‘Econet very serious about enhancing lives’

Tsitsi Matope

THE Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector is arguably the fastest growing business in the word today.
This boom could be attributed to new cutting-edge products frequently introduced onto the market.
Some consumers obviously find it hard to keep up with the fast changing trends while others have become addicted to new innovations, such as the internet, that keep improving their daily operations.
This week, the Lesotho Times (LT) speaks with Econet Telecom Lesotho’s General Manager, Data Services and Customer Solutions, Lebeko Sello about the company’s ongoing commitment to strengthen the country’s ICT sector and the recent introduction of their Passive Optic Network (PON) on the market.

LT: What is the level of demand for internet in Lesotho?

Sello: The demand is countrywide and that means it is very high. Many people, including some businesses operating from the rural areas, are in need of internet services.
They understand that internet is a great communication asset.

LT: What is your plan to ensure you meet the demand, especially in the mountainous districts?

Sello: Network-diversification is a costly exercise, particularly when we talk of introducing services to the remote, mountainous regions.
There are many economic implications, however, we have plans to keep improving both our mobile and fixed network coverage.
We believe in improving our customer’s ability to transact and aim to improve their productivity whilst reducing their operational costs.

LT: At most companies, internet is a way to start a day. How do you rate Econet Telecom Lesotho’s internet services in Maseru alone, for example?

Sello: It is true that nowadays , most people have to start their day on the internet to read and know what is happening around the world and also attend to business e-mails.
They can also log in to their e-mail from time to time during the course of the day to communicate.
It is therefore imperative that they use a network that provides quicker responses. Fast and reliable networks improve productivity and profitability.
Econet has a very stable and fast fixed network in Maseru that is based on fibre optic technology.
In addition, we have recently upgraded our mobile network to accommodate more users at higher speeds.

LT: So the key word is speed, it appears. How can people get that incredible internet speed?

Sello: We have introduced in the greater Maseru, what we call a Gigabit Passive Optical Network, (GPON).
Our GPON has over 500 times thecapacity of our previous ADSL network and will allow us to address increasing customer needs and demand for service.
We have invested in the GPON network to also allow us more flexibility and agility in service provision.

LT: How different is it from the previous network?

Sello: Well, the major difference is the speed. Other characteristics are the kind of installation or set-up and the materials used. Our old network was copper-cable-based.
The fastest speed we were offering on it was 4 096kilobits per second while the speed of the new GPON network can go as high as 1 Gigabit per second, this is over 500 times faster!
We are now able to cover a wider range or distance. We have successfully tested GPON all the way to the southern part of Masianokeng and Eastern Ha Foso.
Another advantage is that the GPON is more reliable because we have a self healing ring which will route traffic in different directions around Maseru.
So, we will be able to use this new network to improve service to our ADSL customers by increasing speeds while keeping the same prices.
This will offer our customers better value. Lastly, the fibre optic cable has no commercial value and we hope this will reduce vandalism.

LT: Compared to the copper network, is fibre more affordable and less costly to maintain?

Sello: It is affordable, and because we are expecting reduced cases of vandalism of the infrastructure, there would be less maintenance work.
General maintenance is also affordable. Furthermore, the passive nature of the network means we need less power to run the new network.

LT: How does it work?

Sello: Optic Fibre Networks work by sending pulses of light down a very thin glass tube.
Because we are using the glass, the speeds that can be achieved are significantly higher and depend on the equipment that one puts at the end of the glass tube.
For our purposes, we are able to achieve speeds of up to, 1- gigabits- per-second to the premises.
This means that we can send a full movie down the pipe in about eight minutes. Before this roll-out, we were using the fibre optic network only to link up the districts and government offices.
We are now bringing fibre directly to the premises or as close as possible to customers. We will use each fibre strand to serve up to 32 customers.
This has helped us to re-firm our fibre network in Maseru and offer more services using the same infrastructure.

LT: What other benefits come with this kind of network?

Sello: The new set-up allows us to easily bring other services directly when the need arises.
We no longer need to pull a new cable but can simply change the Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) to deliver new services.
We would like to see all homes having WiFi and are working hard to make sure that this is as affordable as possible.
We urge our customers to come and see us to discuss options that are available to them.
Our CPEs provide a range of services starting from plain and old telephone services to aggregation of all banking traffic in Lesotho.
We can aggregate any traffic from security cameras to high definition TV and from any major town in Lesotho. Indeed, GPON has given us and our customers’ significant service agility.

LT: Internet is no longer an office service but also a home facility. How are you dealing with issues related to privacy?

Sello: Privacy and confidentiality are crucial and this is why it is important for us to ensure we strengthen the protection of our network.
Because we are wary of any manipulations, the GPON and CPE remains in our control. Secondly, fibre optic networks are inherently more secure as they cannot be tapped.
Fibre taps are incredibly difficult to engineer and cannot be inserted without disrupting the service.

LT: The new internet service was launched in December last year. How is the market responding so far?

Sello: We are still busy building the access network in many areas in Maseru and I am glad to say that we are impressed by the positive response we are getting from our corporate clients.
However, we are encouraging all our customers to also have this facility installed in their homes to enhance their connectivity.

LT: How has telecommunications changed in the last few years?

Sello: You see, times have changed; people used to call places using landlines and you can imagine the stress when there was no one to pick up the landline.
Now we can call people directly on their mobile phones and if unanswered, we can send messages.
It keeps getting better. With mobile phone internet, there are more services one can get, including affordable communication through emails and chat-services.
People can pay their bills and send money through services such as Eco-Cash. We are talking serious enhancement of lives and better value for money here.
As you know, globally, the ICT industry is the greenest industry because when a journey to settle bills does not happen then there is no pollution, when no receipts are issued then there are less trees cut to manufacture paper.
When content is sent between devices there are huge savings not just in costs but also time. As a result, our environmental footprint continues to improve as content is “de-materialised”.
Many people now can make purchases on line, including music – there are no CD cases, no liner notes, no distribution and pollution from all those materials.

LT: But there are so many of these new services and technologies on the market. How do you measure the preparedness of the market to ensure optimal utilisation?

Sello: We look at the global trends and also do assessments that seek to provide solutions to gaps in different areas of communication.
So, basically, it’s bringing new products that have improved lives in other countries, products that we think might fascinate and be helpful to our customers and also finding ways that would bring more convenience to them.
However, introducing new technology can also be expensive and, as a result, there are also challenges when it comes to keeping up with the global trends.
On the other hand, as the new products flood the market, so is the tendency for less-utilisation of old products. Reduced use of services can mean reduction of revenue and this is bad for business.
While the price of services or products goes down, the service-provider would still pay operational costs.
For example, the Fibre Optic Network Project for Maseru alone cost us more than three million dollars and we will still pay for its maintenance and other unexpected costs.

LT: So is the network only going to be in Maseru?

Sello: No, we are looking at introducing it in other districts next year. We are however improving services in Maputsoe and Teyateyaneng.
Our customers outside Maseru will also benefit as we take some of our Service Access Gateways closer to them.

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