Broadband Infraco is responsible for bringing connectivity to all South Africans and they look set to achieve that mandate under the guidance of Chief Executive, Andrew Matseke
For the South African economy to truly flourish, we need a connected society. The fast-paced nature of business hinges on a stable, trusted network. This requires top-notch infrastructure and uninterrupted connectivity, with all corners of the country being serviced.
For this to become a reality for all, Broadband Infraco (BBI), a state-owned company in the telecommunications sector, has been tasked with this mammoth undertaking. With over 15 000 kilometres of fibre across the nine provinces already in place, and 156 points of presence (PoPs), they are making strides towards connecting the whole of South Africa. The strength of BBI is a backbone that traverses all major under-served areas through Transnet railway lines and Eskom transmission lines. Everywhere where there is a railway or electricity transmission line, BBI is able to reach.
That is why BBI is in the best position for its mandate, which is to ensure that a connected society is not just a pipedream. Under the guidance of CE Andrew Matseke, they are moving in the right direction, creating hope of a brighter future for all along the way. With a focus on providing connectivity in under-developed and under-serviced areas, the task at hand is not easy, but it is one which Matseke envisions is possible.
“The vision of the company is to provide communication services to enable a connected and transformed society. The thinking behind that vision is that a modern economy requires as many businesses and citizens as possible to have access to a decent broadband connection,” Pretoria-born Matseke says.
“Obviously, to get set up everywhere requires financial investment, but we need to have connectivity available to as many people as we can, as a country and as an economy, and it is our vision as Broadband Infraco to play a role in ensuring that we get there. Connectivity should be available to all citizens to ensure they actively participate in the economy of the country. Access to this participation should be made available and fairly to all.”
That is why collaboration is so key to achieving this mammoth task. While BBI knows what it needs to do, working with others will only strengthen the journey to the end goal. The Department of Communication and Digital Technologies has initiated a process to merge BBI and SENTECH in order to align their targets and work alongside each other in connecting the country. The reconfiguration of BBI and SENTECH will result in the establishment of a State-owned Digital Infrastructure Company (SDIC) that will incorporate broadband, satellite, cloud and other technologies that talk to infrastructure. SENTECH uses a wireless terrestrial network that is used for transmitting broadcasting signals. Put that infrastructure together with that of BBI, and you have a match made in heaven.
“If you take the BBI optical fibre network and the SENTECH wireless network, and you superimpose them on each other, then from an infrastructure perspective, it makes sense. You can see the benefits that you are going to derive,” the electrical engineering graduate continues. “This move will enable the infrastructure to reach rural and under-serviced areas. From an infrastructure point of view, it is a no-brainer.”
The merger also helps in terms of financial stability, as the business model on which Broadband Infraco was founded has its limitations in terms of growth, so by extending it with the SENTECH network, more customers can be reached.
In addition, the merger will give the internet service provider (ISP) market and mobile network operators an even greater reach. By using BBI’s infrastructure, ISPs and mobile companies can now obtain more customers, making the offering of BBI and SENTECH very attractive to those in the private sector. This is also the case for the government, as piggybacking off this infrastructure will strengthen their ability to work closely across provinces, cities, towns, and rural areas, contributing to the achievement of government’s SA Connect project. This new, easier way of working will be beneficial in the long-run in terms of service delivery and general governance—two bones of contention for many citizens in South Africa.
Another key collaboration for BBI comes in the shape of their relationship with the TATA Group of India. This relationship relates to operations surrounding the West Africa Cable System (WACS). This cable system is found under the sea and connects Africa with Europe, providing the connectivity which we rely on as a country. BBI and TATA work together to monitor and support the operations of WACS.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
The need for a connected society becomes even more important when one considers the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). For BBI, it is vital that everyone is given the chance to prosper in the changing times, as there is no longer an excuse for falling behind. This makes their role that much more vital to the success of South Africa’s economy.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution depends on connectivity. Most of the economic activities of the future will take place on some form of mobile device. A tablet, cellphone, or even a laptop computer that you are able to move around with on a farm, in a factory, on an industrial plant—having that device connected is actually one of the prerequisites of the modern economy, and one of the prerequisites of 4IR is that we must have connectivity available everywhere.
“The Company runs a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme that ensures that we give back to communities within which it operates, but also to showcase the benefits that can be derived from connecting schools, clinics, hospitals in the community, thereby giving effect to 4IR.
“Therefore, the role of a company such as BBI and the merged entity, SDIC, that will be formed out of BBI and SENTECH as one of the anchors of that infrastructure, is very important, so we have to succeed. We can make our contribution to enable a lot of economic activity to be possible. A role that I can play is to ensure that we achieve that level of infrastructure penetration, to give the economy of South Africa a chance.”
The man at the helm
Matseke joined BBI in 2017 after 11 years at Transnet in their telecommunications department. With his strength in infrastructure development, it was an easy choice for BBI to appoint Matseke, especially as there were new challenges on the horizon which required someone of his expertise.
It has not been an easy road for Matseke at the helm, with issues pertaining to sustainability, funding, and outdated business models all weighing heavily on his shoulders. However, he has managed to pick up the pieces bit by bit and build a company which is not only turning the corner, but has a very bright future ahead of itself. Matseke brought a stabilisation factor to the organisation as well as a strength of relationship building with the most important assets of BBI, the employees and customers.
For employees, it has been conscientising them to the significantly paramount role the organisation plays in social harmonisation. For the customers, it has been the absolute commitment BBI has in being part of their every season. In fact, in the recent 2021 Customer Satisfaction Survey, reliability is rated as most important in the image/reputation category by the highest number of customer respondents.
“In 2017 when I started, we had just under 50 customers. We are now sitting at 103 and we have increased sales significantly. We have signed up some of the big players in the ICT sector. They were acquired as customers in the last three and a half years, so it obviously helps building sales that indicate that you have revenue guaranteed for a particular period going into the future,” he says, also admitting that this was achieved by appointing an experienced sales team.
The next key change brought to the fore by Matseke was that surrounding funding. In order to continue to expand the network, BBI needs money, but that has long been a problem for the company. Matseke approached the shareholders to try and open up a new source of funding—and it has worked a charm.
“We have gone through a process of shareholder approval to convert the shareholder loans into equity. That will be part of the audited financials for the financial year that ended on 31 March 2021, and with those strong audited results, we will then be able to engage with the banks, including the state-owned banks such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa, to be able to raise funding that will enable us to reinvest in our network,” he adds.
While Matseke has made some gains, the hard work is far from over. The short-term goal is to continue to grow the business in order to present a strong front for the merger with SENTECH. The long-term goal is then to ensure a strong partnership with SENTECH to realise the ambitions of the company—connectivity for all.
Another key overarching factor which aligns itself with all of these goals and ambitions is good governance. For Matseke, ensuring clean audits and trust from all stakeholders is vitally important.
“My job is to ensure that we adhere to good governance within the company; from issues that relate to compliance with the Public Finance Management Act, the various requirements of National Treasury, and the guidelines that one gets from the King IV Principles on governance. On a daily basis, governance also forms part of my daily responsibilities; making sure that what gets approved meets the requirements of good governance,” the University of Cape Town alumnus concludes.
With Matseke at the helm, BBI looks in very good shape to meet its mandate of connecting South Africa. While the road has not been without its speedbumps, looking ahead to the future presents an open road filled with possibilities and an economy which thrives off the back of the hard work put in by Matseke and his team.