Even after the fiber-optic project was approved
in 2014, sponsors hit a major obstacle related to
the project’s financial returns. The South Sudanese
government announced that it planned to charge
network operators US$500 million for a 15-year
license to do business in the country. South Sudan’s
economy is largely based on oil exports, and as prices
have fallen, it has put financial pressure on the government. Dr. Kelly—and telecommunications operators—are trying to persuade the government not to
squeeze the companies too hard for revenue.
alone make threading a cable from continent to
continent look easy.
That is particularly true in less-developed African
nations, such as South Sudan. The World Bank is working with China EXIM bank on a US$1.3 billion program
to bring fiber-optic connectivity to the country and
make other infrastructure improvements. After the initiative launched in 2012, a civil war began in late 2013,
throwing the country into violent instability and halting
project planning for five months when the World Bank
evacuated its office in the country.
In recent years, the telecommunications com- pany MTN Group has invested millions of dollars to co-sponsor undersea fiber-optic able projects to create the Eastern Africa
Submarine Cable System and West Africa Cable
System. The high-bandwidth cables deliver incredible advancements in Internet speeds.
To both provide that premium product to its
customers across the region and stabilize its net-
work, Johannesburg, South Africa-based
MTN needed to overhaul its operations in
the 17 sub-Saharan African countries where
its operating entities do business. So the
company launched a program in 2011 to
build a network capable of delivering broad-
band throughout its footprint.
“It’s about really providing a platform
that can both carry the capacity and provide
redundancy to our services,” says Michael
Paul, who is based in Dubai, United Arab
Emirates. He leads MTN’s group technol-
ogy team and co-managed the initiative. In
order to support services such as video con-
ferencing, file-sharing and application host-
ing, MTN decided to build a multiprotocol label
switching virtual private network—a multiyear
initiative that would require substantial projects in
countries across the continent.
With Shenzhen, China-based Huawei Corp. con-
tracted to handle network design and implementa-
tion, and its subsidiaries and vendors operating in
each country, MTN created a program management
strategy to ensure coherence, efficiency and success.
The organization maintains consistency through a
universal methodology—the same communications,
reporting and governance structures, as well as a
uniform escalation matrix—in each country. Program
leaders tightly control project budgets, with capital
expenditure governance centralized to ensure consistency. The planning phase also included risk management strategies that accounted for variables that
could pose major challenges.
“We are talking about a multiyear program here.
We knew that many geopolitical, inflationary or
other economic aspects could come into effect in
one country or another,” says Dani Abu Ghaida,
head of IT and network PMOs, MTN, Edmonton,
Alberta, Canada, who helps lead the program. “We
forecast the budget across three years to see how
this program would be executed, so we could predict how the budgets would be constrained each
year, and how we need various operating entities to
collaborate and play their part in the investment.”
Troubleshooting From the Hub
Program leaders act as a multinational communications hub to coordinate cross-border work
among the different country-level operations.
MTN’s Broadband Buildout
“It’s about really
can both carry
—Michael Paul, MTN Group,
Dubai, United Arab Emirates