Safaricom Ethiopia has unveiled its first cloud data center in Addis Abeba at a press briefing and media visit program held on Tuesday February 22,2022, in less than a year after the Ethiopian Communications Authority (ECA) issued the company the first-ever telecom operator license since Ethio Telecom.
The establishment of the data center in Addis Abeba is a significant milestone for the Safaricom led consortium in its quest to begin commercial operations in April of this year.
The cloud technology that we are using today is the most robust services that you can get in the world, says Pedro Rabacal, Chief Technology Officer of Safaricom.
“Our cloud center is the most secured technology you can get,” he assured.
“This data center is the heart of our network; it is the first of many that we plan on building across the country. We have successfully made our first technical call this month and installed our first self-built site.”
There are ranks of telecom operations at Safaricom.
Rabacal said that the Tier III data center was assembled in China by Huawei and Nokia according to specifications laid out by Safaricom Ethiopia; it is one of the first data centers that are the size of a container.
Rabacal confirmed that the data center is not the same as the one Huawei provided Ethio Telecom last year.
An international consortium named the Global Partnership for Ethiopia, comprising Safaricom PLC, Vodacom Group, Vodafone Group, Sumitomo Corporation and CDC Group, was awarded a license to operate telecom services in Ethiopia in May 2021.
Safaricom’s short-term plans
Safaricom plans to switch on the network on April 2022. Lots of testing will going to be done, according to Pedro Rabacal.
“Ensuring quality and bringing customers into our world will be our vital responsibilities,” said Rabacal.
“The competitor (Ethio Telecom) has got 125 years’ experience than us. It will not be an overnight work to compete, it takes us time,” he said.
“We plan to cover (reach) 25% of the population in March 2023,” said Rabacal.
Accelerating importing of telecom equipment’s, getting access to land, making its governance clear and better are some of the activities planned by the global telecom giant.
Matthew Harrison-Harvey, Chief External Affairs and Regulatory Officer of Safaricom, on his part said that the company will invest $8.5 billion in the next ten years to bring and install materials as well as deploying services.
“This year alone, we invested $300 million on equipment and service to launch our activities,” said Matthew.
“We are working to realize either operating on self-build infrastructure or sharing Ethio Telecom’s infrastructure,” he said.
Safaricom is the first private telecom operator after Ethio Telecom’s monopoly of the service for 125 years. “The government has made a bold and right decision to open up telecommunication to more than one operator,” said Harrison, adding, ultimately it introduces competition and choice.
Citizens are going to be benefited from that competition, says Harrison.
With regard to investment, he mentioned: “we’re importing equipment worth $300 million”.
“One of the commitments we made when we come to Ethiopia is job creation. We would create up to 1.5 million employment including jobs in supply chains and jobs which will be created under partner companies in the upcoming ten years,” as Harrison puts it.
“In addition, we are building our team by recruiting Ethiopian nationals. To date, we have got around 200 Ethiopians working with us in marketing and other talents, with a plan of hiring 1000 Ethiopians by the end of this year of operations.”
Part of Safaricom’s commitment is helping through providing supports to them with professional and skills developments and knowledge transfers, he said.
“Ultimately, Safaricom will be Ethiopian company that will serve Ethiopians,” he declares.
“World class systems, technology and process that are currently available, we’ll be bringing in Ethiopia are to be implemented in service security including ensuring people’s data’s are confidential on private,” Harrison stressed.
Telecom frauds have been the most common problems in the sector.
Rabacal said in that regard: “We have specific programs that would manage subscriber information to make sure that’s secured and a number of other cyber security programs to make sure the whole environment is secured.”
Her added: “So, we have layers of security that help us define the constructs of how we protect ourselves and our customers from fraud attacks.”
Cyber security is an evolving global challenge. “One of the things that we can bring is we’ve got a leading global experts from across the world, who are dealing with these challenges,” Harrison explained.
“We can call on experts from Germany, South Africa or elsewhere who are ready at the forefront of fixing the problem,” he elaborated.
Credit rating agencies, entities that can partner in our supply chain, those who can be part of our digital solutions and companies that are using our products and services are expected to be our partners, says Harrison.
Sharing infrastructures with Ethio Telecom
Speaking of infrastructural sharing arrangements, Rabacal said: “That’s the most challenging issue—the faster we move in the discussions and nearing to the infrastructural sharing deal with Ethio Telecom, we’ll share the infrastructure.”
However, as he puts it: “The longer it takes the more we’ll build our own. So, it’s a timing issue for us.”
5G network roll out
“You need to hold with it a little bit. That will be a surprise,” said the Chief Technology Officer. “When we’ve access to the right devices, the right eco- systems, and the right spectrum, it’s a matter of switching on,” he added.
The demonstrations which were done today are on 2G, 3G and 4G networks. “That should be the bench mark; that will be the minimum service which we should be offering across the country,” he said.
Bringing MPESA platform to Ethiopia
M-Pesa is a mobile banking service that allows users to store and transfer money through their mobile phones. M-Pesa was introduced in Kenya as an alternative way for the population of the country to have access to financial services.
“The MPESA platform will be hosted in Ethiopia,” assures Rabacal. “Everything that we would do is to localizing it,” he says.
“As far as our preparedness, the equipment for the MPESA platform has been ordered. It’s a matter of getting the right documentation in place and the authorities to be able to import it,” he elaborated.
To launch mobile financial activities, licenses should have to be completed.
“We’ve been waiting for the government and the National Bank of Ethiopia to get the license, which Ethio Telecom has awarded to launch the tele birr service; we are getting ready to prepare the application for that license,” said Harrison.
Safaricom nears the date of its commercial launch while there are no updates from the ECA on the second license that was suspended during the nationwide state of emergency that the country was under from November 3, 2021 to February 15, 2022.