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‘We are opening new possibilities for Nigerians, businesses with broadband’

Global telecoms expert, Alan Sinfield took over as the CEO of Nigeria’s most innovative and customercentric telecommunication company, 9mobile six months ago at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this interview, he speaks on his time at the helm, the company’s strengths, strategies for further growth, contributions to the Nigerian economy and sundry industry issues. Excerpts:

You have been at the helm of 9mobile for six months. What has been your biggest task or challenges since you came to office?

It has been an interesting and very satisfying first six months; the Nigerian market is exciting, it is incredibly dynamic, and of course, challenging too. My focus since joining has been re-aligning priorities and developing new plans and strategies to transform the business whilst in parallel, strengthen and grow our subscriber base. Bringing our team together to achieve that whilst contending with issues such as COVID and new regulatory controls was a challenge but one we achieved. We are now well-positioned to capitalize on these new plans to move the business forward and deliver real value to all stakeholders.

9mobile made some gains with a few thousand subscribers, but you are still way behind from the competition. What is 9mobile doing to get back to winning ways, to be competitive once more?

It’s more than a few thousand. We’ve grown from 11 million to 13 million subscribers in the last few months, and that trend will continue once the block on SIM sales is removed. As mentioned earlier, we have new strategies and innovative plans, and we will compete far more aggressively in the Nigerian market.

One example is the recent ‘Megamillions promo’ designed to reward our customers and give back to them for what had been a very challenging COVID period for many. We did this by rewarding 90 lucky customers with N1 million daily and a grand prize to one customer of N10 million at the grand finale. We also gave out two smartphones every hour for 90 days, which was well-received by our loyal customers.

We will be rolling out a lot of that in 2021, as we have every intention of competing and getting back to the top of the industry.

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We have seen telcos deploy 4G LTE, and there is talk of 5G rollout. What is the future for further broadband deployment in Nigeria? What are the challenges and opportunities?

The future for mobile and fixed broadband in Nigeria is very promising. We have seen a great deal of progress for articulating the framework that will help drive the growth of broadband given the benefits its penetration can create for economic growth; improving productivity, accelerating innovation, and providing opportunities for new possibilities in people’s everyday lives. It is something 9mobile is at the fore of, and we will be delivering more access to existing and new customers we intend to supply. It could be through wireless broadband–mobile and fixed over 4G and eventually 5G which is coming or, through traditional fixed infrastructure (fibre to the premise) broadband deployments.

That said, there are numerous challenges to expanding broadband deployments in Nigeria not the least of which is the sheer size of the country. There’s also the cost we incur to deploy infrastructure, which is incredibly high because of the geography and FOREX devaluation issues. It is also crucial to ensure aligned regulatory and taxation regimes across Federal, State and Local Governments. The problems of poor management of new construction projects, especially on the roads, which causes constant outages through fibre cuts. These cuts impact customer services which the customer, unfortunately, sees as problems with us– operators rather than the authorities not overseeing these projects to the highest standards. One further challenge that needs addressing, and frankly, not a simple one to resolve, is the poor power infrastructure. The lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity makes the acceleration in the broadband journey quite challenging.

You have visited the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy; what are your key learnings from these visits?

What I have seen from my interactions with these critical stakeholders is the commitment to the growth of the country’s telecoms and technology sectors. There is a clear desire to create a level playing field for all the players and ambitious initiatives that will bolster the industry, such as the National Broadband Plan and the National Digital Economic Policy (NDEP). It has also been interesting to discover the scale of regulatory oversight and governance of the market and the awareness of how much Operators can contribute to the nation’s development.

I commend the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Executive Vice Chairman/ceo of NCC, Umar Danbatta, on the New National Broadband Plan 2020-2025, which targets 70 per cent broadband penetration. We have assured the Minister and the EVC that 9mobile will continue to support Nigeria’s economic transformation through the digital economy policy and strategy.

Congratulations on the launch of 9mobile’s payment service bank – 9PSB. How does this contribute to the overall government strategy of financial inclusion? Also, what are the most significant growth opportunities in digital financial inclusion?

Access to basic financial services is critical in reducing poverty and promoting economic development. With Nigeria having an unbanked population of about 60 million eligible persons, it is in line with the Government and Central Bank’s financial inclusion strategy that the Payment Service Bank (PSB) licenses were issued. We are pleased to have received one. There is a massive potential for growth in the fintech market, and telecom operators hold the key to deepening financial inclusion amongst the unbanked population. Our entry into the financial services sector with 9PSB is critical because we see the transformative power in financially including and enabling millions of people. With access to banking services and then onward to digital services, we can further drive development.

Digital and data services have taken centre stage. How is 9mobile positioned to contend in that space strongly?

One of the things that attracted people to our brand was the quality of our data. As broadband penetration has grown in Nigeria, the demand for data services has equally grown. To position ourselves, we have extended our 4G broadband coverage to include more major cities in the last year, and we have very ambitious rollout plans to cover every single territory. While we recognize that digital services in this market are still somewhat emerging, we are positioning ourselves to manage the transition to broadband data services. One of the ways we are doing this is a partnership with Supertv, a new streaming videoon-demand app that supports live TV programming and on-demand video series and movie catalogue. Unlike other providers and solutions in this space, Supertv users can stream content without an active subscription. What this means is that 9mobile’s data subscribers can watch content without additional data cost. We plan to enhance further not only our IPTV solutions for the market but many other digital solutions too that will provide even more value for our customers.

The NCC has selected 9mobile and MTN for national roaming trials till January 2021, how would this benefit Nigerians in general and the industry in particular?

It is a pilot project, but I think that it is a win for the customer as much as it is for the Operators. It enables a subscriber to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services when travelling outside a particular network’s geographical area by using the network coverage of other Operators. The primary benefit when this is fully operational is that it will allow network resources to be shared among operators; thus, expanding mobile network coverage to unserved and underserved communities across the country. Such initiatives are core to our strategic outlook. Nigeria is a vast country, and we can achieve far more if Operators share resources. Active network sharing is a crucial enabler for growth, and many of us are already doing this in the area of infrastructures like tower sharing and fibre swaps.

Looking into 2021, what is 9mobile’s outlook and top priorities for the year and beyond? What can your subscribers look forward to this new year?

I want to assure all of our customers that we will continue to make more positive contributions to the telecommunications sector to deliver better value to them and the many more customers we intend to attract to join our network

I want to assure all of our customers that we will continue to make more positive contributions to the telecommunications sector to deliver better value to them and the many more customers we intend to attract to join our network. We will remain true to our core commitments and build on these further throughout 2021 and beyond. Quality of Service, Innovation, and superior customer experience will be what differentiates us. We are investing in new infrastructure, major network upgrades, new and enhanced products and services and much more to deliver on these commitments to our customers. In that regard, I am confident that 2021 will be very positive!

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