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Mainone: 10 years of enabling a digital economy

Mainone has forged ahead gallantly, achieving many milestones and gaining recognition all the way. Mainone is indeed just ready to launch. The cable is in place, we are doing final testing and we will be in service next month.” These words were spoken on a rainy Friday afternoon on 18, June 2010 in Lagos. Ms. Funke Opeke, CEO of Mainone Cable Company Limited was the speaker and she was being interviewed via satellite by CNBC’S Lerato Mbele who was all the way in South Africa.

Exactly 10 years later, a lot has changed. Ms. Mbele has long left CNBC for the BBC. Mainone formally launched operations in July 2010 as promised. And over the next 10 years would grow to become a dynamic and extensive network with footprints across West Africa. Indeed, the company’s operations now span ten countries in the sub-region, including Nigeria and Ghana.

Mainone currently provides services to MTN, Airtel, Etisalat and several ISPS in Nigeria. It does the same in Ghana, where it serves all the large operators. History will reckon Mainone as the company that started the data revolution in West Africa.

But when Ms. Opeke first conceived the idea of building a company that would meet the connectivity needs of not only Nigeria but other countries on the West African coast, not many potential financiers saw the idea as viable.

“Raising money is the most difficult thing I ever did as an entrepreneur,” she said at Techpoint Inspired, a gathering of tech sector investors and nerds in 2017. “At the beginning, we raised just $3.2million from friends, family and mentors,” she told the gathering.

Eventually, the company raised $240 million, and built a 7,000km submarine cable system with landing stations in Nigeria, Ghana and Portugal. Even now, several more possibilities still exist with branching out units along the coast of West Africa in Morocco, Canary Islands and Ivory Coast as options to cater to the expected surge in demand in the future.

All out to West Africa

Perhaps because Nigeria is Ms. Opeke’s home country, Mainone is headquartered here and offers Connectivity Services, Enterprise Voice Services, Some Managed Services, Data Centre Services and SME related Services to thousands of customers in the country.

In 2011, the company secured ISP and Metro Fiber Licenses in Nigeria. It began deployment of its ASN 37282 IP/NGN network immediately. It went on to commence Metro Fibre building in Lagos and Accra in 2012 and launched its landmark Colocation Services the same year through its subsidiary, MDXI.

Each year, as time progressed Mainone added to its portfolio of services and expanded its reach across the region. In 2015, Mainone launched MDXI, Lekki Data Centre and Iaas Cloud Services, while pushing its Submarine Cable extension to Cameroun. In order to meet the IT needs of small businesses, Mainone launched Sme-in-a-box in 2016 and further expanded its line of services to include more Cloud Services.

The year 2019 saw further expansion as Mainone subsea cable landed in Grand-bassam, Abidjan and Dakar, Senegal in collaboration with Sonatel.

Over the last decade, the company has forged strategic partnerships with global IT majors in order to deliver premium services. Key among these are Facebook, which signed on open-access fiber network in Nigeria with Mainone, and French based Avanti Communications Group, which signed a satellite connectivity-based agreement with Mainone. Interestingly, MDXI attained Microsoft Gold Data Centre competency, SAP recertification in 2018.

At present, Mainone is able to also interconnect with SEACOM and other international cables from Seixal in Portugal via Tata Communications’ European and Transatlantic networks and interconnection in Telehouse, London.

“The GDP per capita in most advanced markets is at least 10 times what we have in Nigeria, and you’re looking to deliver on the same technology infrastructure,” Ms. Opeke explained in a BBC interview in early 2020, drawing attention to the low broadband uptake in Nigeria and other West African countries.

Mainone submarine cable currently delivers high speed bandwidth of 1.92 Tbps and has been proven to provide capacity of at least 4.96 Tbps. But much of the company’s capacity is yet to be taken up. There is however, appreciable economic impact in areas where Mainone has fully deployed its connectivity infrastructure.

The impact and future impact Connectivity and cloud services provided by Mainone have been a catalyst for economic growth in West Africa. Nowhere is this exemplified better than in Yaba, a university town in the middle of Lagos.

In August 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria and Yaba was a big part of his visit. Zuckerberg stopped at CCHUB and the offices of Andela, a company he has invested in. Mainone is a major enabler of the tech companies clustered in Yaba, which is today referred to as Yabacon Valley (Nigeria’s Silicon Valley). By providing broadband to the community, Mainone not only enabled the cluster but also ensured its connec tivity to the rest of the world.

From less than 10 startups in 2013, the number of startups in Yaba grew to 60 by mid-2019. Businesses, including Hotels.ng, Konga, Paga, Prepclass, Ogadriva, Iroko, Budgit among others, all operate from Yaba. The effect is that several jobs have been created and property quality and prices have risen to accommodate the growing workforce.

Yabacon, as Yaba is currently called by those who understand the trend, was formed to “demonstrate the power of people being connected and the socioeconomic impact that would have,” Kazeem Oladepo, Mainone’s regional executive for West Africa, told Bloomberg in an interview last year.

Indeed, in the locations and countries where it operates, Mainone has been enabling a digital economy, creating jobs, making life easier and more meaningful and connecting West Africa to the rest of the world through highspeed Internet connectivity and colocations.

The next 10 years

But Mainone’s work has not been a stroll in the park. One of the many challenges that Mainone encountered was governance and how economic growth in various African nations impacted the speed at which infrastructure could be built, despite the fact that overseas investment was pouring into the continent at the time. Mainone has forged ahead gallantly, achieving many milestones and gaining recognitions all the way.

Both for Ms. Opeke and the company, accolades have continued to pour in. In the last decade, Mainone and its subsidiary have won an average of three awards yearly. The company has received over 30 awards from local and international organisations, within and outside the IT industry. These awards include the NTITA Internet Service Provider of the Year (Enterprise) Award; Datacloud Africa Award for Excellence in Data Centre (Africa); Africa Cloud Service Provider of the Year; NTITA Telecoms Wholesale Provider of the Year; BOICT Award for Best Tier III Data Centre in Nigeria, among others.

No one can tell exactly how the next 10 years will pan out, but one thing seems sure. The company continues to innovate and partner with the best of IT companies to give its teeming customers world-class services in Africa. At 10, Mainone has exemplified the resilience of the African spirit against all odds. The company inspires us to look to the future with optimism in the continent’s ability to play a significant role in the digital economy.

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