Mobile Week with GSM

August 2, 2009

Telecom business challenges in Nigeria are surmountable— Helios Towers boss

By Prince Osuagwu
AS infrastructure sharrng is fast becoming the preferred option to multiplicity of telecom infrastructure and an antidote to unhealthy competitive practices of telecom operators that hamper environmental friendliness, telecom infrastructure sharing equipment providers in the country are having their hey days. But that is not also without challenges.

Helios Towers Boss

So, surrounded by a group of ICT reporters in Abuja recently, Mr. Faisal Hussein, chief executive officer, Helios Towers Nigeria Limited, a telecom infrastructure company, highlighted on some of these challenges but expressed optimism that the future is bright due to Nigeria’s market potentials.

Competition among operators brought about multiplicity of telecom masts and base stations and this resulted in introducing the colocation option which brought people like you into business in Nigeria. But now the competition tide seems to have shifted to the infrastructure sharing companies. Is this not going to be like selling the dog to buy a monkey?

I think first, that competition is good. Already we are providing service that will enhance the operators’ service. That many new people are coming into the market is fine by me because ultimately we will all improve and at the end of the day, it is all about service level. We guarantee 99.9 per cent quality service. No body guarantees 99.9 per cent. So we are very comfortable. We do a very good job, our customers are happy, and I look forward to competing with the rest in the sector.

I will like to tell Nigerian consumers that we are indirectly supporting the growth of telecommunications in Nigeria in terms of quality, quantity and basically the cost. So when you have a WiMAX operator that is launched in Nigeria, the operator has added advantage over other African countries because they don’’t have to build infrastructure in the sense that they can just lease space and they can be up and running very quickly.

This will actually expedite the roll out of broadband and other services in Nigeria . It will also help in inducing competition because the operators do not have to find millions of dollars to build sites. Therefore, I think it is a very good development and fortunately for Nigeria , the country is slightly ahead of the curve. If we get ahead of peculiar challenges, there would be no problem at all.

What kind of challenges do you encounter,  doing business here
There are many challenges, starting from site acquisition and all, but they are surmountable. It can be very challenging though. When you build the site you have to show quality. Once the site is built, you have to continue to manage them. The difference with us is that we build our sites to last for 25 years and they are designed for multi-tenancy. We have independent quality measures and we have independent specifications.

Our sites are basically world class and because we intend these sites to be for 25 years, the quality of the steel, the quality of the construction are all independently measured on this basis and as far as we are concerned, we are world class.

Some new guys or some other guys are trying to enter into the market for competition. I think you will find over the next six to 12 months people who are trying to enter the market and customers will find it that the quality is not quite the same as ours, not exactly, as what it is before they go over.

We have been in this business for quite a number of years and this is our core business. We guarantee 99.9 per cent uptime quality. If we do not perform, penalties can be imposed.

Every body is jostling to capture the telecom operators that are not so many in Nigeria. By the time infrastructure is shared round them, what would keep your business expansion afloat

The new CDMA players, new WiMAX players, all these enterprise customers will be taking more of our services and as our customers base increase, those operators and their services will also continue to grow. We are already nationwide but what we want to do is start moving into smaller towns and into the rural areas. Therefore, over the next two years we are hoping to build close to 2,000 sites.
All our steel are galvanized to international standards, world class standards and now there are some local players who are trying to enter the market to provide that quality of steel and that is a good development for Nigeria because we look forward to work with this type of players who meet the necessary specifications.

We try to work with communities; we try to employ local people into our business such as security technicians. We also donate some benefits for them and so we minimize any challenges that we may have by ensuring that the community buys into the idea that we exist. All these are signs that there should be symbiosis in the attempt of getting local people involved in the business.

Well of course, the legal system has to be there and the protection of any property has to be there. We will continue to need the support of the local and national governments as well as the support of all of us in the business. This is because at the end of the day if a base station is vandalized or a generating set is stolen it impacts negatively on people. Not just quite a few people and if you think of it, it could have impact on somebody you know whose health is down, somebody who needs to call the hospital or somebody like that so it has far reaching effects.

Outsourcing of non-core businesses of the telecom operators are resonating in every seminar these days. Does that make you feel that Nigeria is the place to be
Actually, that is exactly the way it should be. There is no reason why any operator should be doing the building and maintenance of sites that is not its core business and you see, it is not with only the large operators but also the small operators and this is exactly why we exist. We intend to support and continue to grow the business into managed services and backhaul. Zain is leading the way and you see, soon everybody will follow. It is a general trend. The output is declining and the operating expenditure (Opex) is increasing, so every body has to outsource its non-core business.

I think over the next six months, you will see more cooperation. This is why there is the third party supplier like us. We make sure there is no such problem. That is exactly the advantage of having a third party supplier, so nobody can go on site without a password. We give them access, so each operator has a shelter with his own locking key. Nobody can interfere with each other’’s deployment. Of course, at the end of the day, we have equipment that monitors somebody who opens the door. We get alert that tells us that the door has been opened without proper authority.

The regulator’s stand on colocation seems to be greasing your way to good business in the country. Are there ways they are not doing what you expected of them

The fact that we have a license and we work closely with the regulator shows that there are policies that regulate our service. What I would like to say is that Helios has shown the way in infrastructure service provision and now many new players are trying to enter the market, the regulator and government has to ensure that the quality of the sites being built by these operators are of high standard and are maintained. Helios insists on high quality and so the regulator must ensure that low quality products are not allowed into the sector because they would affect the service quality in the future.