Fire that gutted a Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) microwave site in Area 3, Lilongwe on Tuesday evening has paralysed broadcasters, putting them off air on some platforms in some parts of the country.
Mobile phone network operators have not been spared the impact either although by last evening they started recovering from the fire.
Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) director general Godfrey Itaye told journalists in Lilongwe after touring the site last evening that the fire had greatly affected telecommunication services in the country, mainly television broadcasts, Internet and voice calls.
He said: “You might be wondering why this site is important to telecommunication services in Malawi. MTL microwave site is one of the crucial telecoms hubs in the country.
“By this I mean that it is the central meeting point of most telecoms links from different parts of Malawi. Thus, Central, North and South as well as major international broadband links.”
Itaye said most telecommunications operators in the country co-sited at the site with wholesale providers, including Malawi Digital Broadcasting Network Limited (MDBNL) of Kiliye-kiliye fame and Open Connect Limited (OCL) which serves the various telecommunications companies and broadcasters housed there.
MDBNL is the sole public signal distributor of television broadcasting services in Malawi and currently carries 16 TV stations on its Kiliye-kiliye decoders. By last evening, all the television channels but taxpayer-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) were off air on several platforms, except satellite television.
Private television channels Zodiak Broadcasting Station and Times Television were also accessible on digital satellite television (DStv), among other platforms.
Itaye said: “As we speak, all the 16 TV stations [on Kiliye-kiliye] are down, representing a 100 percent service outage.”
He said in terms of recovery, MDBNL is currently setting up a makeshift site in Blantyre to be up and running in five days. He said the development will facilitate 75 percent recovery of services.
MTL chief commercial officer Gladson Kuyeri, whose company owns the centre, said investigations were underway to establish the cause of the fire; hence, would avoid speculating on the cause until an expert investigation.
He said: “As landlord, we have a crisis management and business recovery in place. As soon as we stopped the fire at 9.30pm, we assembled a team to recover the sites. We should be able to resuscitate links which have been affected by tomorrow.”
Both Macra and MTL officials could not immediately provide the cost of the fire or a timeline as to when a full report on the cause of the fire could be released.
The officials did also not provide the institutions which are currently undertaking the fire investigation.
Kuyeri said MTL will work with its insurer to ensure an assessment of the damage is done. OCL is a network facility operator that provides wholesale fiber services to other telecom operators, including MTL, TNM plc, Airtel Malawi and five Internet service providers, including Skyband, Globe Internet and Computer Automation.