SES is one of the world-leading satellite operators with a fleet of more than 50 geostationary satellites. The company provides satellite communications services to broadcasters, content and internet service providers, mobile and fixed network operators and business and government organisations worldwide. In Ethiopia, SES work with the only telecom service provider in the country, Ethio Telecom and the country’s Broadcasting Agency. Ibrahima Guimba Saidou, General Manager of SES Africa answers questions from the media about the company’s operations in Ethiopia.
Question: Tell us about the services you provide.
Ibrahima Guimba Saidou: We are headquartered in Luxemburg and we own the largest fleets of satellite in the world with more than 50 satellites. We provide service across the whole spectrum of ICT, so ranging from video or broadcasting, we carry the most TV channels in the world we connect more than 350 million households in the world, which translates into more than 1 billion people watching television through our satellites worldwide.
We also provide broadband internet services – we connect people across the world, from remote areas to major cities, depending on the country. We also provide corporate connectivity in general, it can be connecting branches for banks, connecting government offices, schools, and hospitals and so on. We also have more sophisticated services like providing internet in airplanes and on boats; we hope that Ethiopian Airlines will one day join the service.
We also provide services in the area of defense and security, for border control or other services.
We are different in the way we value partnership, because we don’t believe we can do things by ourselves, we need to have partners to be able to provide a solution. And, it is one of our reasons we deiced to be present in Africa four years ago – based in Johannesburg. Since then, we opened two offices, one in Ghana and one office here in Addis Ababa.
The other thing we do is capacity building, because in most developing countries including all the emerging markets, there is sometimes a gap in skills. We have set up a program called Elevate, which helps us train youngsters though satellite technology in countries where we are present and have a partnership.
Question: In Ethiopia, you are providing your services to Ethio telecom and the Broadcasting Agency, what other areas are you interested in getting involved?
Saidou: In Ethiopia in particular, it is Ethio telecom that provides services, what we do is give Ethio telecom the various elements or the various capabilities that we have so that they can serve customers. We always deliver services according to local rules, it is not our ambition to try and provide services to a particular sector in Ethiopia because the local law does not allow us to do so.
What we do is have regular meetings with Ethio telecom, we explain to them how the technology is evolving and the new capabilities that we have.
That dialogue and conversation is ongoing. For us the aim is to be able to provide services across the whole spectrum through Ethio telecom and the local rules and regulations. As part of GTP II, there is an ambition to connect remote areas in Ethiopia, and we are in discussions with the telecom about some of the ways they can partially achieve that.
One thing that needs to be clear is that a satellite is not a solution for everything, so within Ethio telecom’s mandate there is a small portion we believe we can help achieve. We do not pretend that we have a solution for all that Ethio telecom needs to deliver.
Question: How different is it for you to work in a country that has a single state owned telecom operator as supposed to in an open market with more than one operator?
Saidou: There isn’t really any significant difference because at the end of the day, if you have one operator or ten, the aim is to provide the end user with the best service. We have seen countries where there are more than one player, what happened is that at the beginning there was this rush to have new services, and in many cases the prices went down a bit, but after a few years you can see that things stabilize.
So there isn’t really a major difference except that you talk to one company instead of more. What we do in all the markets with single or multiple players is say – this is how we believe we can help you deliver.
I haven’t seen any country that would say; no we don’t want to adopt this new technology or this solution that can help us connect to the most people in a fast and cost effective way. So for us in a nutshell, we adopt our strategy to our local environment whether it is one company we need to deal with or several, it doesn’t matter.
Question: What is your capacity with regards to security, such as incidents of satellite jamming and soon?
Saidou: Jamming or interference can happen anywhere, we have invested heavily in making sure we provide top quality services to our customers across the world. So when there are challenges with jamming and interference, the experts we have in the company quickly pinpoint where the source of a jam or interference is and we use whatever vehiclesat our disposal to fix it. So it is not affecting our operations that heavily. When it comes to defense and security, there isn’t any particular issue; these are areas where we would maybe talk to a particular body of a given country.
Question: Many people use satellites here in the country as well, and sometimes people can’t find particular television stations because of interferences by a certain body. How do you deal with that?
Saidou: We work around international laws and regulations, we are not involved in politics, we are technical people, and we provide connectivity. When we have a customer, that customer follows therules and regulations. When you sign up to be on our platform, you agree to behave in a certain way. When you breach that agreement, we have to tell you that you are in breach of your contract. We work with the rules and regulations that have been established not only by us but also international community.
Question: What is your future plan in Ethiopia?
Saidou: One of the plans is to really see how we can support the delivery of the GTPII, to help Ethio telecom connect the masses – help the operator provide connectivity to the most remote areas in Ethiopia in a cost effective manner and as soon as possible. We also know that Ethiopia has its own ambition to have its own satellite and we have expertise we can offer on that. These are some of the things we are hoping to be able to deliver this year and the years to come.
Question: So should we expect Ethio telecom to start providing quality services anytime soon?
Saidou: I didn’t know that Ethio telecom was not providing quality services so I cannot comment on that. What I can tell you from our perspectives is that we are going to do whatever we can and that is the bit we can provide to make sure that it is top quality.
Again, I would like to insist that the services we provide here are similar to what we provide anywhere else in the world. Of course it is a process, we will adopt and we will make sure that what we provide is not second class service.