LAUNCHED FIRST 4G LTE NETWORK IN NIGERIA WITH 3 OTHER OPERATORS

Nigeria 2018 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Frank Li, Managing Director of Huawei Nigeria, on the company's impact on the ICT sector, the country's place on the Global Connectivity Index (GCI), and the outlook for 2018.

What are Huawei's main projects in the country and what impact does it have on the ICT sector?

Three years ago, we entered the government and enterprise space, whereas before we were focused on the carrier space. We launched the first 4G LTE network in Nigeria with three major operators in 2016 and now we operate almost 60% of the market in partnership with them. In the last few years, we have launched a number of products in the ICT domain. The first was the Business Enabling System (BES) system, which changed the telecom business. Our BES projects provide real-time experience for clients. The younger generation wants things on demand and we seek to provide this. We offer clients a fully online experience that is completely reshaped. This is the first project of its kind for Huawei overseas. We still lack some fundamental infrastructure in Nigeria, though in the next few years we will play a major role in upgrading the network for Nigerian subscribers. On the enterprise and government side, we are focused on security. We want to help develop smart city solutions. We have helped to create an emergency command center for the government and now want to help reduce crime and make emergency services more efficient. We are building the national broadband backbone for the government and have completed the first stage of the plan that will link most ministries departments and agencies (MDAS). We are also doing something similar to Amazon; in the future, we want to be the Amazon of telecom, whereby all e-government services are based on our infrastructure. There is a great requirement for data storage, and we see this as a great opportunity. National broadband will be extremely important, and we will provide services via the cloud. Mobile money will also be important and Huawei is working on a number of mobile money projects in Nigeria. The user behavior of our latest generation has changed rapidly, and they are ready for such technology. Bank card penetration is low, and we want to bank people by allowing them to use this new technology. In Nigeria, there are still major coverage issues; more than 40 million people do not have access, and we are working to correct this.

As a foreign investor, how is your relationship with the Nigerian government?

Our role in the ICT domain is extremely important. We offer great value to the country and believe the digital economy can add 10% to the GDP. Our role is be a consultant to the government. Doing business in any country including Nigeria without support from the government would be extremely difficult. We are close to regulators and are always keen to influence policy in a way that promotes innovation and development in the ICT space. We want to be close enough to maximize communication. There is a perfect position to be in, and we want to find that place.

What are the main challenges of doing business in Nigeria?

We want to see large-scale government support for the entire ICT sector. Foreign investors are afraid of the uncertainty that we sometimes have to contend with. Currency fluctuations have been particularly impactful, and we want to see an improvement in this area. If the Central Bank increases liquidity, that would be better for us. Stabilizing the currency is directly related to the health of foreign businesses. With a stable currency, Nigeria is still the most attractive place for foreign investors.

How important is Nigeria within Huawei's global portfolio in 2019?

Though Nigeria was recently hit by a recession, there is still huge potential in the country. It has a large and extremely young population. GDP is huge as well, which means Nigeria will remain Huawei's most important market in Africa. The government and enterprise area represents great potential. If the oil price remains stable, then business in Nigeria will remain strong. We expect it to remain the number-one global market for enterprise business. Huawei is not as interested in consumer goods in Africa after the devaluation of the currency; our consumer models are too expensive for this market. Starting from 2018, however, we will review our structure and work to reduce costs to enter these markets. For example, we will soon launch a special phone for the African market that is redesigned and more affordable.

What role can Huawei play in the future development of ICT in the country?

We have launched a Global Connectivity Index (GCI) and Nigeria is in the initial stage of development, which we are working to improve. We see our role as building a healthy ecosystem for the entire ICT sector. We want to develop a platform that can support innovation and development across the board. This will create more diversity and growth in the sector. The industry will need more investment, and we can bring the key stakeholders together to transform the space. We need a strong ecosystem that includes strong participation from the government and regulators. We always apply the latest technology to emerging markets, and are excited about the opportunity to do this in Nigeria. We have to use the latest technology to convince the government and our clients to invest in value. This is how we will drive the technical evolution to the next level. We are optimistic about guaranteeing this in Nigeria. We have also been working closely with the Central Bank. We want to make digital baking and wallet services easier to implement across the country. We will also see more over the top (OTT) companies entering the market. Large technology companies are keen to develop the African market, and we hope to see a way of operating that is more diverse and enriching. We view these developments as opportunities and can embrace our ecosystem and platform strategies.

What is your outlook for 2018?

This will be an exciting year. A year ago, in early 2017, my answer would have been extremely negative. We made preparations for the worst possible scenarios; however, over the course of 2017 we saw great developments. The economy has become vibrant, and oil prices have been rising. Additionally, oil production is more stable and the industry is more secure. Security measures have been effective and have given international investors a great deal of confidence. Furthermore, the government has improved the standards of living for people all across the country. If the oil price and production level remain stable in combination with broader developments in the economy, then Nigeria will be in an excellent position moving forward. 2018 will be an excellent year for Nigeria and Huawei in Nigeria. We are increasing our presence in the country and expect to invest even more in the coming years.