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Nigeria Com speaker spotlight - Airtel's Adedoyin Adeola

By Amy Turner - Com Series Staff Writer, KNect365

We're continuing to count down to the biggest event dedicated to strengthening ICT and digital networks in Nigeria, with the Speaker Spotlight Interview series - where we chat with the most influential tech and telco thought-leaders in the region. 

This week the focus is broadband - the infrastructure, the potential and the challenges that still pervade the sector. There is no one in a better position to to talk about Nigerian broadband connectivity than Adedoyin Adeola, Airtel Nigeria's Vice President of Network Operations.

We spoke to Adedoyin about the the major developments he has seen in the sector, the unique set-up of the region's investment environment and how spectrum transformation will be the key enabler of future telco growth in Nigeria.   

"Broadband connectivity is the driver of development  which touches every sector - from medicine and education to politics and infrastructure development"

1. We look forward to welcoming you to Nigeria Com, next month. You’re taking part in our telecoms leaders’ roundtable on winning investment with Nigeria’s broadband potential - what changes and development have you seen with regards to broadband connectivity in Nigeria, in the last 3-5 years? 

There has been a lot of focus and direction from government on the expectation of the MBB values and the private sector is equally focused to leverage on this. More work is still required to create the environment necessary for investors to come in and invest (FDI which is the major driver for the MBB strategy and actualisation). 

The ICT industry depends heavily on broadband potential and currently ICT has over 9% contribution to our GDP. This driver (broadband connectivity) touches every area of our development (medicine, politics, education, technology, infrastructure development, socio-economic empowerment just to mention a few). 

Disruptive technology startup companies depend on broadband connectivity before their full potential can be fully enhanced. The economic development of our country depends on this because I see this as a driver to move all the indices in the right direction.

"One of the key requirements for any successful business is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, especially in this digital age"

2. What do you believe have been the major facilitators of this change? 

The World Bank Information and Communications for Development report (2009) showed that access to broadband boosts economic growth in all countries, but most especially in developing ones, such as Nigeria. It is a known fact that one of the key requirements for any successful business is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, especially in this digital age. Anything that can speed up the rate at which communication takes place improves the output radically from any business endeavour, and enhances the efficiency with which business processes are carried out.

The telecommunication and information services sector, according to the 2013 rebased GDP data of Nigeria, contributed 8.68% ($44.3billion) to the newly rebased GDP figure of $522billion. This development led to Nigeria being the biggest economy in Africa.

Some of best examples of change have been in the areas of:

  • Job creation: Job opportunity through the creation of various economic activities
  • Business productivity: Providing opportunity for sellers and buyers to reach each other effectively through calls, video and other social media platforms
  • Enabler to other sectors: Broadband has been a great catalyst to other sectors of economy such as health, education, banking, trade and agriculture etc.

3. What do you still consider to be the major challenges or inhibitors to more rapid growth in broadband penetration, in the country?

Some of our most critical issues are:

  • The cost of sustaining constant power supply to site loads to guarantee reliable broadband service through the installation of power infrastructure and parallel power generation. It constitutes a huge chunk of the overall annual Opex of the telecom and IT industries in Nigeria.
  • Challenges in the telecoms sector have been identified as: the high costs of right of way, resulting in the high cost of leasing transmission infrastructure; long delays in the processing of permits; multiple taxation at federal, state, and local government levels and having to deal with multiple regulatory bodies; damage to existing fibre infrastructure as a result of cable theft, road works and other operations; and the lack of reliable, clean grid electricity supply.
  • The severity of this irony is the fact that only little of this infrastructure and generation overheads stream into our domestic economy.
  • Most of the basic equipment is not locally sourced due to the collapse of the critical manufacturing sector in the country. Example is all telco towers are imported from China, India and South Africa.

"These challenges are seen as opportunities by me and you have to go for it"

4. How does operating as a carrier in Nigeria differ from conducting business, expanding and increasing market share in other African nations? 

Nigeria has her own peculiar environment which is very different from other African Countries. Despite huge potentials, we equally have huge challenges. These challenges are seen as opportunities by me and you have to go for it.

5. Nigeria is a unique business and investment environment due to its various regulatory statures; do you believe this causes the country to be a less attractive prospect for international tech and telco investors? 

The country market potential is less than 60% exploited today, hence there is great potential. The main challenge to most FDI is the economic fiscal policy and I believe that with time things will normalise.

6. How would you describe the working relationship between the public and private sectors in the region, and are current partnerships and discussions spurring effective MBB and FBB penetration? 

There will be no success in MBB and FBB without strong collaboration between the public and private sectors because the relationship is symbiotic. The need for cross-pollination of ideas is key to the success of both entities.

"Spectrum transformation is key to unlocking huge opportunity in this sector"

7. Do you believe spectrum is the priority for enabling digital transformation? 

It is like a car without an engine. Spectrum transformation is key to unlocking huge opportunity in this sector. Strategic steps needs to be in place in order to finally realise the digital transition project mandated by the GE 06 Agreement which was endorsed by the Member States of ITU at the World Radio Conference in Geneva in 2006 and Nigeria, as a member of States of International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Region 1, signed the Geneva 2006 Agreement on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting. This agreement projected a new digital plan that involved a re-distribution of frequency bands to accommodate new. Despite different plans, unfortunately we are not yet compliant.

It has been projected by the World Economic Forum that the combined value to society and industry of digital transformation across industries could be greater than $100 trillion over the next 10 years.

8. How do you think government and industry will be able to drive new international investment into the Nigerian telco space? 

New international investment will be driven by the Economic Fiscal policy, which accommodates and protects this sector and creates a regulatory and economic buffer for them. Revision of the double taxation regime and enact laws which will recognise all telco assets as critical national asset (just like the oil pipe-line).

9. What do you expect from speaking at Nigeria Com 2016? 

The opportunity to show the world the potential in this sector and what is required to create value to all and sundry in the ecosystem, as well as pushing the agenda of RAN sharing further.

10. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s event? 

I'm looking forward to seeing the commitment on the Active Ran sharing and the digital dividend project from the stake-holders because this will unlock the potential in this sector.

Adedoyin will taking part in the telecoms leaders' roundtable on day 1 of Nigeria Com 2016 on: Winning global investment with Nigeria's broadband potential.

You can find out more about the event here.

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