Can you tell us about Phase3, its background, and the ways in which you differ from other network providers?
Our story started in 2003 when we identified a gap in the telecoms sector and capitalized on it such that we were able to build our business to the level it has reached today. A number of major telecoms operators saw the need to invest in Nigeria as the country was on the cusp of exponential growth. We also saw a gap in transmitting voice and data due to lack of proper telecoms infrastructure. Phase3 immediately took advantage of this paucity, obtaining an exclusive right that affords us vast coverage within the country. We built a fiber-optic system to serve the telcos that require enhanced telecommunications services, and for over 11 years most said telcos have relied on us for such service requirements. Currently, Phase3 runs an over 7,000 kilometer fiber-optic network connecting major cities in Nigeria. We have also expanded beyond our borders to the republics of Togo and Benin, where we enjoy exclusive rights. The advantage of our connectivity is that it crisscrosses the aforementioned nations. This is one of our competitive advantages, as we do not experience the sort of vandalism that underground fiber is susceptible to. In retrospect, our lines are not vulnerable to road construction; our infrastructure is reliable, quick to deploy, and grows between five to 10km per day. These are major benefits for our growing client base in terms of capacity, service availability, and speed of deployment. In this regard, the Phase3 story is very interesting for African businesses.
How has the government, through the National Communications Commission (NCC), created an enabling environment?
The state ensures that indigenous companies are given an opportunity for growth. We have an opportunity to be licensed, to receive support, and to build our infrastructure. The NCC has done exceedingly well in that regard. It is probably at the forefront in Africa on effective regulation of the industry. The regulator's primary goal is to encourage rapid developments in telecommunications within the country, as well as investments, and operators to offer affordable, yet innovative products and services, as well as solutions. It functions also to ensure that jobs are created, as the telecoms sector remains a consistently successful component of the Nigerian economy. It is certainly a pillar that other businesses and organizations rely upon to operate.
What makes the Open Access Network unique and how do you create awareness amongst multinationals and SMEs?
Open Access Network has enabled us to distinguish ourselves with reliability, neutrality, and affordability. Every business, large or small, has come to realize the importance of these factors. We remain neutral so that anyone who requires local or international connectivity can rely upon us to provide these services impartially. That is where the Open Access Network comes in. Service-level agreements (SLAs) are signed and availability is ensured to meet the customer's needs and requirements. Over the years we have built a brand and name for ourselves, while contributing significantly to economic development. Moreover, Phase3 has built infrastructure in rural parts of the country to reach unserved communities and ensure regional development. Customers do not need to invest in new infrastructure as they can lease from us. We operate our services in tandem with the developed world and benchmark on standard global practices. And in all we do there is the awareness of not just providing service, but of helping to grow and sustain our broader economy.
What major challenges do you face in today's telecoms sector?
The sector still requires investment; however, this challenge provides huge opportunities for investors. With broadband penetration currently at just around 6.8%, we are looking for ways to grow this to 40%, an opportunity that is being leveraged by Phase3. We want to link every nation with a single network and will achieve this faster with more investment in the sector.
What is the rationale behind the MoU that Phase3 signed with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)?
ECOWAS's MoU with Phase3 concerns the implementation what they regard as an Intelcom II project—building a single telecom network infrastructure that crisscrosses the 14 ECOWAS states. This project has adopted a steady, rather than rapid pace, as huge projects such as this take time. However, there is no doubt that within the extended period we have given ourselves, we will achieve the objective of a fully connected West Africa. We have received enormous support from ECOWAS. For instance, if we decide to work with the government of Ghana, ECOWAS will give insight on areas that must be considered by providing information on the overall goal of the region. They will also ensure that all regulatory aspects are dealt with. Ours has been a successful relationship over the past few years. Going beyond ECOWAS, we want to work with similar bodies in Central and North Africa. Connecting Africa remains the goal, which cannot be achieved without collaboration and partnership. We are leveraging the West African power infrastructure to achieve our goals. Our solution is better than digging up the roads and trying to lay fiber optics in these countries.
What could you say about the recent deal to bring fiber-optic cable to the Republic of Niger, and which other countries do you foresee expanding to?
The Republic of Niger-Nigeria fiber-optic cable project is premised upon the deployment of aerial fiber infrastructure from Kano in Nigeria to Gazaoua in the Republic of Niger. The country, being a landlocked area, saw that Nigeria's fiber links met the formulated Niger-Nigeria Joint Commission's goals of broader economic integration. Niger is a landlocked country with no access to submarine cables and its broadband penetration is probably the lowest in Africa, if not in the world. Aerial fiber was therefore, key to the success of the deal because of its apparent advantages. The project has commenced with a planned deployment of a 228km fiber link to the Niger border. We consider the deal a pivotal factor in improving bilateral relations. It is wonderful to see the social and economic development of West Africa through the growing connectivity in the region. Beyond Niger we will be looking at other countries in need of data, such as the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Thus, expanding infrastructure to as many countries as we can, such that every nation in West Africa is connected, is our main goal.
© The Business Year - May 2015