Main One has been able to provide 100 percent uptime base customers over the past few years, how have you been able to achieve this in view of the prevailing operating environment in Nigeria; power supply downtimes, cable cuts and so on. Can you please give us an insight into what you have put in place to ensure that you have 100 percent uptime in your service
A lot of planning was done by well-seasoned people, Logan has about 25 years of Submarine Cable experience, I have about 20 years of telecoms, interconnection and internet service provider experience, and the CEO of course comes with a wealth of experience that Bernard Logan, our chief commercial officer spoke about earlier on having operated in Verizon, MTN and NITEL. Logan spoke earlier about selecting Tyco. We picked very good partners, we spent a lot of time planning to make sure that every T and I was crossed and dotted to make sure that our planning was effective.
Then, managing the execution, making sure that people could deliver on time, external relationships, so all these played an essential role in putting this together. So the combination of all these, the design, the perfection of execution, the great team we have, the teamwork and partnership with external bodies, NIMASA, Navy, Port Authorities and other agencies, have all come together to make sure that we are able to deliver the kind of uptime we built into this network. It’s by no means an easy task, but when you have a good team, you are able to do such.
So much, has gone into this project, money, resources, human capital, huge project, so what maintenance culture has been put in place to ensure that this investment is protected and sustained for a very long time
We started off with a good level of expertise and team, and as the company has expanded its systems, it’s clear we need people at all levels. We weren’t able to find the expertise locally, so having found people that were competent in whatever they were doing at the time but didn’t know enough about telecoms or subsea systems, we trained them in America, Nigeria and Ghana.
What we have now in Lagos is a network operations centre with a fully trained team, it is replicated in Ghana as well. They work on a 24/7 basis every day of the week, if a fault occurs, it’s captured electronically and administered by humans to make sure what the fault is, and we also have contracts with the original suppliers, to provide our people with the support internationally, should that be required during an anomaly. So it’s a matter of building in resilience to the network, as much as training of those individuals controlling them.
Also, we have signed up for long-term maintenance contracts with some of our key vendors, like Alcatel.
Bernard has personally worked with Alcatel and Tyco, who are the two biggest submarine cable vendors in the industry, so with a lot of push, today we have a vessel close by such that we’ve shortened the time that it takes for repairs. In previous instances, it was that a ship had to come out from South Africa, Europe, and that process was going to take a week, and another week for repairs, and so on.
We ensure that we have the maintenance culture backed by our partners. We ensure that they are able to support us, that we have spares on hand, and in some of these cases for example; we have experts who are in America or Europe, who we make sure have visas valid for Nigeria, so that if they need to come in to provide support to the local team, they are able to get on a flight and come in. So these are some of the levels we have in terms of procedures to ensure that we are able to run this network efficiently.
What are the security measures put in place for the security and protection of the physical cable infrastructure
For the submarine, its buried under the water and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that we have put in place allows us monitor up to 40 nautical miles or beyond of all our shore ends; Portugal, Lagos and Accra. These systems are able to detect vessels when they come in. We have also worked with legislators and other authorities to have a path that is protected for our cable at anchor zones. We also have with Tyco, one of our suppliers, a backup monitoring where they also sit 24/7 in North America, providing backup support in this regard.
For terrestrial cable, we have route patrols and have teamed up with the security authorities locally, the Police, Community Watchdogs in terms of where the infrastructure passes through communities, empowering the youths and giving them an opportunity to make a living by giving them some work to do.
So they look after our cables at the times we are not there. We go on routine patrols at least three times a week, taking pictures, looking at our infrastructure, looking at our environment, knowing if things are changing, are people constructing or doing anything that will bring external aggression to our systems, and this is how we are able to keep a watchful eye on these infrastructure.
If there is a cable system failure, though we pray that doesn’t happen, what measures have been put in place to ensure that we still have some level of connectivity within that period
We do a couple of different things, obviously having a major disaster like a cable breaking hasn’t happened to us at all, but a cable has broken on land and therefore you gain experience on what to do. We have practices whereby we simulate a fault of a cable break happening, then monitor how they would use the written processes that we have already taught them, both to restore services and initiate a repair, what their reactions are, how quickly they were able to rectify the simulated faults, so these things happen regularly and we build them as they say without telling them before hand, because there is nothing more than being prepared for a break today, and therefore you are sitting there waiting for it at 2pm in the afternoon. We would monitor that and retrain when required, or change our procedures if it was found that it was not an efficient way of working in the actual simulated form. So that’s one area we undertake.
We have demonstrated to some of our fellow cable operators, our ability to restore their services by providing them with alternative connectivity over our submarine cable systems, and that has led to reciprocal restorative agreements, allowing us to be able to also utilise their infrastructure to restore critical services that run on our network, in case of the unlikely event of such failure.
What share of the market are you controlling in Nigeria, in terms of capacity
When we first arrived selling capacity in Nigeria in 2010, the price of capacity was sky high, so the smaller businesses were unable to afford such capacity.
Part of our policy is to try to enable increased usage of the capacity, so we have been able to bring prices down by at least 80 percent since we joined the market in 2010. Our growth has been 300 percent since we were lit in 2010. So, yes we have expanded tremendously, but exactly what percentage of the market is difficult to ascertain, because you will have to ask our customers. All I will say is, our expansion plan over the next five years will see us at least taking 30 percent per cent of the wholesale and Enterprise market place.
With Nigeria, it’s not so much about today’s capacity, it’s about being able to reach others not experiencing this capacity, so for us it’s about reaching more towns, terrestrially, to bring more people into the 21st Century.
We have over 160 million people in Nigeria and we know that there is only about 15 percent reach in that number of people, currently either able to be on a mobile phone or use internet services, so that has got to change and we are certainly one company that is striving to make that change.
MainOne is building a Data Centre, we don’t know if the project has commenced, what’s the potential of that infrastructure in terms of strengthening Nigeria’s ecosystem, what value will you add in terms of strengthening online businesses in Nigeria
Yes, we look at it as a value added service. During the build of the cable station, we believed that Data Centre and hosting will be viable businesses, however, at that time that was not our focus. However, we created limited space as a teaser, and that space is completely sold out, to financial institutions and other large national operators, who appreciate the enabling environment in terms of air conditioning, power, reliable services, fibre optic submarine cable and terrestrial fibre connectivity etc.
So it’s an attraction that they do not have to repeat the investment in what we are doing, and not only the one time investment in terms of capital infrastructure but in terms of personnel efficiencies as well. They are able to take advantage of what we have done, use our infrastructure and focus on their business.
The new data centre is a 3,000 square metre data centre, 2 floors, and has the capability to house 600 racks, it’s the first Tier 3 -4 data centre in West Africa and we are looking to expand the services that we are providing to financial institutions to more enterprises.
Unreliable infrastructure and services in terms of power means that a lot of companies ordinarily who would have been able to host their service are not able to do that and this represents the opportunity for us to do that. It’s the first of several flagship data centres we will build, we would build another one in 2015 to provide resiliency for our customers. Right now, we have a lot of Nigerian companies hosting their data offshore, and it is impacting the experience of the users because everybody has to travel all the way into London and America and some other parts of Europe to fetch the content online.
This is going to bring a reversal of that traffic, we have the ability to now host content internally, the user experience is going to be better because it’s a shorter time for the content to be fetched and even our infrastructure has attracted international content providers who have put in their content service in our network to serve this content locally.
BEN UZOR JR