DFA CEO Andries Delport eyes telco sites in fibre push
Dark Fibre Africa’s (DFA’s) newly-appointed CEO Andries Delport wants to use the experience he gained during his time at Vodacom to target mobile businesses, as the open-access fibre infrastructure and connectivity provider looks to grow its market share in SA.
Yesterday, ITWeb interviewed Delport; Thinus Mulder, outgoing DFA CEO; and Raymond Ndlovu, CEO of ICT-focused investment-holding company Community Investment Ventures Holdings (CIVH), which controls DFA.
CIVH, which is a subsidiary of JSE-listed Remgro, also controls fibre network operator, Vumatel.
The interview followed CIVH’s announcement last week that Mulder was leaving DFA after spending 13 years with the company, and handing over to Delport, who spent close to 25 years at Vodacom Group.
He resigned from the mobile operator as chief technology officer (CTO) in November 2019, and following his departure from Vodacom, Delport was appointed CTO of CIVH in May last year.
Delport will take over as DFA CEO from 1 October.
“I come from the mobile network operator world, so I really understand that part of the business, and I understand very well the requirements that mobile operators want. They are the biggest customers to DFA. So I think that’s an advantage in that regard,” he said.
According to Delport, the number one focus will be to see how to grow the mobile operator business because there is still quite a big opportunity for fibre.
“This is because most of their base stations are not yet quite fibred-up. Only 40% of their sites are fibred-up; there are new things that are happening – 5G is coming as well as other additional technologies. People talk about small cells – so I think it’s about how do we grow that business with the same products that we have and new products as well.”
Core network link
DFA’s infrastructure enables mobile operators to connect a high volume of base stations to each other and to their base station core network.
Because the company develops the physical infrastructure, DFA carries the cost of finance and construction. It then rents fibre pairs to individual operators of telecommunications services, and they, in turn, light the fibre with their add-on services and sell the additional capacity on to their customers.
DFA says its clients share access routes, which means the price of leasing from the company is much lower than constructing and maintaining their own infrastructure.
Delport believes the other opportunity lies within the Internet service provider (ISP) market.
“We are a wholesale connectivity solutions provider; so we need to grow the ISP business as much as we can. I don’t think there is anyone as well-positioned as DFA, at least, to take the opportunity to grow the mobile operator business and to grow the business with all the other customers.”
On his future plans after leaving DFA, Mulder said: “I will stay on until the end of September and Andries will take over on 1 October, but I will make myself available to the group until the end of December.
“After that, I really do not have any plans. I just need to take a break and clear my head before I plan what to do next.”
Ndlovu acknowledged Mulder’s leadership in achieving the company’s stellar financial performance and the significant improvement in DFA’s Net Promoter Score in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strategic return on investment
Describing his major milestones at DFA, Mulder said: “When we started rolling out fibre, we had to start by defining the specifications to make sure we brought quality because at that stage, we were linking the mobile operators and data centres. So we had to make sure the specifications for the design were going to last for 30 to 40 years.”
According to Mulder, DFA set the standard for the industry because “most of the companies are basically copying what we do.
“Because fibre is a capital-intensive business, we had to find an optimal capital structure, and we started with project finance funding, and we converted that into debt structures in 2015. Again, we set the pace in the market because we opened up funding structures for the rest of the market. That’s why there are so many players in this space.”
From a top client perspective, Mulder says, the biggest achievement was rolling out fibre to the base stations for the mobile operators.
“We have all the mobile operators in our books. We probably have, by far, the biggest chunk of the market in that space. The quality of our network makes it difficult for customers to leave and our network uptime is by far superior in the industry.”
Meanwhile, Ndlovu said the African continent provides a unique opportunity for a player like DFA.
“We have to be strategic on how we enter those markets. We have to expand into areas where it makes sense to do so because we have to get a return on investment.”