Dartcom targets growth, and brings SMEs along

Brett Nash, Dartcom

Dartcom has seen extraordinary growth as it builds out fibre and power solutions.

By beneficiating core products within carefully curated ecosystems, fibre and power company Dartcom has grown its fibre-related revenues tenfold in the past two years, with no slowdown in sight.

With its roots as a network components distributor, the black-owned company is now growing into a provider for communications and energy solutions in South Africa, with a network of hundreds of international and local partners, two new subsidiaries, two factories and three warehouses in SA and a presence in Tanzania.

Dartcom CEO Brett Nash says the company’s rapid growth comes as a result of its focus on added value and strategic partnerships in the key growth areas of fibre and power. “We do stick to our knitting, focusing on communications networks and power, which are inherently closely linked. But within that, we are continually growing our products and services portfolios and expanding our ecosystems to build added solutions on top of our core products.”

SME ecosystem

He says Dartcom Fibre Solutions manufactures fibre-optic cables and components, while Dartcom SA subsidiary Gbitel designs, builds and commissions fibre, tower and infrastructure projects. Dartcom SA also provides the distribution and is expanding its power solutions focus with the opening of a new lithium-ion battery assembly plant this year, and a new partnership with international solar giant Longi, to complement Dartcom’s new renewable energy division Oragen.

He adds that the fibre business grew revenues tenfold last year by adding products and services to it. “Where we see requirements, we find partners to work with us to address them,” he says. “For example, we are particularly proud of the way we’ve helped build efficient ecosystems of SMEs to work with us on network rollouts across South Africa.”

Dartcom’s beneficiation approach extends beyond its products and services, to its 700-strong network of customers and partners. Nash highlights Gbitel’s work deploying fibre networks in the City of Tshwane using in-road trenching. “Tshwane elected to have in-road trenching as the approved methodology for deployment of fibre in its lower LSM areas, which is logistically challenging, and local contractors were appointed to carry out this work, even though many of them had never worked with this deployment methodology before,” he says.

“Gbitel appoints master contractors from the area, then they employ subcontractors and we provide equipment, materials and training. So we don’t just deploy fibre, we also train and deploy multiple SMEs to build civil infrastructure and commission infrastructure. We install, blow and light the fibre network, and all that engineering is also done by local SMEs. Entire ecosystems are developing in lower LSM areas where they didn’t exist before.”

He says that some years ago, Dartcom realised that the smaller companies that purchased the company’s technology to deploy networks for large fibre network operators (FNOs) tended to face working capital challenges. “When we recognised the pattern, we turned the model on its head. We started approaching FNOs directly, taking on the projects, creating a fibre marketplace and basically employing the SMEs on those projects. Now we provide stock to them and pay them monthly or even sometimes biweekly for the work done, so their cash flow is improved and they are more insulated. They are still just as busy and profitable, but without the overheads. The benefit for the FNO is they are now working with a Tier 1 partner who is taking on end-to-end responsibility in a very complex ecosystem. With this model, we are currently employing over 40 SMEs on projects.”

He says the same methodology and thinking went into creating its energy marketplace, Oragen Energy.

Finding the right partner

“Initially, we were selling and deploying batteries for mobile network operators (MNOs) and other communications infrastructure. Then we observed the challenge our customers were having with battery theft, so our next step was developing and deploying an effective, lowcost security solution. Then there was their need to simplify the management of the batteries, so we are working with them on a battery management software solution.” This led to Oragen’s renewable power play, to meet growing local demand for improved energy security at a lower cost.

To keep expanding its solutions, Dartcom focuses on developing the right partner networks. “We always partner with bestof- breed suppliers and have ingenious local solutions partners,” he says. “These innovative local companies have worked with us to develop a range of solutions, such as battery management systems, pole infrastructure solutions with solar and battery backup in cost-effective and secure housings, and a chemical vault to secure MNO tower batteries.”

The Dartcom tower battery security solution includes multiple physical and software-based security measures that include encasing the battery in what it calls an ‘impervious chemicalbased framework’ and using software to geosecure the battery to the site. “We developed this solution over a number of years, and now it’s finding application across most of our MNO and FNO clients. Anecdotally, our customers report that their battery theft has dropped by 80% as a result,” says Nash. “It was unsustainable for them to be losing tens of millions of rands to battery theft annually, and we are proud to be part of the solution.”

Finding solutions to customer challenges has been a key theme throughout Dartcom’s growth in recent years. Says Nash: “It’s an evolutionary story – Dartcom started as a components supplier company for fibre networks, but over 22 years, it has become known for its entrepreneurship and innovation in bringing quality telecoms and power solutions to market to address local needs. We work with customers to make their environments more resilient and produce more cost-effective solutions that fit customer requirements. For us, it’s about taking basic products and adding value to them to make them more relevant and effective for the customer, while also developing local skills and small businesses.”
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