optical fibre to over 250 000 village offices in the country and will serve as the backbone of digital India.

“We are extremely optimistic about our growth prospects due to the vast opportunities available in South Africa’s telecom sector,” Singh says. “Tsiko intends to make significant sales and marketing investments through various consortiums towards African technology enablement opportunities.”

He explains the broadband connectivity initiatives within SA have largely been funded and executed by the private sector.

“The cost of commercialising network assets and the aggressive ROI [return on investment] appetite of the private sector have made the rural connectivity business value proposition an unattractive one,” Singh points out.

“This, coupled with the lack of appropriate services, solutions and content tailored for SA’s rural population, hindered the wider adoption and usage of data services in the country. Thus, the challenge would be best dealt with if the public sector owns the roll-out strategy and execution with a long-term ROI and a short- to medium-term adoption imperative.”

Transmission assets

He adds Tsiko would like to partner with government and the relevant SOEs that own transmission assets extending to nearby peri-urban and rural areas.

“The ability to consolidate these disparate assets into a common managed network will provide the foundation for a lower cost rural broadband implementation.”

According to Singh, Tsiko has a rapidly growing team in SA. The combined team, including sales and marketing, presales support and technical support, has eight members with over 40 field service agents across the country.

“South Africa and the African continent present huge potential to create cost-effective connectivity solutions for emerging economies. With South Africa having a sub-30% home Internet connectivity penetration, we believe we can provide products, solutions and expertise that can accelerate the connectivity agenda of the country,” he concludes.

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