Power utility NamPower has diversified into the telecommunications sector by launching Gridonline, a product offering which will enable both start-ups and medium-sized companies to gain easy entry into the lucrative industry without having to build expensive nation-wide backbone networks.
NamPower launched the new service offering on Wednesday in the capital at an event attended by Information and Communication Technology Minister, Stanley Simaata, Mines and Energy Minister, Tom Alweendo and Public Enterprises Minister, Leon Jooste, among other invited guests.
It said the foray into the telecommunications sector was a result of spare capacity available on its fibre optic network that forms an integral part of its electricity transmission lines.
The fibre optic network is said to be critical to the operation and management of the NamPower transmission grid by ensuring grid security.
“Our new product offering will provide Namibia with much-needed additional national telecommunications bandwidth, creating an openly accessible framework for all service providers to make use of the available fibre optic asset, regardless of whether they may be start-ups or established businesses,” Chairperson of the NamPower Board of Directors, Kauna Ndilula told guests.
“We hope that this venture will contribute to the growth of the telecommunications industry for the benefit of the operators and the nation at large,” she added.
Helgo Muller, Senior Engineer Telecoms and Control at NamPower, said the service will only be provided to CRAN licensed operators.
“This means that we do not allow anyone without a CRAN licence to transport data on our network,” he said, adding that they will offer dedicated bandwidth to operators.
Without giving details, Muller said NamPower has already been approached by several ICT providers, both new and established, who wish to piggyback on the utility’s network.
“This reconfirms our initial business case analysis that there is indeed a good and a big need for this infrastructure sharing. What makes this situation very peculiar is …the client is already expecting the product more than what the product need to be pushed in the first place, so it is a very harmonious consolidation of demand and supply,” Muller said.
“Needless to say, any start-up company not generating any revenue will never engage in such a risk, but now that the risk is minimised and there is this readily available infrastructure which can be shared for a minor cost, it starts to make good business sense to small, medium-sized and even large enterprises.
“We do not differentiate; we view all these customers as equally important because we provide alternate paths.
“In the telecoms industry you want to make sure you have high availability of data services and given Namibia’s geography, that is not always easy to provide because of the vast distances, so even for a large operator who is already established this is a very easy and fast way to get additional paths to protect the data traffic that their customers are in turn interested in.
“Equally a small operator such as a village council can get a CRAN license and provide services to their own people which is why we are including both large and small companies.”
The service will initially be available between Windhoek and Swakopmund with plans to roll it out to other major towns by 2020.
“We want to make sure that what we offer is technically sound, it has been tested properly and it will truly hold what has been promised. We don’t want to provide anything in theory. When we provide a service, especially one that is paid for, then of course we want to make sure that the service will deliver what it promises.
“We want to focus on the blue print and learn from it, and because this is the first time we are doing this, the thinking is, let us start small and learn quickly from any mishaps that might happen. If there is anything we need to fix, we do so before rolling it out nationwide,” Muller further said.
Simaata urged ICT service providers to maximise NamPower’s infrastructure to provide services to the previously under-serviced parts of the country. He said this will be achieved without having to construct large and costly backbone network infrastructure.
“The significant reduction in the unit cost of rolling out infrastructure, should lead to a concomitant decrease in the costs of providing services,” the minister said.
Alweendo congratulated NamPower for taking the step to commercialise its fibre optic network.
“I believe this development is the embodiment of a new approach –a new basis – for the building of a culture of innovation, inclusivity and development in Namibia,” the minister said.
“It excites me that the Gridonline, besides providing additional bandwidth, will provide Namibian start-up companies or SMEs [the opportunity] to also enter the telecommunications market and participate in this multi-million dollar sector, creating opportunities for young Namibians to be self-employed and to employ others.”