Safaricom sets up first data centre in Ethiopia

Safaricom data centre

The $100 million China-assembled Safaricom data centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PHOTO | TESFA-ALEM TEKLE | NMG

Safaricom #ticker:SCOM has unveiled its first China-assembled data centre in Addis Ababa as it gears up to launch its commercial operations in Ethiopia.

Built for $100 million, the facility was deployed less than a year after the consortium led by Safaricom, South Africa's Vodacom and Japan's Sumitomo was awarded a mobile operating licence by the Ethiopian government.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, Safaricom officials said the data centre is a significant milestone for the consortium in its quest to begin operations in the Horn nation in April.

Safaricom Ethiopia’s chief technology officer, Mr Pedro Rabacal, noted that the data centre is not the only significant milestone achieved this month. 

"On February 5, the first successful voice call was made using Safaricom’s network with the code ‘07’. Text messaging, internet access, and other network services followed successfully," he revealed.

The facility is built on tier three standards and is the size of a shipping container. Tier four is usually the most advanced and is rare.

It was assembled in China by Huawei and Nokia.

Last year, state-owned Ethio Telecom deployed a modular data centre also provided by Huawei.


Safaricom's chief external affairs and regulatory officer, Matthew Harrison Harvey, reaffirmed during the news conference that the necessary infrastructure for adopting M-Pesa, Safaricom’s mobile money service, in Ethiopia is also fully operational. 

"The Ethiopian government has affirmed that it intends to allow the consortium to provide digital financial services after establishing an environment that is conducive for competition instead of monopolisation by global corporations like Safaricom" Mr Harvey told journalists.

Safaricom intends to invest more than $8.5 billion in Ethiopia over the next 10 years.

Since the consortium was granted a licence, it has invested more than $300 million, including establishing the data centre, making it the first to make such a huge investment in an Ethiopian project in a short period of time.

The consortium intends to invest an additional $300 million next year.


Speaking on resource sharing plans, Mr Harvey confirmed that negotiations are being held with Ethio Telecom to share infrastructure, especially in terms of expanding Safaricom Ethiopia’s capabilities outside Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. 

Telecommunications resource sharing provides many benefits to all parties involved, according to Mr Rabacal, and is one of the most common practices in the industry.

In the next five years, Safaricom intends to establish two more data centres, one in Addis Ababa and another in Adama, and erect more than 7,000 network towers in a bid to reach half of Ethiopia's estimated 110 million people.

Staying true to the Safaricom slogan ‘we are building’, officials reiterated the company’s commitment to creating job and business opportunities for Ethiopians.


Regarding third-party businesses that the company intends to work with – similar to companies such as Apple or Netflix working with providers like T-Mobile or Vodafone – Mr Harvey expressed Safaricom’s intention to focus on Ethiopian businesses in order to drive innovation. 

Similarly, he noted that Safaricom has hired more than 200 Ethiopians and projected that by the end of the year it will employ at least 1,000.

In the next 10 years, Safaricom Ethiopia projects to create 1.5 million job opportunities that would come through multiple supply chains.

Conversely, while Safaricom nears the date of its commercial launch, there were no updates from the Ethiopian Communications Authority on the second licence that was suspended during the nationwide state of emergency imposed from November 3 to February 15.

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