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Funds, asset managers should invest in digital infrastructure – Tizeti CEO

Kendall Ananyi is the founder, and chief executive officer at West African ISP, Tizeti. In this interview with Bunmi Bailey, he speaks on the increasing interest in Africa’s broadband connectivity, especially with the floating of the Google Equiano submarine cable, MainOne’s acquisition by Equinix, and shares insight on how Nigerian asset managers can emulate the peers in countries like South Korea and Netherland who are investing in digital infrastructure.

Excerpts:

Equinix recently completed its acquisition of MainOne, Google is landing its Equiano international cable this month and we see other similar projects. What is driving this strong interest that is manifesting in the investments, opportunities, and trends we are seeing?

Yes, the interest has been huge. Last month, we welcomed the first landing of Google’s international cable, Equiano to Togo, and heard that it will land in Nigeria this month. This is Google’s third private and 14th co-invested submarine and indicates the company’s interest in boosting internet penetration in Africa.

And there are many positive outcomes from projects like this. Equiano is expected to drop wholesale broadband prices significantly, which means operators can buy more capacity to pass on to their customers, drive new investments into the countries that it lands and improve internet outcomes for millions of people.

But that’s not the only thing that’s happening around the digital infrastructure space. If you look at the fixed broadband space, which is where I play, we just announced a partnership with Microsoft to go into Oyo State.

This partnership will see us deploy our low-cost wireless technologies to make it easier and cheaper for people, especially those in underserved communities, to access the internet and get connected to the digital economy.

Africans who still do not have access to the internet and its development outcomes is around 540 million. How can we bridge the digital gap? Where are the opportunities to leap forward?

You are correct, a lot has been done but the gaps are still huge, and a lot still needs to be done. In Nigeria, in 2020, the NCC put out the national broadband plan which is trying to achieve download speeds of 25mbps in urban areas and 10 Mbps in rural areas and crash unlimited broadband prices to below one percent of minimum wage.

The broadband plan is targeting N390 per Gbps. Our down-market product, Wifi.com.ng is already ahead of that as we are charging about N500 for 1.5 GB. Other telecommunications companies have also reduced prices, over time, and improved internet affordability. Data truly is life, and we have seen the quick embrace of digital by many Nigerians.

COVID-19 has also accelerated some of these opportunities. Due to the pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued, many businesses had to swiftly adapt to remote working and online meetings.

As economic processes adopted digital channels, social processes also had to. This skyrocketed the numbers of those that had internet in their homes, particularly in states like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt.

This digital transformation has played a major role across sectors such as health, agriculture, education, and trade, and allows individuals, businesses, and governments’ access to extraordinary socioeconomic opportunities.

However, there is still a lot to do as many states in Nigeria do not have effective broadband access and one of the challenges is access to capital. Without capital, broadband operators are unable to build new projects, especially in places that need them. There is an opportunity for pension funds and asset managers to invest in digital infrastructure.

On the policy side, when you want to improve broadband penetration on things like building base stations, site acquisitions, and getting permits for that, there are opportunities for that to improve. We must give a lot of credit to the NCC for being extremely progressive in accelerating the pace of telecoms industry advancement in Nigeria.

For instance, one thing the NCC has also done is access to spectrum – we saw the 5G auction completion last year with MTN and Mafab Communications. This is a very exciting opportunity because with 5G there will be a lot of equipment shipped into the country, improved site locations because the coverage area of 5G is a lot less, more space for tower installations, and more revenue generated for local communities.

Read also: Pan African Towers receives Africa’s best telecommunication

What are the similarities between both countries – Nigeria and Ghana? You talked about the issues of state-to-state fibre connectivity, and Right of Way. How similar are those challenges between Nigeria and Ghana?

I would say they are at par because when you look broadly, things even out. For instance, there is more stable power in Ghana which reduces expenses in that area versus Nigeria where we have to use solar power to man the towers to minimize the high costs of diesel to power generators. But in terms of permits, things have improved significantly.

Yes, the cost still exists, although this is a little cheaper in Ghana due to the presence of fibre infrastructure to latch onto versus Nigeria where the major fibre builds are in a few states such as Lagos, Edo, and Ogun with some growing activity in Port Harcourt. We need the kind of infrastructure and policies that enable that, beyond Right of Way, to be able to deploy the fibre and work with communities to have more expansive fibre across Nigeria.

What will the partnership with Microsoft in Oyo State achieve?

We announced our launch into the state earlier this year and started installations this month. Our collaboration with Microsoft on its Airband project will complement Tizeti’s existing initiative in Oyo and lay a foundation for a robust and thriving digital ecosystem for the large population of vibrant, young people.

The state has one of the highest numbers of higher institutions in Nigeria, and an eGovernment-focused leadership that is leading in digital technology infrastructure development and digital technology human capital development.

We believe that our low-cost broadband service will complement the government’s efforts in driving eGovernment implementation, digital access, and investment promotion, empower more Nigerians in the state and stimulate economic activities.

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