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Imagine every YAKA point or electricity meter box termination with a fiber optic cable that brings internet into your house. UMEME is better known as the sole power distributor in Uganda covering miles and miles of the country with its power lines. The company’s well established infrastructure covers a good percentage of the country connecting thousands if not millions (most of them urban households) to electricity on top of having a vibrant metering and billing systems, customer care, a maintenance team just to name a few. It is these that have seen the power distributor emerge as one of the biggest publicly traded companies in Uganda, something that outlines the investor confidence vested in the company.

Over the years, its been on an expansion drive covering most of the urban and peri-urban areas connecting households to the national grid, while upgrading existing ones to newer technologies aimed at cutting its overhead costs. Umeme is almost everywhere, its insignia  is well painted in most major towns covering its bureaus, agents, sub-contractors among others, something that makes it sort of ubiquitous.

Its services are ones every Ugandan dies for since many sections of the economy are run on the power it provides. It virtually has no competition. However, It hasn’t diversified its business beyond its sole money minting service – that is  power distribution. Something that prompted an opined note from the editors at Techjaja, about how it can solve the last mile paradox affecting most ISPs in Uganda especially in Kampala.

The fiber infrastructure is at least existent with traces of Google’s project link covering vast areas of the capital ZTE and NITA-U’s National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) spreading across the country among others but none of above progress has had our residential places connected with fiber to the home (FTTH) services, as is the case with what Wananchi owned Zuku is doing in Kenya.

Kenya’s case study

Still in Kenya, akin to Umeme, Kenya Power is Umeme’s equivalent there only with a diversified portfolio that stretches to cover broadband Internet. This it leases to some Internet service providers who use its infrastructure to outrun costs involved with digging earth to lay fiber cables. They instead use Kenya power cables mounted over electricity poles to distribute ISP solutions to their clientele. It recently signed an agreement with Kenya’s biggest telco, Safaricom leasing the latter its internet infrastructure that it pilots Fiber-to-the-home internet services to certain sections of Nairobi.

In this case, our Umeme lacks the broadband conduits but its installed infrastructure can be leveraged to provide last mile broadband access and overcome this entry barrier. Why?Umeme has access to most homes it provides power to that can also double as internet customers. While the fiber footprint can be traced in most suburbs, they’re only laid following major routes that don’t penetrate the inner locales of suburbs, something that Umeme can solve.

What deters Umeme from employing this approach here is still unknown to us. It cannot easily deploy broadband over power lines (BPL) with its known challenges and attenuations or maybe investing in cable compliant infrastructure is still an obstacle? Or maybe such an arrangement is in the works but isn’t public knowledge?  Or maybe it lacks viable partners with whom to embrace this vision? All these are unknown.

Imagine YouTube and Netflix on steroids

The good thing with FTTH is the provision of triple play services where customers can enjoy telephone services on top of internet and TV. Envision your Umeme cable providing you not only electricity but internet too. This internet you can use to seamlessly download and store massive data, stream content over YouTube, Netflix, ShowMax or other SVOD services without noticeable latency since it employs fiber and yeah, that is the kill.

It would require an initial massive investment for this to happen which can shoot to millions if not billions in early stages of implementation but multiple subscriptions can offset this by driving costs down.

This can also shake the ISP industry which might also see the cost of internet going down in the median to long term. This right here is what Ugandans should be agitating for. The internet shouldn’t predominately be Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter or categorically social media. There is a lot to explore but costs and uptake always limit its scope.

These take the lion’s share when it comes to broadband consumption in Uganda but how about offering content over these last mile pipes to most households many of whom are climbing the social ladder? Don’t you think it will drive up conversions?

Image Credit: Longboat Key News
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