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Angola Cables

Interview - December 18, 2014

António Nunes, CEO of Angola Cables, talked with Worldfolio about the origins  of the SACS project, its potential benefits and his own experience in building telecoms infrastructure in Angola with Unitel.


The SACS project is one of the most anticipated telecom projects in the world. Where did the idea come from and the how did Angola Cables undertake this exciting project?

This project comes directly from a governmental concept, which is to become one of the best (countries) in telecoms in Africa. Our government’s perspective is to invite private companies and enterprises that belong to everyone in the telecom sector in Angola, and together embark on this big adventure, which means a lot to the company itself. We come from a company with a mixed perspective, both with business and public support, like Unitel, which is quite a mixed company. That is where we started. Angola has an old relationship with Brazil. Brazil was the first country in the world to recognize Angola as an independent country. Therefore, our cultural, political and economic relationship with Brazil is very strong from the beginning. Brazil is also in need of these cables, so even if we are both independent countries, we need the same kind of infrastructure. Therefore, we decided to start developing that cable. The SACS project will also help in the development of the cable market in Africa; it will be a completely new road that will change the old telecom market.

Do you think you were the obvious choice to be the leader of Angola Cables because of your past successes at Unitel?

I came to Angola Cable because in 2009 they invited operators and I was part of them. They needed someone to help to manage the WACS (West Africa Cable System) project. Angola Cables was built to support WACS, which was the big project. At that time, the government invested $25 million and was willing to invest more. At that moment, it seemed unusual that the government would spend that kind of money on its own, so that is why they invited all the operators to participate. To make such a big project the government needed private support.

At Unitel, we had been trained to make teams on our own. This project (WACS) compared to Unitel is a completely new and different story, where they have to share definitions, mentalities and perspectives with others. Again, it is a new learning process.

What image did you want to implant when you arrived?  

We need to change the image that people do not do what they are supposed to do, that we do not deliver things in time, this type of image. This doesn’t bring confidence to people. Inside of WACS, we are partners but outside, these companies remain competitors. It is really a new way to behave, even for myself. It was a completely new way to learn. When I was helping to build Unitel, everybody was my competitor, we were trained to do things by ourselves and today I see that everybody is my boss. One of the things that I learned at WACS is that if you have to be able to work with your competitor, because if we join forces we can have much more, so it makes sense to share infrastructure. WACS it is the perfect example of sharing infrastructure. At the end of the day, it is better for everyone, even if we are in competition.

How will this technological improvement (SACS) have an impact on the development of Angola? 

When we developed the telecom business, we saw an improvement of the country. We are bringing value to the country, we were able to enable people to communicate. Now, with this new cable, we understand that it is bigger than Angola itself; we will bring value to the continent because we are enabling people to communicate and the whole country will be part of that.

For example, when we build this cable it will be the shortest way on earth to link Sao Paulo stock market with Singapore stock market. We can go from Sao Paulo to the USA, from the USA to London and then to Singapore. However, if you measure it, it will be much longer. That will be the shortest path between South America and Asia. Once again, Europe will be connecting with South America without having to go through the US.

In terms of the industry, it will be a completely new way to look at networks in the world. If we look at the configuration of the networks today, it is a redundant path. When we have this connection we will have a complete ring of connections. We will have South America, North America, Europe, and Africa closed on a ring, which means that the communication flow will be completely new. AT&T saw our project and told us to go ahead and do it because they will be using for sure.

How do you see Africa’s potential with regard to telecoms? Where do you see future opportunities?

We have a huge potential, but there are bridges missing. To people that are not used to building bridges, it is a massive challenge; to us, it is just the way we do it. We are used to crossing a river and building bridges to cross that river. We learned that in our past. When we look at that what we are doing now, it is not much different from what we were doing before. Dealing with operator in Africa it is not an easy task, you need to make a name for yourself. From the outside, it is very complicated to work like that. I see people trying to make concessions in Africa complaining that it is not easy because we have a massive mix of private and state operation.

To the outside world, it is a very complicated thing and therefore, they think Africa it is a country not a continent. What we are trying to do now, since we know both sides, is to build bridges. We are trying to make this connectivity to allow business development to grow. The potential is there. Just in the oil sector, this cable will be used a lot. We have many companies exploring oil in Angola, and in the region,;they are Brazilians, Americans, and Europeans and just from them, we have a potential use to the cable. The connectivity is so long and the cost is so high that it is slowing down the process. When we decrease the length, we can operate a drilling machine in Brazil from here, because the connectivity is very short.

We are a growing country that needs to learn a lot and linking that information would be a great deal for us, and another great use for the cable. Therefore, just for us, there is a great potential to use the cable and if we take to other African countries, it will be massive.