By ABN staff writer
Telecommunications service was introduced in Ethiopia by Emperor Menelik II in 1894 when the construction of the telephone line from Addis Ababa to Harar was commenced. Then the inter urban network was continued to expand in all other directions from the capital. Many important centers in the country were interconnected by lines, thus facilitating long distance communication.
History has it that in late 2006, the ETC signed an agreement worth US$1.5 billion with Chinese company, ZTE Corporation to upgrade and expand Ethiopian telecommunications services.
Following increased demand for telecom services, the company once again signed turnkey projects with three international telecom equipment manufacturers to expand its network and related systems in 2013. The capital has enjoyed LTE services back in 2015 with limited presence in hotspot areas and massive LTE and LTE rollout was realized in 2020. The company is announcing the launching of LTE and LTE Advanced Services in regions outside of the capital, Addis Ababa, almost on weekly basis.
Ethio telecom has been striving hard to play its role as enabler and to boost multiplier effects of its services for the socio economic development of the country.
ABN. How do you describe the development of telecommunication in Ethiopia over the past two decades (i.e. after mobile phone service is introduced locally)?
Frehiwot. Mobile network service was introduced in Ethiopia in 1998. The overall capacity could only handle 36,000 customers because it was thought that not many users would subscribe initially. However, the demand was unexpectedly great that we had to do incremental capacity upgrades and feature introductions. In 2006 G.C, a $1.5 billion contract was signed with ZTE Corporation to build New Generation Network Expansion Projects which comprised 9 mega projects one of which was for boosting mobile capacity which resulted in a capacity upgrade from handling 8.5M to handling more than 23.5M customers.
The other was also projects to expand fixed network and fiber optic cable installation of about 4000 KM in different directions across the nation. Furthermore, the project included NGN call center, public phones, various IT systems like CRM,
CBS for handling customers and charging and security solutions.
Following network and related system expansion, Ethiopian Government decided to reestablish and rename the then Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation to Ethio telecom. In Parallel, the government decided to award a two-and-half-year management contract to France Telecom in 2010 to manage Ethio telecom. New eToM based structure and business processes developed, indirect channels introduced to increase foot print and outreach of our services boosting customer and revenue growth.
The demand for telecom service kept growing and to accommodate the growing demand and introduce latest technologies, another big turnkey project, Telecom Expansion Program launched in 2013. To realize this massive network and system expansion projects, Vendor financing modality applied and three big telecom equipment manufacturers won the bid.
Accordingly, 1.6 Billion USD agreement was signed with ZTE, HUWAEI & Ericsson. Even if the agreed amount was for 1.6 Billion, only around one billion USD amount was spent on the projects. As a result, the mobile and other systems’ capacity have been upgraded to accommodate more than 68 M customers. Overall network coverage has been boosted to cover 95% of population and more than 85% of geography. Currently, total mobile subscribers have reached 54.7 M, of which mobile subscribers are 52.8 Million and data & Internet users reached 25 million.
In addition, the telecom development has created many job and income opportunities to many citizens, with recent figures showing more than 368 thousand citizens have job and income opportunities related with telecom business operations. Furthermore, Ethio telecom has contributed to the economic and social development of the country through increased tax and dividend payments.
ABN. As a country of nearly 110 million people, do you think the telecom sector satisfies the need of citizens?
Frehiwot. Telecom by nature is dynamic and it requires continuous incremental improvement as there will be continual changes in technology, and increased & diversified customer tastes & demands. As technology evolves rapidly, new investments matching the evolution should be done therefore continuous investment is needed to satisfy the growing demand of customers in line with socio economic changes in the given market.
In terms of penetration, we have reached 53.5%. Not everyone can be a telecom user because there are limiting factors such as age, income and literacy. From the 110M population, the addressable market is only 60 to 70M.Not every one of the 110 M can be a user of telecom service. You may take the youth segmentin between the age of 1 to15 for example, which is large in number but cannot be a telecom user. In developed countries and other markets, the number of
mobile users reported may exceed their total number of population due to the availability of multiple operators and a customer may have multiple simcards with more than one operator due to price and other advantages.
It should be noted that Ethio telecom has the capacity to provide the required telecom services to our country. Even if the demand grows beyond our current capacity, we are ready and able to easily upgrade the capacity and serve the growing demand within a short period of time. This is because our Infrastructure is scalable and upgradable to pursuant to technology evolution like 3G to 4G, and the 4G to 5G. We have a better capacity and readiness to easily perform telecom expansion and handle additional customers than any newly incoming telecom service provider would have.
ABN. It is well known that Ethio-telecom has been dealing with social corporate responsibility for years (at society level, not at a national level); tell us the major ones, please.
Frehiwot. The majority of the works done by Ethio telecom have the element of corporate social responsibility. For instance, not with standing the programs under the theme of “Universal Access”; when looking at our investment approach, one can see our strive to cover not only cities (economic zones) but also the entire Nation, even when it means investing in areas where there will be no return on investment. No for profit company would do this, but Ethio telecom is engaged in such kinds of investments in order to ensure the provision of telecom service for the entire society. This isalso a big corporate social responsibility and should not be over looked.
In addition, there are the “Universal Access” programs such as rural connectivity, school net, Woreda net for networking the woredas, Agrinet for Agriculture centers.We have also done lots of investments related to agriculture and school by giving discountsand services free of charge.
Furthermore, we engaged in community services by extending humanitarian services in cases when natural or man-made crises occur. To mention a few:
- More than 451M free bulk short messages with value of Birr 5.29M were disseminated to deliver vital information to the community,
- Short code numbers were offered to 16 humanitarian organizations and mega projects to enable them raise fund from the community,a contribution amounting Birr 62.89M in nine months
- Huge resources have been committed in the prevention of Covid-19, from donating 100 Million Birr for the cause to providing free access to Ministry of Health and Ethiopian Public Health Institute web pages providing COVID-19 related information and facilitating fund raising from within and abroad.
- An additional 16 million birr financial donation was provided to fund the Ministry of Innovation and Technology sponsored research on COVID-19 vaccines.
- Birr 3.6M financial support were provided to charity organizations by our employees to show solidarity to our people in FEED ONE EACH ONE challenge.
The other is that we have supported different government initiatives and participated in the National projects that are being done to change the image of the country and improve the living of the society such as:
- A 500 M birr contribution in cash to ‘Dine for Ethiopia’ project;
- Planted more than 717 thousand seedlings at 167 sites
- And whenever big governmental investments are taking place, we take the lead in going to the
investment areas and seeing through the infrastructure installation and coordination with others.
In the education sector, we have provided material supports to schools outside of Addis,donated 50 laptops and 200 smartphones to best performing female secondary school teachers, and empowered women by creating job opportunities, provided trainings and producing them as entrepreneurs.
Generally speaking, we can say we have done well-planned and impactful social works and have received an encouraging award of “Ye Bego Sew” in recognition to these CSR activities.
ABN.What about its employees’ contribution to the nation’s Mega Project-Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam/GERD/?
Frehiwot. Our employees have participated in the purchase of bonds. They have contributed their net monthly salary to purchase bonds in three rounds which amounted to 105.5M Birr. There are also cases where the company bought bonds and gave them as a gift of recognition to its employees, which amounted to 5.85M Birr.
5.Tell us the overall result of the income-generating scheme for the GERD via 8100? (Rounds and money collected).
Three rounds of fund raising through 8100 short code conducted starting from August 2014. The first round was from August, 2014 to March, 2015 where 851K contributors participated and 80.3 M birr was collected. The second round was from October 2015 to April 2016 where 525K contributors participated and 49.3M birr was raised. The third round was from March 2020 upto April 2021 where 1.3M contributors participated and 122.47M birr was raised. A total of 252M ETB was raised throughout the three rounds and the total amount was handed over to Ethiopian Electric Power on 24 April 2021.
ABN. What special contribution has your company made to the Dam so far (if any)?
Frehiwot. The first one is the organizing of the short code itself. Under the normal scheme, short
codes come with revenue sharing but when it comes to 8100, we have forgone the revenue sharing, and communicated massive bulk SMS to create awareness and raise required funds from the public.
The second one is that we have enabled stable telecom services and provided alternative communication services and devices at the construction site.
ABN. What about other activities the company will undertake until the Dam is completed?
Frehiwot. We will continue by strengthening the above mentioned efforts. In the fund mobilization, we will make use of our telebirr platform to present other recurrent contribution options in addition to that of the one birr per day contribution. We are also working to enable the Diasporas to remotely buy bonds and donate for GERD via international mobile remittance services using our telebirr and other possible means.
We will also be actively participating in any upcoming National telethons or any other activity the government will devise toward the completion of the dam in the future.
ABN.As a company CEO, and an Ethiopian citizen, what do you expect after the completion of GERD?
Frehiwot. Different projects have different levels of impact; some will address the needs of the few whereas others extend to the majority. I believe that GERD as a project on energy, is one of the most impactful projects that would solve the problems of the mass.
When we look at the majority of our citizens, their basic needs are not met. Especially, those living in rural
areas live in black out and use traditional methods to run their daily activities such as lighting, cooking etc. So many mothers give birth in a traditional means, young girls have to fetch woods for fire which in turn is endangering their health in an environment where access to health services are limited.23% of our society is living below the poverty line and all these are happening not because we lack resources rather because of unutilized resources like Nile.
Therefore, as a citizen, I expect that the completion of GERD will play a great role in lifting us out of poverty by improving the lives of our society.
In addition, energy or power is one of the basic factors in order to build up industries. So,I expect that there will be many industrial establishments after GERD is completed which will help in creating job opportunities thereby reducing unemployment rate.
To address the same question as a telecom CEO, power is one of the critical inputs in providing telecom services. Currently, not all our Mobile Towers are served by commercial power. As a result, we are forced to use other alternative sources of power such as generator. Consequently, the quality of our telecom services are being affected and our potential for coverage is being limited. As a telecom CEO, I expect to see an improvement in the power supply thereby ensuring the quality of our telecom services and becoming an enabler for us to exploit our potential.
ABN. How do you describe the telecom service in and around the GERD construction site?
Frehiwot. Considering the significance & critical nature of the project as well as the large number of people participating in the construction of the dam; we have deployed both wireless and fixed network infrastructure. Currently, five (5) mobile sites serve the dam as well as the surrounding areas. To address the mobile data needs of the community who are spending day and night to complete the dam, two (2) sites currently serving the dam are upgraded to provide 4G-LTE high-speed internet service.
One fixed network element has also been deployed in order to diversify the service options and provide fixed voice and data service. To secure telecom service in the dam and surrounding areas, redundant backbone network is also put in place. In addition, Ethio-telecom has availed contingency VSAT service with 4 channels and 5Mbps speed to avoid the scenario of total service blackout in the region. With construction works speeding up more than before, we are also working to address any coverage or service quality gap.