20 March 2019

Nigeria: 'States Should Support Fibre Expansion'

interview

In this interview, MainOne's Chief Executive Officer, Funke Opeke, sheds light on the company's recent partnership with Facebook and its efforts to improve broadband outcomes for Nigerians starting with Edo and Ogun states. Excerpts:

Can you shed light on Mainone's recent partnership with Facebook?

Yes: we established a partnership with Facebook in 2018, to build and operate metro fibre infrastructure in Edo and Ogun states, two states with fast growing economies in Nigeria. MainOne has built approximately 750 kilometers of fibre network in major metropolitan areas in the states, including Benin City, Abeokuta, Sagamu, and some smaller cities with co-investment by Facebook. These metro fibre networks will provide connectivity for MainOne Enterprise customers, as well as Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and government and public locations including State Secretariats, MDAs, schools and hospitals. We believe this project has the potential to improve Quality of Service to over 2.5 million Internet users in these states, and greatly improve broadband access with corollary benefits of improved economic opportunities via employment generation, increased productivity and access to knowledge resources.

Why is Facebook investing in fibre projects in Nigeria?

Facebook is a company that has stated its mission as connecting people around the world via the Internet. The company realises that almost three billion people in the world do not have access to the Internet and it has committed to making the Internet more affordable and accessible where it can.

Under its Connectivity division (Facebook Connectivity), Facebook announced an array of projects and partnerships at the recently concluded, Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, for bringing more people online, ranging from new devices and fibre networks to software. Some of these new projects include new open-access networks in Peru with Telefonica, IDB Invest, and the Development Bank of Latin America); and the 750km open-access fibre infrastructure in Nigeria (with MainOne). Also, the launch of Magma, an open-source platform that makes mobile network deployments easier for carriers (with Telefonica and BRCK), and extension of its Express Wi-Fi service (with Cell C, Vodafone and Globe) in South Africa, Ghana, and the Philippines.

The overarching focus for Facebook is improving Internet connectivity, and empowering partner operators such as MainOne with the tools to build networks to connect more people. Our partnership with Facebook has invested in building new infrastructure in states like Ogun and Edo, which is open-access, and can be used by all operators. You may recall that the major challenge impeding broadband proliferation in Nigeria is the limited access to distribution infrastructure to get the abundant Internet capacity available in submarine cables on the Nigerian shoreline in Lagos to the hinterland.

With our fibre deployment in Ogun and Edo, MainOne now has infrastructure to provide services in those areas; infrastructure that is also open to MNOs, ISPs, government establishments and major corporations to enhance their connectivity options. Operators such as the MNOs and ISPs can take advantage of the open-access infrastructure we have provided thus enabling them to deliver true 4G services and in the future even 5G. The benefits this provides are legion: broadband service made available to more young people and the ability to replicate the successes we have enabled in Yaba with the Innovation Technology ecosystem in Ogun and Edo states.

We have about 36 states in Nigeria, why the choice of Ogun and Edo?

MainOne has been an advocate of the National Broadband Plan since its creation. As a service provider delivering services in all states of the Federation, we know how difficult and expensive that is today and how in most parts of the country, the service quality is poor and inconsistent. Our work brings our team in contact with the leadership in many of the states.

These particular states have leadership promoting the development of technology ecosystems and job creation in their states. When we had the opportunity to engage and shared with them our capabilities and accomplishments on previous projects in places such as the deployment of fibre infrastructure for Silicon Yaba with CCHub, the deployment of Express Wi-Fi with Tizeti in Lagos, as well as our aspirations for pervasive broadband everywhere in Nigeria, they welcomed us to build infrastructure in their states.

The Edo State Government has prioritised technology as one of the cardinal pillars of the ongoing reform agenda in Edo State, introducing Information Communication Technology (ICT)-compliant pedagogy in primary schools; building the Edo Innovation Hub, where school leavers and graduates undergo beginner and advanced training in technology, as well as revamping technical education to increase productivity.

Ogun State has emerged one of the states with fastest growing IGR in Nigeria due to the enabling environment created by the government for business, validated by 75% of National FDI attracted in 2018 (according to the Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria). Ogun also has a vibrant young population and a high number of higher institutions in the State, the foundation for a robust and thriving ecosystem to enable digital leadership.

The duo of Governors Godwin Obaseki and Ibikunle Amosun have identified ICT as critical themes for the transformation of their states and have been supportive of our fibre expansions. Governor Obaseki is truly focused on investment promotion and is committed to building a robust technology ecosystem in Edo State and Governor Amosun has implemented industrial and infrastructural policies that have attracted investors and private capital to Ogun State.Our investment in infrastructure will further improve digital literacy, technology adaptation and productivity across these states and enable their continued emergence as economic powerhouses in Nigeria.

What are the longer term implications of these projects for Nigeria?

These projects bridge existing gaps in telecoms infrastructure deployment in Ogun and Edo States and could ultimately impact up to five million people. As a pilot project, it demonstrates what can be done when we have the cooperation of the local authorities. The projects succeeded based on the cooperation we received in these states from Government and citizens who enabled access to the areas where we needed to deploy infrastructure. With such cooperation, we have been able to deploy these networks in record time in coordination with other public infrastructure works - roads existing and planned, other utilities, private property etc. If we are able to replicate projects like this across Nigeria, our broadband limitations will be a thing of the past.

After Edo, Ogun; what next?

Broadband hurdles in Nigeria still seem to largely come from the government; either by way of prohibitive Right-of-Way (ROW) charges by local and state governments for the laying of optic fibre networks and building out of base stations; or multiple regulations and regulators (with attendant taxes and levies) with oversight impact on the technology ecosystem. We can talk about successful deployment in Ogun and Edo states today only because of the cooperation we received from those governments i.e. Governors' Obaseki and Amosun and their teams. This shows how readily operators can bring the benefits of digital transformation to states that are true enablers.

For example, a consortium led by MainOne called InfraCo Nigeria Limited, won the license issued by the NCC for the Lagos Fibre Infrastructure deployment in 2015. We are optimistic that given the successes in other states on a smaller scale, the state government will grant the necessary permits to allow us continue the work we have done building infrastructure in Yaba and other parts of Lagos.

Our vision as an indigenous company is focused on improved broadband access across Nigeria which will increase the utilization of our submarine cable system and bring the benefits of digital transformation to our youthful and largely unemployed population. We have repeatedly shown our ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to achieve that.

MainOne is not alone in this quest within the country and we will continue to work with different operators and partners to ensure that this vision is achieved. There is no silver bullet solution that works; but we believe that diverse and wide efforts such as the one recently undertaken by MainOne and Facebook to invest in critical infrastructure will result in good outcomes for Nigeria.

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