Liquid Intelligent Technologies – Building the Digital Economy

We learn how Liquid Intelligent Technologies is laying the groundwork for Africa’s digital economy.

Liquid Intelligent Technologies is a UK based company working exclusively in Africa across 15 countries. The company has 100,000 kilometres of fibre either built or under management, including the whole range from overline fibre optics to subsea cable systems.

Through a sister company, Liquid Intelligent Technologies also runs six large data centres across South Africa, Rwanda, and Kenya, as well as one under construction in Nigeria. Large corporate customers use those data centres for services such as cloud computing, virtual servers, and other digital services.

These two offerings combine to allow Liquid Intelligent Technologies to offer the full range of digital infrastructure.

“Using our fibre networks we link our data centres together, but our core offering is wholesale internet to large telecom operating companies,” says Michel Hebert, CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies in DRC. “When Vodacom wants to offer internet for mobile phones, our network is the one that provides the internet to Vodacom. Orange is another customer, as is MT. Most mobile network operators in Africa are our customers.”

The company also offers fibre as a retail service. In six of its markets, Liquid Intelligent Technologies offers fibre directly to homes and businesses, providing an end-to-end internet experience.

Connecting the DRC

One of Liquid Intelligent Technologies’ most recent ventures has been an ambitious fibre-laying project across the Democratic Republic of Congo. To achieve this, the company has allied with Facebook.

“The deal is that we build and own the fibre and Facebook provides the seed capital,” Hebert tells us. “It will be a 1,300-kilometre project, a fibre highway from the south of the country to the northeast through Kananga and Goma, passing four major cities on the way. We will be providing each of these cities with metro fibre that allows us to connect mobile operators and fibre to the home.”

The DRC is a developing country and this project brings a number of environmental challenges with it.

“The environment itself can be a challenge,” Herbert admits. “We’re going through jungles where there’s very little road or infrastructure. Sometimes we have to build roads or bridges to cross the fibre.”

Sometimes these challenges can be even more dramatic.

“Recently in Goma, there was an active volcano!” Hebert recalls. “Lava was going down the city of Goma, so we had to stop work and get our people out.”

There are also infrastructural issues. All that fibre needs power, and Liquid Intelligent Technologies cannot rely on the national grid.

“We have to add additional systems ourselves to make sure we can power up this fibre,” Hebert explains. “We have to put these systems down and maintain them, cleaning the solar panels and repairing any issues. Finding the power we need and managing the maintenance is the most difficult part of this project.”

A Digital Future

Fortunately, Liquid Intelligent Technologies has access to the tools and human resources necessary to overcome these challenges.

“We have teams of people at key cities along the route with four-wheel drives and the tools we need,” Hebert says. “It takes longer to do maintenance here than it normally would in a more developed location. A typical problem with the fibre in a developed country takes one or two hours to fix, but in DRC it can take one or two days.”

This is why Liquid Intelligen Technologies’ deployment strategy involves significant amounts of redundancy.

“That’s why we build different routes, so there’s always back up,” Hebert says. “You can’t have a single point of fibre when Vodacom, for instance, is depending on you. We build redundancy and alternative routing into all our solutions.”

Sourcing the people who can do that, both internationally and locally, is a key part of any project as big as this. Fortunately, Liquid Intelligent Technologies has both a well-qualified in-house team and is experienced at recruiting new talent.

“Liquid is a company that’s been building for around 15 years, so within the company, we have some very qualified people,” Hebert tells us. “When we start a project we arrive with a small team of experts, then hire the best technical graduates we can. We find good qualified, educated people, and then we train them in our areas of expertise.”

At the moment Liquid Intelligent Technologies has only had a small team of ex-pats in the DRC, overseeing 500 Congolese that have been trained to carry out the work.

“We also have people from the DRC helping to solve local challenges,” Hebert points out. “Our local operating centres are linked to our global operating centres to provide assistance, fix problems, and monitor everything with us.”

While it has achieved a great deal already, Hebert is clear that Liquid Intelligent Technologies’ work in the DRC is still only just beginning.

“In the future, we will have thousands of kilometres more fibre in the DRC. We will be building data centres here as well that will be networked to our other Africa data centres. We’re creating one big cloud infrastructure,” he explains. “We’re building these services even today.”

This is part of a broader vision, not just for the DRC, but for Africa as a whole.

“Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, is transforming into a digital economy,” Hebert notes. “More things are being done online, we are seeing increases in mobile payments, financial services, and the online marketplace. Liquid Intelligence Technology is leading the way in building the infrastructure for these services, with high-level software running these services on our data centres. We are providing the essential infrastructure and power behind a digital economy. We provide services to private banks, build cloud infrastructure, run applications so they can run them for their own customers, and this is all wrapped up in cybersecurity, protecting all of our customers’ private information. Liquid’s job is to provide all the tools and infrastructure for governments and private institutions to build the digital economy, as well as access to individual consumers to that infrastructure.”

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