NANCY SIAME, Lusaka
TELECOMMUNICATIONS has undoubtedly become the lifeblood of contemporary society which most people cannot live without, rendering the world a global village.
Apart from enabling people to socialise and learn, telecommunications is an important tool for businesses, enabling companies to communicate effectively with customers and deliver high standards of customer services.
Arguably, modern day society has gotten so used to telecommunications that the world would â€˜collapseâ€™ in its absence.
A quest and need for better ways of relaying messages among people and organisations can be cited as the reason for the incredible growth of telecommunications.
Internet communication in Zambia is on the increase and most people are using it for various purposes beyond basics like browsing information and sending electronic mails (e-mail).
The internet is also being used as a means of making voice calls using various applications such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook, among others.
The internet is no longer a luxury, but has become a necessary commodity in most households and businesses.
One of the companies offering telecommunication services in the country is CEC Liquid Telecom, whose operations clocked five years in May this year.
Zambia, being a landlocked country was depending on suppliers from abroad for the provision of internet services through fibre network.
Previously, there was only one supplier of fibre internet networking services, making it expensive due to lack of competition.
Liquid Telecom found a suitable partner in Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC), which at the time had already installed an extensive fibre network in Copperbelt and Lusaka provinces.
The two companies had compatible resources to form a joint venture and birthed CEC Liquid Telecom.
When CEC Liquid Telecom started operating, the wholesale of internet in Zambia dropped significantly by between 30 and 40 percent.
CEC Liquid Telecom managing director Andrew Kapula says the companyâ€™s customer base include mobile network operators, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), financial institutions, government departments, embassies and licensed corporate entities.
Mr Kapula adds that through the resellers, the company provides much of the retail type Information and Communications Technology (ICT) products and services and has currently more than 1,000 home users who are connecting using future proof and superfast fibre optic technology called Gigabit-capable Passive Optical Networks (GPON).
â€œWe intend to increase our customer base by increasing connectivity to as many users as possible through the authorised resellers,â€ he says.
On the business aspect, Mr Kapula says competition is stiff among telecommunication firms, but that this is healthy because it allows for innovative products to be developed to the ultimate benefit of ICT consumers.
But every business has its challenges and CEC Liquid Telecom is not an exception.
â€œFor instance, as a fibre infrastructure and fibre-based service provider, the cost of rolling out new technologies is very high especially that CEC Liquid Telecom primarily focuses on providing industrial grade ICT services,â€ Mr Kapula says.
â€œThe fluctuation of the local currency against major international currencies also makes it expensive to deliver services where costs are directly tied to foreign exchange.â€
However, the telecoms company has also scored some achievements, such as the building of a fibre network from Chirundu to Kasumbalesa, on the Democratic Republic of Congo, thus connecting Zambiaâ€™s northern neighbour to the Southern African region.
â€œWe built another fibre network through Kariba to provide a redundant option outside the country. We were the first operator to have redundancy within the same company,â€ Mr Kapula shares.
He adds that the company has extended its network from Lusaka to Livingstone and this year a US$2 million project to further extend this fibre network to Kazungula and Sesheke is already underway.
It is expected that by close of 2016, CEC Liquid Telecom will have extended its international connectivity by two more countries namely, Botswana and Namibia, to bring the total number of international fibre links to six and interconnected countries to four out of eight neighbouring countries to Zambia. Another achievement is the rolling out of the fibre to the homes within some areas in Lusaka.
To date, the company has spent in excess of US$12 million for the over 15,000 premises passed.
According to Mr Kapula, this network has laid a foundation for potential users to have access to technology of the future.
He hints that once one has GPON at their home, connectivity challenges are no more as the technology allows for everything one needs, be it data, video and as the regulations permits voice.
CEC Liquid Telecom has invested more than US$50 million in the expansion and improvement of its infrastructure since it started its operations in 2011.
Mr Kapula says as a business enabler, CEC Liquid Telecom will continue to invest in infrastructure to extend to all parts of the country and make Zambia a communication hub.
â€œWe have now established metro networks in all the districts of the country to provide the much needed fibre access networks and these metros are interconnected using our fully protected core-network and in some cases third-party backbone,â€ he says.
As the business continues to grow, Mr Kapula says the company will continue to review its prices downwards in a quest to make its services more affordable, encourage increased ICT penetration and promote an ICT culture, one of the key factors to national development.
For CEC Liquid Telecom, business is not all about profits and growth, as the firm also has corporate social responsibility programmes.
In August 2013, it provided free internet services to the 20th Session of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly which took place in Livingstone.
The company also partnered with the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority to provide connectivity to the annual ICT Forum for two consecutive years.
And in partnership with Zambia Research and Education Network, CEC Liquid Telecom has been providing internet connectivity to David Kaunda Technical Secondary School in Lusaka for more than two years now.
NANCY SIAME, Lusaka