ITG outlines pan-African vision

The African telecommunications market is growing faster than anywhere else. For Barney Harmse, CEO of Namibian and African-based Internet Technologies Group (ITG), it’s been an exhilarating ride – but it takes a special breed of entrepreneur to succeed in this market, he says


The March 2003 launch of Internet Technologies Angola (ITA) was inauspicious. Group CEO Barney Harmse’s start-up had little in the way of meaningful cash behind the project, the accommodation for staff was basic or non-existent, and the transport means were poor.

Despite the glaring drawbacks in its Angolan venture, ITG – which now consists of several operations in various African countries – quickly grew on a raft of technological change and huge consumer demand.
In December 2004 it managed to roll out a national network in Namibia, despite enormous practical difficulties and being a late starter in the country’s already competitive ISP market. It launched officially in March 2005. Today ITG boasts almost 100 employees, and turnover is expected to hit R200m (£17.8m) this financial year – a huge turnaround.

Setting a standard
The long list of achievements continues to grow, though clear landmarks stand out: the first commercially available Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network was implemented in June 2006 in Namibia, a mere year or so after officially launching the company. Another year later, VSAT and Broadband was launched.
Not long after, CEO Barney Harmse oversaw an International Data Gateway License and Voice Trial License. “We have moved from success to success without hesitation, with poise and precision and a relentless focus,” he says. “We are very proud of the entire African project. To do business in Africa takes a special breed of entrepreneur, entrepreneurs that can dig deep in their souls when the going gets really tough, and find the courage to continue with the dreams they have.”

The continent presents unique challenges to companies just starting out, Mr Harmse says. “Things like lacking infrastructure, operating in diverse cultures with many different languages across the African continent makes it extremely difficult to stay focused and motivated. Our ability to overcome these challenges and achieve success in that country, then gives us the strength and confidence to move onto the next country.”

His colleague Miles October, Managing Director of ITA, agrees. “One of the toughest periods of our lives was when we first started out in Angola. When we arrived we were not able to speak the local language. We knew very little about the business/regulatory environment or how to go about organising ourselves in terms of registering a business.”

To make matters worse, Luanda is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in – so the ITG team did not have much time to find its feet. But Messrs Harmse and October spoke to as many people as possible with experience of setting up a company in Angola – and they soon had a good idea of what was required to establish an internet business in the country.

Always responsible
Now there are also social responsibility projects in which ITG aims to provide telecommunications infrastructure in rural establishments way off the beaten track across Africa. Due to the vast geographic distribution of these communities, costs significantly increase for implementations.

“As part of our social responsibility projects we have provided free internet access to a few underprivileged schools in Luanda,” says Mr October. “We regularly sponsor food and clothes to an orphanage close to our office. We have also started a project to sponsor the setup up of an Animal Welfare Society in Angola.”
Meanwhile, the backbone of the company is growing at a tremendous pace. Usefully, the regulatory environment is providing the group with opportunities that were previously closed for other companies.

ITG is well aware that people remain its core assets though, and to keep them motivated the company challenges them with more technological and market change. The more deregulated the market becomes, the more passionate Mr Harmse’s team become to achieve the next level of success. “The steady de-regulation of the telecommunications industry is something that drives the exhilaration inside the company and from a group perspective, its drive into Africa,” says Mr Harmse.

 “We have a drive to implement networks and solutions right across Africa. At the moment ITG owns and operate companies in six African countries… Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Mauritius and Zambia,” he says. “In terms of their satellite business alone they already have customers in eight countries, being Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Central African Republic, DRC, Ghana, and soon South Africa. By 2015 we would prefer to have a presence in even more African countries where we will distinguish ourselves, I strongly believe, from the rest of the local and international market.”