(An Interview With Segun Okuneye (DCEO, ipNX Business) on Rave TV)
My name is Segun Okuneye. I’m the divisional CEO for ipNX business, a telecoms company in Nigeria.
I attended the Federal Government college in Kaduna Secondary School, and from there I had my tertiary institution education at Obafemi Awolowo university in Ile-Ife. Afterwards I proceeded to obtain my masters in Information Technology at the University of Lagos and subsequently I had my executive MBA at Lagos Business School. I’ve been in the industry for close to 19 years now.
ipNX is a multi-service provider. We provide data communication services, voice services, and also managed services. We serve two fundamental customer segments – the retail, or what we can also call the residential and the small businesses and we serve the large enterprises across all the industry sectors in Nigeria.
There have been increasing conversations around Broadband coverage and penetration in Nigeria. What is so important about this?
I’ll say that the surge of broadband penetration in Nigeria is very crucial to us as a nation. It is a journey that we began as a nation since 2013 when we first had the first plan which was meant to be from 2013 to 2018 where there was a broadband target of 30%. Initially, this was at 6% and we had that journey to move it to about five times to achieve about 30% penetration level.
That is something that we’ve been running on and subsequently I would say this was well achieved as actually surpassed the target. So, in 2020 there was another plan to have an objective to achieve a penetration of 70% and also a coverage of about 90% and that actually stands for the 2020 – 2025 national broadband plan. It is therefore a very crucial thing for us as a nation because it is the basis for which our economy will thrive and just to show the level of commitment of the Federal Government towards that, we could actually see the renaming of the Ministry of Communication to Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy. That was just to show the importance to us as a nation that have actually attached to broadband penetration.
Just to mention again that the objective of the broadband penetration is to achieve penetration of 70% broadband and also to have 90% coverage. More importantly, in terms of experience, we are looking at broadband speed targets of 25Mbps for the urban areas and 10Mbps for the rural areas. That is a key journey for us as a nation and this is actually intended to help us drive our journey on digital economy.
The Nigerian Broadband plan 2020 – 2025 targets coverage to at least 90% of the population and a minimum of 70% penetration. Would you say this is ambitious, and how achievable is it?
I would say though it’s ambitious but it is something that’s very achievable. I would want to look back to the success of what we had when we had the 2013-2018 plan, we had a lot of stakeholders that were involved and actually demonstrated lots of commitment which actually helped us to achieve and even surpass the target. So, concerning the 2020 – 2025 plan, I will say it is very much achievable. We have seen lots and lots of participation from all industry stakeholders in the country. I mean talking about the public sector, government involvement, and also the private sector. All the industry players have been involved. We also see the consumer segment getting involved in form of feedbacks and things like that. So, it is a journey that is very much achievable and I will say this because of the involvement of the government to support the initiative.
The National Broadband plan seems to rely heavily on the mobile sub-sector to achieve the set targets. Do you think this is the way to go especially considering the huge bandwidths required to successfully power a digital economy?
The success of broadband penetration agenda/initiative actually is all about experience. We’ve got quite a number of submarine cables coming into the country and this is actually being delivered via fiber now. Well, a lot of users could actually be making use of mobile devices, but more important is to deliver the kind of experience that is expected for broadband. I would say fiber is the way to go. So, it’s a journey that the fiber sub-sector is largely involved in, and we see that as a very crucial requirement to the success of broadband penetration.
Just to also mention, the FTTH sub-sector supports two segments of users. One is exactly the end users that actually make use of the services, I mean individuals, institutions and even the telcos that are actually delivering services that are mobile. In that case, I would say that we act as what are call the carrier of carriers, meaning that we use fiber service to also support even the mobile platform so they can actually achieve their goal of delivering good quality service over the fiber platform.
How far do you see Nigeria going with Fiber technology and do you think we are currently doing enough in this regard?
I would say there are deliberate efforts to achieve this goal, but I will say a lot still needs to be done. There are quite a lot of what I will call the underserved and the unserved areas within the country. This is simply because the entry for the fiber infrastructure which is the submarine cables into the country is actually on one side of the country and there’s a need to get this to go into other areas which is one of the reasons why there was that goal to achieve a 90% coverage which actually meant to enable every part of the country to have access to broadband. So, it’s a joint effort that is achievable and it is important that we have all the stakeholders involved in this to make sure all the underserved and the unserved areas also have access and that will definitely rely hugely on investment in fiber infrastructure.
Nigeria’s plan to achieve 90% coverage, what significant role do you see companies like yours play in this regard? How do you think you can help achieve this target?
Two ways. One is commitment to expansion on the fiber platform, and the other part of it is commitment to delivering quality service. The FCA sub sector is actually crucial to this particular objective. To deliver good experience, you need a platform that can actually support that particular network, which likely is fiber infrastructure, and that is because it is resilient and able to deliver enormous capacity. As part of the goal, download speed is crucial to the objective that’s been set. We’ve seen Organizations achieving average speeds of as much as 20Mbps. But more importantly are the Organizations that have actually gone far beyond that. Organizations such as ipNX that have been able to deliver speeds as much as 100Mbps and even to some extent 200Mbps speed to end users, not even just institutions, but even to homes and this of course is supporting the digital drive that we are talking about.
Looking at the Fiber-To-The-Home Sub-Sector, what are the issues that are affecting the attainment of the target set in the National Broadband plan and how can we support them?
Okay, quite a number of issues and I’ll just list a few of them. One which is very fundamental is the right of way. That has been a challenge for years but interestingly the government has been making tremendous effort in that particular regard to make sure the challenges that are being faced by telcos operators are being surmounted by seeking the support of the State Governments in subjects around the right of way. Now one thing that they are doing is to make sure that in terms of access and process of permits, there are efforts to make sure these things are seamless.
Secondly is the cost, which is the amount that is actually being paid per linear meter. The effort of the Federal Government is to get all the states to work with what they call the ammonized price for the right-of-way. I’ll say to an extent, they have been successful. They have been working with the governor’s cell forum in that particular regard and there was this agreement that there was going to be a unified right away at N145 per linear meter. Interestingly, about six states actually agreed to that and they implemented. In fact, there about one or two states that even decided to make it as low as N1/M but as it is now, we still have a number of states that are yet to align with that objective of the ammonized right-of-way amount. The government at the federal level is still committed to making sure that happens, so that is something that is actually being done.
The second part of that is about vandalization of infrastructure. It is very crucial. Fiber is such a platform that once things are working fine, I mean things are running fine. But because of damages and vandalization, it disrupts service. Now this has actually made the Federal Government to see the fiber infrastructure as what they call the critical national infrastructure and they’ve developed a policy around that, which is a means to control the issues around vandalization. So that’s the effort that’s being taken by the Federal Government at that level.
How would you assess the role of regulators in addressing these challenges?
I would say regulators are two levels. Of course, at the federal level, we have the Nigerian Communications Commission and at the state level for example like in Lagos, we have the LASIMRA which is the Lagos State Infrastructure Management and Regulatory Authorities. They’ve been quite supportive in the sense that they listen to telcos when they complain and they come up with different guidelines to make sure infrastructure are being protected. That is something that they are doing at the moment. I would also say that they are also supporting in other ways in the sense that they try to work with the association. For example, we’ve got the ATCON which is Association for Telecoms Operators of Nigeria. With that, they have this forum or platform through which engagements can actually be made very seamless.
Another part is also the ease of doing business which is actually about seamless processing of right-of-way. They are working on platforms and applications that actually makes application for right of way to be very seamless. So, these are some of the things that actually been done at the regulator level.
One of the policy priorities in the National Broadband plan is to implement and enforce National Uniform Row charges for Fiber builds at a rate of N145/M, is this the case right now?
Not exactly. Like I mentioned earlier on, we’ve seen about six states that have actually aligned and we’ve even seen some states that have even gone below that to offer their right of way for as low as N1/M, but we still have a lot of states that are yet to comply and the Federal Government is still committed to engaging them to see how well they can actually align with that particular ammonized right of way policy.
Looking at the Nigerian market, how would you rate Fiber technology adoption amongst individuals and businesses?
It is something that is growing. I would say growing rapidly. I say that because of the impact that it has actually made in businesses. For example, it’s helped a lot of businesses in their digital transformation journey. It’s also helped a lot of businesses in terms of operational excellence. More importantly, if you look at the current situation of the pandemic, we’ve seen things change, what we call the new normal – a case whereby employees have been mandated to work from home. It simply means that a reliable infrastructure such as fiber is very crucial to enable them work seamlessly without having to be in the office and one other thing I’ll also say is that it has actually been a major support for startups. Organizations and individuals can run their business from home because of the availability of a reliable infrastructure as fiber, so the adoption is growing and a lot more demand is being placed on operators to deliver services via fiber to end users, either enterprises or individuals at the moment.
Advice to stakeholders
It is important that the stakeholders within the entire ecosystem work closely together, particularly within the ICT sub-sector. Collaboration is very key at this particular time, and we expect that with a lot more effort towards collaboration, we can actually see success of broadband penetration to be achievable in the country.