HEALTHY ICT ECOSYSTEM

Nigeria 2018 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Frank Li, Managing Director of Huawei Nigeria, on its numerous projects in the country, the company's impact on the economy, and the need for government support.

Frank Li
BIOGRAPHY
Frank Li is the current Managing Director for Huawei Technologies Company (Nigeria) Limited, a position he has held since 2015. He previously served as CEO of Huawei Iraq and VP of Saudi Telecom Key Account in the Middle East Region between 2009 and 2014. He was previously working in the Chinese market.

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

We launched the first 4G LTE network in Nigeria with three major operators in 2016 and now 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), which changed the telecom business. Our BES projects provide real-time experience for clients. This is the first project of its kind for Huawei overseas. 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 want to help develop smart city solutions. 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, whereby all e-government services are based on our infrastructure. There is a great requirement for data storage, and we also see this as a great opportunity. Mobile money will also be important, and Huawei is working on a number of mobile money projects in Nigeria.

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 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?

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 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.