Congratulations on your prestigious award from WTA as Teleport Executive of the Year. Can you give our readers some insight into the teleport sector and why NewCom International is one of the fastest growing companies in the sector?
The teleport sector is a growing business in the regions we cover and there are huge opportunities, particularly in niche markets. A lot of people have no idea what the teleport industry is about. They think antennas and television. Teleports are platforms that deliver telecom solutions via satellite. At NewCom, we are more than a teleport. We are a service provider and integrator of numerous value-added solutions that extend the US backbone to various countries.
Can you explain how NewCom International can bring added value to satellite carriers, fibre providers, technology providers, systems integrators, and a broad variety of specialized service providers?
We offer added value through our quick response times, our efficiencies as an organization and as a comprehensive solutions provider. Throughout the continent, and particularly in Nigeria, people are desperate for integrated solutions such as video streaming and content. We sell the transport of voice and data that is so critical in today’s market, but we also provide the value-added services that everyone wants. I was in Nigeria when the Iceland ash cloud caused such disruption to travel. I happened to be demonstrating our video conferencing and collaboration tools and everyone was clamouring for it.
In the last issue of Africa Telecoms, we focused on satellite and fibre in Africa. Do you think that these communication technologies will work together concurrently in the future or will one or the other dominate in the African context?
I think they will have to work hand in hand. In Latin America, for example, fibre networks already go to all the major cities – which is critical because of the huge amount of bandwidth they can bring. But the cities only make up 30 percent of the country. To reach the rural 70 percent, the only solution is satellite. It would take considerable time and money to have fibre going to those areas. And although fibre exists in the cities, it isn’t very reliable, making satellite backups critical. In some cases, satellite is the primary solution. I see Africa going the same way. Today, due to lack of fibre infrastructure, satellite is the dominating force. But fibre will come because it brings the bandwidth required to help developing countries make big changes. Integrating the connectivity with satellite gives carriers full country coverage because it doesn’t make sense to route networks to remote areas. And beyond the huge cost factor is the problem of maintaining fibre lines: thieves dig them up, thinking they are copper.
How extensive are NewCom’s operations in Africa?
With the recent activation of the AMOS5-i satellite in England, NewCom now offers extensive satellite C band coverage across Africa. NewCom, which has been a leading provider of satellite services for governments, vertical markets and GSM operators in Northwestern and Central Africa, now has full reach into Eastern Africa and extended coverage throughout the Central and Southern region.
What do you think the differentiators are between satellite and fibre connectivity?
Satellite connectivity isn’t affected by natural or man-made disasters. Obtaining service is a matter of pointing an antenna. Fibre connectivity is at the whim of disasters or other issues and can often go down. In Lagos, Nigeria the sat-3 fibre goes down at least four days a month. As a result, many corporations have installed satellite hubs for backup protection. Fibre can facilitate huge amounts of bandwidth for large cities. While satellite will continue to be the primary source of connectivity for the next five years, I see fibre becoming the main pipe into large cities – with satellite reaching out to the remaining 70 percent.
While NewCom has been a provider of satellite communications in Africa, to what extent is the continent still a focus area? What are the strategic focuses for NewCom in the region?
Africa is our main focus because the bandwidth requirements are huge as fibre does not provide full coverage. It comes down to supply and demand, and right now there is huge demand in Africa for our services. Our strategic focuses for the region are to support governments through initiatives in education, health, border patrol and the military; vertical markets like offshore gas and oil rigs; and GSM operators. The cellular market is the fastest growing telecom market in the region.
Historically, satellite communication has understandably always been more expensive than other options. How do you plan to become more price competitive? Is it possible to reduce costs as you build capacity and the number of satellites in service?
The answer is yes. In the past five years, there has been a lot of focus on developing technologies to bring more cost-effective solutions to the region. Especially with the depressed market and economy, we at NewCom have been investing in technologies involving megahertz that create efficiency. Because of these solutions, MB pricing has dropped 70 percent over the past five years, making it possible for more people to use voice and data. But now I think we are at the bottom of the pricing curve because we’ve maximized the efficiencies the existing technologies provide.
Can we envisage a time when satellite prices per MB could be comparable to fibre prices? Never. Why?
Because the demand for satellite will continue to increase. The priority throughout Africa is voice and data, but once that is in place, it will be content. People are hungry for content. In some places in Africa, there are only two TV stations available. Satellite is the most efficient way to deliver video content and there will never be enough satellites to meet the demand, so the price will increase. That’s the case in Latin America.
Considering the economic climate in the past 12-18 months, NewCom has performed remarkably well. To what do you ascribe this success?
There are several factors. The first one is cost efficiencies. We have a lean, experienced staff conscious of keeping down operations costs; and we have implemented bandwidth optimization technologies that allow us to be competitive. The value-added solutions that we have integrated with our different transport platforms have made us more ingrained with the end user because we offer solutions that other providers don’t have – and sometimes that’s the key. I think our commitment to customer service and getting the job done quickly has also played a role in our success. Finally, it has to do with relationships. We receive great word-of-mouth referrals from people in the region whom we’ve worked with and known for many years.
What are the main drivers of demand for capacity in Africa and how do you see this evolving over the next few years?
Right now it’s voice and data, but it will move into video and other content because a lot of multinationals from Europe are coming into the region to facilitate the massive build-out taking place due to the rich reserves of oil and gas. These people demand high-quality content services, which will drive the demand for satellite.
How much of NewCom’s African capacity is utilized for cellular backhaul?
Currently only 10 -15 percent, although we are actively growing that area.
How have recent events in Haiti and Chile highlighted NewCom’s emergency response and disaster recovery services?
In both Haiti and Chile we were able to serve the needs of people that required services immediately. We managed to provided connectivity for voice, data and email, either the same day or the day after. Fibre breaks can take weeks to fix, while satellite is not affected by anything happening on the ground. We just point an antenna to a satellite and they are connected. Satellite services enabled broadcasters to report live from those earthquake-devastated countries within hours of the tragic events.