The Chief Operating Officer at Avanti Communications, a Satellite Data Communications Company, Libby Barr, and the Chief Executive Officer at MainOne, an African Connectivity and Data Centre Solutions Company, Funke Opeke, in this interview with Emma Okonji, spoke on their recent partnership to improve broadband penetration in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of the partnership between Avanti and MainOne?
This partnership aims to provide affordable broadband access to all Nigerians irrespective of their location at affordable prices. Avanti will be providing the latest Ka-band satellite communication services to ensure that enterprises, public locations including schools and hospitals, as well as individuals in the most remote areas of the country benefit from the digital inclusion that reliable broadband connectivity provides. The ultimate goal is to provide access to the internet in difficult to reach areas which has the power to improve everyday life by creating jobs, growing the agricultural sector, enhancing access to educational opportunities and resources, improving social wellbeing, improving public services and enhancing healthcare for Nigerians.
This partnership will foster the development of relevant broadband services to meet the needs of millions of consumers across Nigeria who are currently without internet capacity. Now, we have the opportunity to make accelerated broadband expansion possible via satellite, to overcome last-mile gaps experienced in fibre infrastructure and meet our broadband penetration targets. We see strength and greater opportunities in the combination of fibre, which has almost unlimited data bandwidth, and Ka- band satellite with minimal geographical restriction.
Before this partnership, was there any converged broadband solution with coverage across Nigeria?
In the past, there have been public–private partnerships and alliances that have tried to address the concerns of broadband access in Nigeria. However, this is the first time we are seeing such collaboration at this scale. Firstly, both partners have a huge investment in-country to drive this. MainOne has extensive subsea and terrestrial fibre infrastructure while Avanti has invested a lot in the country and is the first Ka-band satellite operator to build a Gateway Earth Station in Nigeria. This is the first time we are seeing an alliance that combines both fibre and satellite technologies as opposed to the traditional operators using Mobile Networks to address the broadband solution in Nigeria.
Where else has this solution worked?
Avanti’s broadband solutions are implemented throughout Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). We have worked across Europe, Cyprus, Turkey and several countries in Africa, especially South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.
The HYLAS 4 satellite has a strong focus and coverage in West Africa and delivers High Throughput Satellite (HTS) connectivity to complement existing fibre-optic networks. For instance, our iKnowledge project (launched in 2015) has deployed high-speed satellite broadband connectivity to Tanzanian schools. The project provides ICT equipment and digital skills training for teachers. Students have access to the computer labs to learn basic ICT skills and access eLearning platforms. The schools are also provided with additional laptops for teachers and projectors, for them to access eLearning, information and educational content and use it straight in the classrooms. The project has connected over 312 primary and secondary schools across 25 regions in Tanzania bridging the digital divide for up to 18,000 teachers and 216,000 students. Through satellite internet connectivity and ICT training, teachers can now access the latest educational content online and deliver it straight into classrooms. School children are now able to access computer labs and eLearning platforms, positively impacting their learning outcomes.
In Kenya, where we launched the iMlango project with our partners, UK Department for International Development (DFID), sQuid, Whizz Education and Camara Education, we developed an e-learning partnership, created to deliver improved educational outcomes in maths, literacy and life skills for marginalised children. The project has improved education and life outcomes for about 150,000 pupils, with some of the pilot schools now working with Tyndall University in Dublin to promote Young Scientists competitions and Skype experiments.
In addition, we have partnered the Kenyan Government to provide hub facilities for young adults and entrepreneurs to develop their ICT skills and help bring them into the digital world. 120 sites are currently live, with a target of 1160 sites by project completion.
How canthis partnership helps to achieve Nigeria’s new broadband penetration target?
Despite a fairly articulate Broadband Policy, Nigeria struggled to attain the 30 per cent fixed penetration target set for 2018. As Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria stands the risk of being left behind on the global technology map if it does not emulate global best practices and ensure broadband infrastructure deployment extends to rural areas in the country as quickly as possible. Nigeria needs rapid deployment of connectivity and satellite broadband communications will complement fixed infrastructure and create a level playing ground to achieve meaningful social development, irrespective of location or distance from civilisation. This partnership will support the country’s targets by increasing broadband penetration with the combination and complementary use of fibre and Ka-Band satellite technologies ensuring that access is not limited by infrastructure. Our cost efficient Ka-Band satellite solution will help drive the cost of broadband down especially in rural areas, further improving affordability of the service to end users. We believe that the access conundrum can only be resolved by collaborative solutions and shared services which have come to stay as the world converges into one large digital economy.
Shared infrastructure and competencies will create efficiencies in both services cost and operations and enhance competition and the competitiveness of the ICT sector as a whole.
How will this work in remote areas?
Avanti’s HYLAS 4 satellite covers the whole of Nigeria and provides connectivity everywhere, even in the most remote locations. This will complement MainOne’s fibre infrastructure and backhaul partners to ensure that everywhere in Nigeria has some form of connectivity to the digital transformation that the internet brings. No longer will internet access be limited by infrastructure. With satellites orbiting the earth from space, satellite-based internet can provide access to education, healthcare, banking and business, wherever you are on the surface of the earth.
Avanti and MainOne plan to install built-in Wi-Fi hotpots in oil and gas companies, schools, communities and government agencies and offer support to remote onshore, offshore and deep offshore locations where connectivity services and power availability remain a challenge. We hope to impact and foster better eGovernment, eLearning, eCommerce, eHealth and eBanking services in urban and rural areas across Nigeria.