OVER 1,000 TOWERS IN NIGERIA AND GHANA

Nigeria 2020 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Wole Abu, CEO of Pan African Towers, on leading change and enabling companies, achievements since inception, and plans for the future.

How are you leading change and enabling companies to achieve their potential?

This IT sector empowers the digital platform, which is crucial because infrastructure shortage in Sub-Saharan Africa is an issue. Over the past five years, mobile network operators (MNOs) have spent about USD40 billion in capex investment on 3G and 4G infrastructure across sub-Saharan Africa. At present, 54% of total mobile connections are based on broadband because of the shift to data. This means that access to life-enhancing services such as education, health, and finance has increased. Nigeria ranks among the bottom 20 countries in the Global Competitive Index, which goes on to show the need for quality infrastructure; that is where we come in.

Do you think the ICT infrastructure gap is still large in Nigeria?

It is a mixed bag. Private capital and government spending are typically not complementing each other optimally. There are places where private capital has seen an opportunity and gone way ahead of government, like in Lagos. In other places, you see government spending taking the lead. Governments in Africa traditionally tend to favor state involvement in large projects. Nigerian telecoms were in government hands until 20 years ago, when the Nigerian Communication Commission opened it up to private investment. That for me is the story of how governments should really collaborate with private players. I think something as simple as roads should also be built by private players as the gap cannot be filled by the public sector. We are in the age of the fourth industrial revolution, which is being driven by digital platforms. A town or village with no communication will change after three years as businesses go digital. Education, health, and financial inclusion are key to any country's development. Sub-Saharan Africa has made slow progress on these in the past, but we can catch up in the near future by using industry 4.0 technologies.


How do the MNOs cope with the insufficient infrastructure?

They build it themselves. That is how it was in Nigeria before the privatization. If one operator does not have the regulatory framework or infrastructure, it partners with the one that has everything in place. Tenancy rates is a key metric for tower companies, which is why a tower is shared by multiple operators. This way, MNOs can also reduce their overall capex investment in infrastructure.

What is your financial engineering strategy?

We are keen on localizing our debt to avoid exchange rate risks, attracting long term capital that suits the nature of our business and patient capital from private equity firms. In terms of funding, the Nigeria Infrastructure Debt Fund is funding us with long-term debt that we use to roll out infrastructure. We are also working with other financial institutions to raise a long-term bond to support our other growth aspirations.

What would you say is your company's achievements since its inception?

Pan African Towers is a new telecommunications infrastructure and a wireless service facilitator that entered the African market in 2018 and, since then, has succeeded in growing its portfolio size to slightly over 1,000 towers in Nigeria and Ghana. We have attained enviable records in our power availability, mean time to restore sites and site deployment times. We have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by deploying renewable energy at our sites . The sustainability of the environment matters to us and we have invested heavily to preserve it while doing business. In recognition of our efforts, we were awarded the Nigerian Tech and Innovation Technology Award (NTITA) as the Emerging Tower Company of the Year, and also received the Leading Telecommunication Service Provider of the Year 2019 Award at the International Standard Leadership Award organized by the Quality World Alliance. These awards were given to commemorate our contribution to the growth and development of the telecommunication sector in Nigeria. We are young, but Africa has lot of opportunities to explore especially regarding telecommunications. We are just doing our best to provide connectivity in Africa using the best technology while also thinking about the environment.

Where do you see your company in five years?

Pan African Towers African footprint will definitely expand to other countries, where we see opportunities. We would become a major driving force for deployment and integration of new models in Small Cell, Fiber and rural coverage. At Pan African Towers, we have an aggressive growth plan to deploy 35,000 towers in five years; leveraging cutting-edge technology and a unique business model that offers unparalleled value to mobile network operators, internet service providers and the customers by extension, ensuring that there is broadband coverage across Africa. With 4G network receiving about 50% deployment across Africa, in five years our towers will be fully positioned to integrate the 5G technology, which will create more opportunities for MNOs and ISPs.


How do you plan to fund your growth going forward? Are you looking abroad to attract investors?

Yes, we are discussing with global institutional investors and have concluded plans to inject more equity into the business. We also have secured long term debt funding to support our growth aspirations. Our investors are very happy with our growth trajectory and performance so far and are happy to support us as we continue the rollout of critical telecommunication infrastructure across Africa.