MainOne aims to raise Africa’s digital profile with over $300 million investments in broadband infrastructure
Kazeem Oladepo is MainOne’s regional executive, responsible for West Africa, including Ghana and the Francophone countries. In this interview with Jumoke Lawanson, he speaks on the company’s recent partnership with Orange, the French multinational telecoms company, its plans for joint investments in cable landing stations in Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal, and Mainone’s efforts towards expanding the international bandwidth market in Francophone Africa. Excerpts.
Why did MainOne choose Orange as partners in its drive to boost internet connectivity in Francophone West Africa?
I believe our partnership with Orange adds value to both parties, given the opportunities for improved connectivity across the continent, especially the Francophone region. Orange is a major multinational telecommunications company operating in Francophone West Africa, as Orange Telecoms and Sonatel in Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal respectively, the region’s biggest Francophone economic hubs. While Orange has stakes in the three submarine cables serving Cote D’Ivoire: SAT3, WACS and ACE, the telecoms sector in the Francophone countries is undergoing a transition from a purely voice market to a data-driven one, enabling the digital economy. This growth is increasing the region’s bandwidth requirements as more data-hungry applications, tech services and products consumed by the private, public sector and individuals has increased the connectivity demands. The Francophone market needed an open-access submarine cable to help redefine not only connectivity services, but also to open up areas such as cloud computing, software and the development of lasting IT clusters. As West Africa’s premier connectivity and value added services provider, MainOne built and operates Africa’s first privately-led non-consortium open-access submarine cable system, spanning 7000 kilometres and connecting West Africa to the rest of the world through landings in Ghana, Nigeria, Portugal and Cameroun. We have sought to become the infrastructure backbone of the West African market and planned subsequent landings in Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire, Morocco and the Canary Islands, among others. Thus we had the opportunity to extend our subsea cable to these new Cable Landing Stations across the region and Orange needed additional capacity on a submarine cable to meet its connectivity challenges and consolidate its leadership position in the international data services wholesale market across the region. With this collaboration, MainOne and Orange can improve connectivity quality and reduce costs, enable access to new technology services and deepen internet density in Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal. We believe this development will significantly drive innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation, improve global competitiveness and FDI for these countries and grow the economy and the contribution of ICT to GDP, but more importantly, leverage ICT as a tool for enabling improvement in socio-cultural and economic integration amongst the UEMOA countries. Direct connectivity into Abidjan and Dakar will enable us expedite this goal and help the region drive the deployment of additional broadband connectivity and other infrastructure across these countries and the region in general.
When will the cable landing stations in Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire come online?
They will be ready for service during the second half of 2019.
Why Francophone? What does MainOne hope to achieve in these West African francophone countries over the next five years?
MainOne is focused on the entire West African market and we have raised the infrastructure level over the last eight years in Anglophone West Africa, including Nigeria and Ghana with our submarine cable, investments in terrestrial networks and partnerships and new data centres to sustain the rise of data consumption while opening the door for more content delivery within the continent. Focus on Francophone, now with Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal offers us the opportunity to have a direct presence in all the major economic hubs in the West. These two countries: Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, are focus markets for MainOne, not only as the largest UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union) markets, but also due to their relevance as the top two key francophone hubs in the region. Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal account for more than half the block’s GDP and trade flows, acting as vital lifelines for their landlocked neighbours, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Both countries also have the largest banking sectors in UEMOA and are emerging as the key Fintech innovation hubs in Francophone Africa.Given this socio-economic relevance, these markets are important to our customers and highly attractive to MainOne, given our interest in growing the digital economy and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship for the overall growth of West Africa. Over the next few years, we plan to drive more international bandwidth into the Francophone region to drive down costs, support local businesses, especially Internet Service Providers and to address the challenges of procuring capacity at competitive rates. We are committed to collaborating with incumbent operators within these countries to crash connectivity costs in the region towards enhancing regional integration and global access. We believe this will make the internet more accessible to all users in the region and support the rapid pace of development in the region, facilitate increased non-resources trade, globalization and ultimately improve public services to aid the evolution of regional businesses.
What is next after Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal?
We would like to see more regional traffic within the continent and will definitely continue to invest in extending our services to other countries, building data centres and raising the region’s digital profile by deepening technology penetration and availability of connectivity services. We will continue to focus on improved services in our countries of operation while we identify new countries to target. We also plan to drive improved regional integration, especially of landlocked countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. Though MainOne already delivers services to Burkina Faso through Ghana, and Chad through Cameroun, our new Ivorien route will open up more countries and have a multiplier effect on Africa’s economies still battling with inferior access infrastructure.
Can you compare the reception of MainOne across these countries; government and regulation and enterprise?
From a policy and regulatory standpoint, we encounter less red-tape outside Nigeria and things work better in Ghana and the Francophone region. It is easier to make rational arguments for permits to allow the development of infrastructure and get ready support in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, for example, than in Nigeria. When you put in investment and effort into other countries, you get results. Regulation seems to be more enabling than in Nigeria. From an environmental standpoint, Nigeria is more fraught with challenges; power supply is less predictable; regulation is less transparent, and it is not as straightforward to get things done.
To what extent has MainOne overcome the challenges affecting connectivity in West African countries?
MainOne is West Africa’s internet backbone and continues to drive the internet revolution across the region. We currently have coverage in 10 West African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal among others. We have invested over $300m in broadband infrastructure in West Africa via submarine cable, terrestrial networks and data centres and led to a rebirth and launch of over 50 ISPs across West Africa. MainOne has led unparalleled reduction in the price of broadband and connectivity services in general; provided unlimited access to international connectivity capacity with a cable system that has the capability to deliver 10Tbps connectivity capacity and significantly improved the quality of service and consumer experience in our current markets. This has led to significant improvements in broadband penetration rates, with countries where we have achieved landing today ranking very high on the list of the continents’ most connected countries and of course having the highest broadband density rates in West Africa.