At the ITU Telecom World 2018 conference held in Durban last month, infrastructure provider Liquid Telecom announced the launch of its Cape to Cairo network.

It’s status now means that Liquid Telecom is able to service technology hubs across the Southern and Eastern parts of the continent, as well as extend its reach to the Central region with a view of assisting those in the Western coast of Africa in future.

As such, the One Africa vision that Liquid Telecom is aiming to bring to fruition has begun to take shape.

To gain a better insight into what Liquid Telecom wants to achieve with its continental network, as well as what plans it has for the future, we recently spoke with Liquid Telecom South Africa CEO, Reshaad Sha.

Where the Cape to Cairo network currently runs.

Hypertext: The last time we spoke to you was on the first day of ITU Telecom World 2018. How did the rest of the conference go?

Reshaad Sha: It was great. We gad a tremendous amount of interest from a number of telecom operators, regulators, financial institutions and people within government from across the continent.

We specifically discussed the Cape to Cairo initiative, and our vision of the One Africa network.

The conversations took different routes, but one of the key ones was around how we could replicate the current level of connectivity in countries that are otherwise not connected to the network.

We’ve also had several discussions about what are future plans are for West Africa, with a lot of interest on whether we’d be expanding this network westward.

Hypertext: When it comes to spreading the network across Central and Western Africa, has Liquid Telecom set out a time frame in that regard?

Reshaad Sha: There are a number of activities that are underway already. Partnership models, collaboration efforts, and other initiatives that would allow us to have a presence in the region.

Exact timing is unfortunately not fully defined as yet, with it relying quite heavily on the types of opportunities we can create. To a larger extent it is the opportunities that will dictate the timing.

Hypertext: One of the elements you touched on during your ITU presentation was potentially expanding further afield. Have any moves been made on that front?

Reshaad Sha: At this stage no.

We do, however, have some partnerships with Asian operators. Those are specifically focused on delivering services to the continent, co-location at our data centres, as well as allowing Liquid Telecom to utilise global carriers for services that we want to deliver in other parts of the world where a multinational may require a presence in countries we normally do not operate within.

Hypertext: The One Africa network is being touting as an enabler of trade on the continent. Why is intra-African trade so important?

Reshaad Sha: At the moment intra-African trade is sitting quite low [18 percent according to Liquid Telecom] when compared to that of Europe and North America, which is sometimes three or four times greater.

What enables this higher percentage is the ability for those regions to connect people and have the correct channels in place to move goods between countries. This is what fosters better intra-country trade.

The area where we think we can impact significantly is the movement of data, digital services and aggregating capability from one country that does have it to another that does not thanks to the One Africa network.

We believe that will serve as an important contributor towards intra-African trade.

Hypertext: When it comes to improving intra-African trade, does Liquid Telecom have a projected objective in mind?

Reshaad Sha: We believe that we’ll be able to play a role in that.

However, it is broader than just a connectivity play. We are going to be monitoring this aspect to see what kinds of specific initiatives result from it.

Hypertext: The Cape to Cairo network passes through a vast number of cities, towns and hubs. How are these hubs faring as a result?

Reshaad Sha: In these major hubs, the ones where we have built data centre capability, such as Nairobi, Harare, Cape Town and Johannesburg, what informed us to expand our footprint is the demand for cloud and digital services, along with digitisation journeys for enterprises.

So that demand is what has driven Liquid Telecom, to either build new or expand existing data centre footprints to give life to each of those hubs by providing connectivity to the cloud.

Those are the initial four that we’ve chosen to go live with, but there will be a few more, and to an extent the demand we see in specific countries informs and influences our decision-making.

Hypertext: You mention the digitisation of enterprises. Where do SMEs and startups fit into that picture. Are they as hungry for digitisation?

Reshaad Sha: It’s actually quite interesting what we’re seeing in the SME space.

To the extent of there being a lot of appetite for lower cost and higher value type services being delivered to the business.

One of the capabilities that Liquid Telecom has in its stack address this need for cloud capability thanks to our partnership with Microsoft. It allows us to deliver services like connectivity, voice and cloud to SMEs in an extremely cost-effective way.

While we are working with enterprises on their digital transformation journeys, a huge amount of effort is going into our SME play.

So much so that in the coming weeks we’ll be announcing a few select SME packages for South Africa.

Hypertext: Is Microsoft then a key partner when it comes to expanding your reach in different regions?

Reshaad Sha: Microsoft is an absolutely huge partner of ours.

We’re working very closely with them to develop and launch these products and services, not only in South Africa, but across the continent.