Further investment in information and communications technology infrastructure is necessary, if Nigeria must fully capture the benefits of the new digital economy, writes Emma Okonji
Global technology evolution, no doubt, has exposed Nigeria’s deficiency in the area of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure development. While developed countries of the world are coming up with new technologies that will drive the digital age, Nigeria and other developing countries are trying to play the catch-up owing to lack of adequate ICT infrastructure.
Experts and government officials, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have said that Nigeria needs a whopping $25 billion annually over the next 10 years to build and develop the necessary infrastructure to take the nation to the next level. The World Bank has projected that Nigeria will surpass the United States in population by 2050 and most likely become the third largest population by 2050 after China and India with a population of about 460 million people. These statistics signify the population that investors consider when they decide to invest in Nigeria.
Closing ICT infrastructure deficit
More than any other sector, poor infrastructure has been the bane of ICT development in the country and a leading cause of deficiencies in quality of telecommunications services, from broadband penetration to reliability of mobile network services. This infrastructure deficit is preventing many Nigerians from gaining affordable and reliable access to ICT services. These challenges notwithstanding, the private sector is striving to deepen ICT infrastructure in Nigeria to enable the country deliver better quality of service at lower prices to its teeming population.
One of the companies that have made investments in good quality infrastructure facilities to close the digital deficit gap is MainOne. Despite the challenging economic environment in the country, MainOne has defied the odds and is making a mark in broadband penetration in West Africa and Nigeria in particular. MainOne continues to invest significantly in growing and covering the broadband ecosystem in West Africa and growing its leadership position in the industry. From initial investments of over $240 million to deploy a world-class submarine cable system, followed by investments in a next generation IP NGN network, a growing regional and metro terrestrial fiber optics network and a Tier III Data Centre, MainOne intends investing over $100 million within the next five years as a sign of its commitment to improving broadband services in West Africa.
In six years of operation, MainOne has become West Africa’s leading connectivity and data centre solutions provider to businesses and telecoms service providers. The combination of sophisticated infrastructure and technical expertise that the company amassed during this period has propelled it to become West Africa’s internet backbone, driving the region’s internet revolution, with direct connections in Nigeria and Ghana and through partners, to seven other West African countries. During this period, innovative solutions deployed by MainOne have engendered significant impact and far reaching results across the technology industry and has significantly enabled the region’s digital economies.
InfraCos and ICT development
In recognition of the company’s capacity, contributions and infrastructure commitments to developing the country, the Nigeria’s telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), recently awarded a consortium led by MainOne, InfraCo Nigeria Limited, a licence as the fibre infrastructure provider for Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. The InfraCo licence covers the deployment of metropolitan fibre-optic infrastructure within Lagos on an open access, non-discriminatory and price-regulated basis, and is a strategic plan by the NCC to accelerate broadband penetration, delivering cost effective and reliable broadband services to households and businesses and facilitate the development of Nigeria’s digital economy. Already, in partnership with the Lagos State Government and other stakeholder groups, MainOne built fibre infrastructure to enable Nigeria’s first innovation hub in Yaba, dubbed the Yaba Silicon Valley, which houses Nigeria’s tech hubs and start up community. This hub has created thousands of direct jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs, by stimulation of the Internet Service Providers (ISP), eCommerce and ICT sectors.
Last-mile infrastructure investment
With increased technology investments in last-mile infrastructure, effective regulation, and increased regional participation in the global digital economy driving regional broadband growth, the data centre landscape in West Africa is also expected to grow significantly. In response to this upsurge and in line with its innovative outlook, MainOne’s Lekki data centre subsidiary, MDXi, with a 600 rack capacity is addressing the growing demand for co-location, cloud, and disaster recovery services in Nigeria and West Africa. The infrastructure encourages in-country data storage with further impact on easing the adoption of ICT solutions while simultaneously addressing critical factors associated with cost, quality service, data security, and backup.
Government role and collaborative efforts
As Nigeria seeks to diversify the economy and make it less dependent on oil, experts believe there is need for government to proactively support initiatives aimed at deploying infrastructure to connect more people and businesses online via collaboration, scalable business solutions, and capacity development programmes.
The federal government should, as a matter of necessity work steadfastly towards closing the infrastructure deficit in the nation’s information and communications technology industry by expediting and deepening the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, which seeks to grow broadband penetration by 30 per cent in 2018. The critical issues and challenges in the sector are begging for attention and government must work earnestly to find ways to resolve them.
Government and the private sector must therefore rise to address the country’s infrastructure deficit in ICT in order to boost speedy development in the digital age.