Despite what ICT and telecommunication professionals have described as an "articulate" broadband policy, Nigeria has struggled to achieve the 30% fixed internet penetration set for 2018. To address this and ensure rapid deployment of connectivity (especially to rural areas), satellite data communications services provider Avanti Communications has partnered with African connectivity and datacentre solutions company MainOne.
In early February 2019 at the annual IT conference Nerds Unite, hosted by MainOne, the companies announced their alliance and offered details of what the market could expect.
According to a statement released by the companies, "The partnership will also include the deployment of Avanti's ECO initiative, which bundles broadband access, solar power and embedded Wi-Fi services for schools and small communities, ideal for deployment in remote parts of the country where power availability and connectivity services remain a challenge."
The partnership is also backed with the commissioning and launch of Avanti's new Gateway Earth Station (GES) in Nigeria, hosted at MainOne's Tier III Data Centre 'MDXi'.
Libby Barr, chief operating officer at Avanti Communications, and Funke Opeke, chief executive officer at MainOne recently spoke of the alliance and why it matters to Nigeria.
They highlight the role the internet plays in job creation, developing the agricultural sector and providing access to education, among other socio-economic development.
To this end the partnership aims to provide access to the internet to difficult to reach areas and make accelerated broadband expansion possible via satellite.
"(This) will 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," said Barr.
While there have been public-private partnerships and alliances that have tried to address the concerns of broadband access in Nigeria, the partners claim this is the first time there is 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," said Opeke.
This level of collaboration is necessary to not only help the West African country avoid falling behind on the global technology map, but also achieve broadband coverage targets.
"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," Opeke continued.
Barr said: "This partnership will support the country's targets by increasing broadband penetration with the combination and complimentary 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."
Remote area strategy
According to Avanti, its HYLAS 4 satellite covers the whole of Nigeria, and will complement MainOne's fibre infrastructure and backhaul partners to ensure that backhaul partnership has some form of connectivity to the digital transformation that the internet brings.
Avanti and MainOne plan to install built-in Wi-Fi hotspots 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," Barr added.
Nigeria's re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari plans to position the internet as a critical infrastructure to strengthen the country's economy, with a focus on online access within education, healthcare and business.
According to an ITWeb Africa report, Buhari's administration plans to extend broadband coverage through 120,000km of fibre network across Nigeria, particularly since harmonised Right of Way charges have been agreed to between the federal government and all states.