Liquid Telecom South Africa has unveiled a major network upgrade which it says has given it 90% more capacity and which will vastly improve reliability for customers.
Liquid Telecom South Africa CEO Reshaad Sha told journalists at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Wednesday that the group had done a major refresh of the network infrastructure, replacing a lot of out-of-date equipment, and had completely overhauled its core network.
"The replacement of our core network has not only catered to legacy performance issues but has made Liquid Telecom's network one of the most technologically advanced, modern and reliable networks in South Africa and across the African continent," he said.
Liquid Telecom South Africa's chief operating officer, Craig van Rooyen, told Connecting Africa in an interview at the event that over the past year the telco has doubled its revenue growth as it added customers.
"But we have the ability [since the upgrade] to treble the number of customers on our network, even quadruple it."
Van Rooyen said that the upgrade was needed because the network had become "somewhat constrained in terms of transmission capacity." In addition, a lot of equipment had come to "end-of-life" and the group also wanted to extend the network.
"The core is basically where everything within the network converges, so if that is constrained, we have massive problems. We replaced all of the core and we also replaced 99% of our access routers, mainly because those had come to end-of-life."
Besides the core network the telco also did significant upgrades within the metro environment, as well as the aggregation layer -- where it replaced a lot of its old IP/MPLS nodes with newer versions.
"The more sophisticated nodes not only have the ability to increase capacity, but they can also see where services are degraded and switch them to other areas of the network. So, besides the refresh of the network and increasing capacity, it will also give the customer greater experience through less downtime."
Much of the upgrade seems to be about replacing old equipment that was part of the legacy Neotel network that Liquid took over in June 2016, when Neotel was acquired and joined the Liquid Telecom Group. Neotel was rebranded to Liquid Telecom South Africa in June 2017. (See Liquid Telecom Wins Approval for $470M Neotel Deal.)
"It was a legacy network that had been installed and because of the lack of investment over time a lot of the equipment is now end-of-life equipment; and also, a lot of the fiber was outdated fiber infrastructure. And that's where we invested to ensure that we have a new network to improve the customer experience," van Rooyen said.
The company, which is privately owned by Econet Global, would not divulge how much it had spent on the network upgrade, but van Rooyen told Connecting Africa that from a finance perspective the investment "has been about 100% of our EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization], which means that all of the profits that we've made, we've invested all of them into the network rather than giving them to the shareholders."
Van Rooyen said the upgrade took about three months from planning to implementation, starting in November of 2018 and concluding at the end of January 2019. He said that so far the group had seen significant improvements within the network.
"The capacity has increased by about 90%, and that's a huge increase," he said.
Besides allowing Liquid to take on more customers, that means existing subscribers can now upgrade their bandwidth needs exponentially.
The company has also introduced new options for on-demand bandwidth where users can upgrade or downgrade their bandwidth online at any time. Liquid Telecom South Africa has also deployed a chatbot interface on the network, which is built on an artificial intelligence platform, to respond to customer needs in real time.
Van Rooyen said that broadband users are about 80% of the company's customer base but its strategy has become to focus more on enterprise customers and small and midsized enterprises (SMEs).
"Previously, we were very focused on wholesale, but we now very much focused on enterprise as well, and we have really gotten out of the home or consumer market. We are focusing on SMEs, large and medium enterprise businesses, as well as wholesale -- which means providing connectivity to other mobile operators as well, like services to MTN, Telkom, Vodacom etc." he added. (See Liquid Telecom to Launch Wholesale 4G Network in South Africa.)
Liquid Telecom has been investing heavily across the African continent and now operates Africa's largest independent fiber network, spanning almost 70,000km in length. It provides communications solutions in 13 countries in Africa and operates data centers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nairobi, with a combined potential 19,000 square meters of rack space and 80MW of power.
— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa