Who is leading Africa’s digital infrastructure investment to enable the technology of the future?

With the huge and increasing demand for data and increasing opportunities for 5G and fibre, digital communications companies including mobile and fixed operators, as well as a range of digital infrastructure specialists and investors, are targeting significant investments in new digital infrastructure.

Byron Clatterbuck, CEO Seacom, one of Africa’s leading submarine and terrestrial broadband operators, sees a really big opportunity in making the case for fibre in Africa: “Fibre penetration is still very low in most African countries, so huge opportunities exist to get involved in the rollout of intra-regional projects, national projects, and even international subsea infrastructure projects.  The global cloud services companies are now putting Africa on their development roadmap, and committing significant investment to several African markets.” 

For Clatterbuck, this presents a big opportunity for other investors to leverage these investments and to cooperate with these global giants in delivering new services to the business and home markets.

Consolidation in the sector is also to be expected, according to Alexander Kiel, CFO, at CSquared, the Google-backed African fibre network operator. “Fibre, like other infrastructure, is a game of scale, we do expect some consolidation to happen over time, with it most likely to start with transfer of management of public fibre assets to private operators.” Over time, as fibrecos increase in scale and expertise, Kiel also expects to see more sale and lease-back deals between the fibrecos and the mobile operators.

For Seacom’s Clatterbuck, “whether it is MNOs trying to bring together a number of African “OpCos” under one brand with synergies at the group level, or it is “fixed” fibre operators consolidating to control and manage as much of the end-to-end network as possible, there is no shortage of M&A and funding opportunities in Africa.  “Consolidation will continue as markets grow and possibly shrink, and as global players look for market entry vehicles going forward,” he says. 

In the next 12 to 18 months, CSquared’s Kiel expects a number of greenfield projects to come out, with multiple roll-outs, “especially in the metro areas where there is still a gap… these deployments will be driven by mobile operators and independent fibrecos."