The Chief Executive Officer of VDT Communications, Mr. Biodun Omoniyi, spoke with Emma Okonji on the need for Nigerians to see broadband as an enabler of the next digital revolution. Excerpts:
VDT was awarded the Broadband Company of the Year at the Beacon of ICT awards held in Lagos recently. What does the award mean to you and your organisation?
The award means a lot for me and the staff of VDT Communications and I have to thank the organisers of Beacon of ICT awards for their true assessment of organisations’ performances. For me, it shows that someone is monitoring the activities of various organisations operating in the technology space to know what we are doing right, and what we are not doing right and I am glad that VDT Communications has been honoured as the best among broadband service delivery companies in the country and we are indeed motivated by it to work harder in order to maintain the confidence reposed on us as an organisation with a lot of technical expertise in broadband technology solutions. For me the award is a well-deserved recognition for VDT Communications.
What is this broadband all about?
Broadband is the technology that will usher and drive faster data solutions in the country. It refers to high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. Broadband involves several high-speed transmission technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and Cable Modem. This broadband we are talking about is what will usher in the digital revolution in Nigeria and Nigerians must watch out for it.
Aside the recognition of VDT, what is your general perception of the Beacon of ICT Award that is designed to honour technology companies and ICT experts that have done creditably well in promoting sector growth?
The award is a good initiative and I welcome the idea because events like this bring about the importance of the sector to the public. The vision is to recognise excellence and then encourage sector growth. It is planned in such a way that it brings about the best from the sector, and I see it as a positive development for rewarding those that have worked tirelessly for the growth of the sector. The idea is laudable because it encourages organisations and individuals to do more in promoting the sector. Again, it will help to enhance development in the country and to create more awareness of the available technology solutions that individuals and organisations can tap into. We need more of such awards to showcase what we are doing to promote industry growth.
Having been established in 2001 as a broadband service company, what are some of the challenges VDT encountered in deploying broadband services in the country?
We are operating in a sector that has all it takes to transform the economy of Nigeria. Since 2001 that we established VDT Communications, we have been providing connectivity services to organisations and it is just right for us to transit to broadband connectivity that is currently driving the globe. So we provide broadband bandwidth that helps organisations to facilitate the movement of data. Yes there are some challenges in offering the broadband services but as technology company, we have to find ways to address the challenges.
As broadband service provider, what is your take on the low broadband penetration in the country, which is currently less than 30 per cent penetration?
Broadband penetration could be said to be slow but its penetration is not too low as it is being painted by people. The federal government, through the National Broadband Plan, set 30 per cent broadband penetration target for the country by 2018, up from its 10 per cent penetration level in 2012. As of today, there is a remarkable improvement on broadband penetration and I have no doubt that come 2018, Nigeria will surpass the 30 per cent penetration target. From the current statistics, mobile devices are fast driving mobile broadband penetration, which currently has over 97 per cent penetration level. Telecommunications revolution was popularised by mobile and the same mobile is fast driving mobile broadband penetration in the country. Today people are connected to the internet via smartphones and the mobile connectivity is enhancing business growth of organisations and lifestyles of people.
Nigerians are looking forward to a time when there will be ubiquitous broadband access. How soon will this be?
We do not have ubiquitous broadband access for now, but we have something close to that because we have the broadband capacities at the shores of the country, that were deployed through submarine cables from Europe to Nigeria by broadband cable companies like MainOne, Glo 1, MTN WACS, SAT 3, among others. These broadband capacities from the broadband cable operators are enough to provide ubiquitous broadband access to Nigerians, but the challenge is that large chunk of the capacities are lying at the shores of the country because there is no national backbone infrastructure that will transmit the broadband capacities to the hinterlands where they are most needed. The smartphone devices are everywhere in the country and people are connecting to the internet, but data is still expensive, even though it is getting cheaper. So we need more broadband capacities to speed up ubiquitous broadband access in the country. Even the aged people use smartphones to communicate, aside the youths that are more tech savvy that use smartphone to connect to the internet. With it, they are connected to social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and others. For me, I think we are making significant progress in mobile broadband connectivity through the use of smartphones.
So much have been said about the digital natives who are the millennials that are in a hurry to use broadband while on the go, but they are constrained by poor broadband infrastructure, what is the way out?
We do not have full broadband infrastructure in the country that will drive broadband connectivity, but with the limited infrastructure, we are still making progress. VDT for instance, still offers broadband services based on the available infrastructure, which I think, will improve with time. But one thing people should understand is that technology has changed a whole lot of things, and we now operate virtual infrastructure like cloud infrastructure. Gone at the days when people keep large sizes of data servers in their premises all in the name of building infrastructure. Today physical infrastructure in not in vogue and a single virtual infrastructure can serve millions of people who could connect virtually to such virtual infrastructure. It is all about accessing the cloud and using the power of analytics that several operators like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, are currently providing. All these are accessible by the digital natives for easy connectivity even while on the go.
Technology appears to be evolving at a higher speed than the digital migrants could catchup with. What are the plans by technology service providers like VDT to accommodate the older generation of digital migrants?
Yes, technology evolution is creating some challenges for the digital migrants who are learning to catchup with the speed of technology, but the truth is that they will surely be accommodated at their own pace because technology is for all, irrespective of the speed at which the individual accesses it. The truth is that the older generation who are the digital migrants may be slow in adopting modern technology, but that does not mean they can not be accommodated. The aged people use smartphone to connect to the internet and do some few things, utilising the features that they are familiar with. The digital natives may run faster than the digital migrants, but the digital migrants have to be carried along, whichever way you look at it. Even in advanced countries, it plays out the same way where the younger generation who are the digital natives, learn much faster than the older generation who are the digital migrants. The reason being that the digital natives were born in the era of technology evolution and they grew up with it, but the digital migrants are only trying to migrate to the modern day technology which they have not been used to, and it will take less speed to adapt unlike the digital natives that were born in the era of modern day technology and they were thought technology from infancy, with the available devices all around them.
How is VDT using the power of Internet of Things (IoTs) to drive connectivity among Nigerians?
The country is coming up strong with IoTs and VDT is playing strong in that direction too. We give customers access to the cloud and we provide other technology solutions that will empower them to connect to several devices and people, which Internet of Things is all about. Devices like home appliances need to be connected to one another, which is machine to machine connection, but we are yet to see more of such connection. It is however a gradual process and I think we are making progress in that direction. VDT is already providing the underlying infrastructure that will boost IoT connectivity and we will not stop at that level.
What is the vision of VDT Communications in the technology space?
VDT Communications is a leading provider of broadband communication services to corporate organisations in Nigeria. It has offices and operations at 102 points of presence spread across the country. From these points, VDT is capable of providing quality broadband communication services such as Digital Leased Circuit (DLC), Wireless connectivity and Corporate Internet in all the 36 states and using mainly terrestrial technology –all via national VPN/MPLS backbone.
What are some of the unique factors that could attract customers to your service offerings?
VDT Communications is ISO 9001 certified, and the first ISO 20000 internationally certified telecoms company in West and Central Africa for excellent Information Technology (IT) service management and winner of several awards including the Broadband Company of the Year”, 2015. “Bandwidth Company of the Year”, 2016, “Bulk Internet Provider 2011 and 2012” and “Wireless Backhaul Provider 2009 and 2010”. Recently, we won the Broadband Service Provider of the Year at the Beacon of ICT Award for 2017, which held in Lagos. VDT operates one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in the country, all these are unique factors that have helped us in maintaining our customer base over the years.
How are you promoting rural broadband connectivity to address rural needs?
VDT Communications is playing a leading role in promoting rural broadband internet in Nigeria. Amidst several contenders, VDT was appointed by the Management of Tender Board (MTB) of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), an initiative of Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) as sole broadband communication company to implement the Rural Urban Broadband Initiative(RUBI) project in Asaba, Oyo, Osogbo and Ijebu Ode. The project was successfully completed and the four communities are now equipped with internet facilities and cyber cafes that has tremendously increased their internet access. Thus enabling the beneficiaries to easily access free information on career advancement, business, social activities, relationships/family bonding and entertainment among others. More importantly, this service will enable their businesses to thrive tremendously across all sectors
In a learning and development benchmark survey conducted last year by Digital Jewels Limited, which involved over 100 corporate organisations, VDT Communications was named among the five best organisations in Nigeria that promotes learning and development among her staff.
How is VDT addressing unemployment challenges of the country through its corporate social responsibility initiatives?
In the area of corporate social responsibility, VDT offers free training to graduates in her modular trainee engineers program to increase the employability of our engineering graduates. VDT believes that the problem of unemployment in Nigeria is not only due to lack of jobs, but due to the fact that a good number of Nigerian graduates lack the requisite experience and knowhow, which make them unemployable especially in a technical field like engineering. This is why VDT decided to take the bull by the horns by offering a free training platform for our graduates. In June last year, VDT passed out the third batch of graduates from the program and has since commenced the admission and training of the fourth batch.
VDT also engages in other initiatives aimed at developing the Nigerian telecoms and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry in general and giving back to the society. Among these include loyal sponsorship of several annual events like Digital Africa Conference and Exhibition, Nigerian Insurance Association Chief Information Officers (NIA CIO) Conference, God’s Children Great Talent and IPV6 Workshop organised annually for network engineers in the country. VDT also sponsors and promotes the International Girls in ICT Day and Logistics Conference among others.