By Prince Osuagwu
As Africa still enjoys the classification as the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world, it is also an undisputable fact that West Africa remains the region within the continent that clearly holds the key to this classification.
However, if West Africaâ€™s telecom growth influence is so adjudged, it can only be all credit to Nigeria, a nation of over 150 million people, whose appetite for telephony services actually turned the magic wand.
Meanwhile, prior to 2001, when GSM services were introduced, it was as if Nigerians were bound lips and tongue. Communication was a scarce commodity. But immediately the GSM berthed in August 2001, the story changed. Loved ones could talk to each other in the comfort of their different homes, friends became closer and relations send instant messages and relay important information promptly.
Nigerians are highly industrious and so business men and women began to transact businesses with ease, cutting down cost by boycotting unnecessary travels which in most cases were fruitless.
In fact, since then, the story has been that of excitement, growth and more growth, occasioned by unmatched demand that keep the operators on their toes at all times.
Yet, while the Digital Mobile Licences, issued February 2001 after the globally hailed auction exercise in January of the same year, took the winners to the drawing board on how to roll out services, one man saw a need to keep the Nigerian and indeed West African telecom sector on the front burner.
That man, John Thomson, through his company, Exhibition Management Services (EMS), introduced the West African International Telecommunications and Information Communications Technology exhibition (W.Afri.Tel).
The expo gradually became a platform for showcasing telecom products and services for international and indigenous companies alike, clearly turning into West Africaâ€™s premier and biggest ICT show.
Making its debut in June 2001, two clear months before GSM operations would commence, W.Afri.Tel soon became the rallying point where equipment vendors, operators, governments and regulators from across the world, converged to showcase, deliberate and fashion out the direction of operations and growth of the telecom market in an environment that was just beginning to come to terms with global needs for the knowledge economy.
The interesting thing about it all was that the venue is Eko Hotels, in Lagos Nigeria.
Enters WAFICT Congress
As W.AfriTel grew in popularity and size, attracting international manufacturers and operators as well as indigenous ones, EMS sourced a reliable local partner in Nigeria, and hooked IT & Telecom Digest, a Lagos based but globally circulated ICT magazine.
The cross pollination of ideas between this British gentle man and his Nigerian counterpart, Mr Mkpe Abang who manages IT&Telecom Digest, added greater value to the exhibition. However, in 2009Â IT & Telecom Digest went a step further to initiate the first West African ICT Congress (WAFICT).
This conference which runs side by side with W.AfriTel, has attracted speakers from the United States, United Kingdom, Asia, and people from other parts of Africa.
The conference, designed to run concurrently with the exhibition, is also raising the bar on what to expect as W.AfriTel turns ten in June .
Incidentally, Eko Hotel, venue of WAFICT and W.Afri.Tel, has since realised the need to provide a more fitting environmentÂ for such events. Only recently, the hotel commissioned for use of such global events, an ultra modern Eko Expo Centre which it said costs a whopping $44 million.
With the theme â€œMoving West Africa Forward: Policy and Technology Imperatives _ Trends, Potentials and Challenges,â€ WAFICT Congress may finally expose the sub_region to the many challenges it needed to face before enjoying full benefits of a robust policy direction, firm and transparent regulatory environment and technology acceptability in line with changing global trends.
The conference, is expected to cover, among other areas, Broadband, Rural connectivity, Accessibility and cost_efficiency, Managed Services and Future networks, Fraud and Mobile management, Customer retention as panacea for churn, Competition and need for quality services, Policies, regulations and regulators, Licences and licence implications, Internet and ubiquity networks, Fibre optics, Long distance cables and backbone solutions.
Organisers of the event say the tenth anniversary of W.AfriTel side by side with WAFICT congress have attracted commendations from notable industry operators, including MTN Nigeria, 21st Century Technologies, Intel West Africa amongst others that have indicated interest to exhibit at the events.
David Ibhawoh, Business Development Manager for Intel West Africa, was even quoted as saying that â€œthe merger of these events creates additional marketing opportunities, particularly now that Information and Communication technologies are of fundamental importance for the 21st century where every business striving for success should utilise the most up_to_date solutions. Nigeria is ready for the digital world.â€
No wonder, a good number of respectable speakers including Minister of Communications, Ghana Hon. Haruna Iddrisu, Hon Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, Minister of Information & Communications, Sierra Leone, his counterparts in The Ghambia, Hon Ms Fatim Badji, (Minister of Communications and Information Technology), Hon Abdourahim Agne, Minister of Telecommunications, ICT, and Transports, Senegal as well as Hon Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Minister of Communications, Cameroon, have been line up for the event.
The ministers are expected to be led by their Nigerian counterparts, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Mr. Labaran Maku, Minister and Minister of State for Information and Communications respectively.
Others on the star line up of speakers include Engr. Stephen Bello, Acting Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission as well as Engr. Ernest Ndukwe, the former EVC of the NCC.
These are in addition to Mr. Mohamed Jameel, Group Chief Operating Officer, Globacom, Dr. Ekwo Spio_Garbrah, Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, CTO as well as Mr. David Hartshorn, Secretary_General of the Global VSAT Forum, would also speak at the three_day conference.
Now that both WAFICT Congress and W.Afri.Tel exhibitions, are presenting Nigeria and West Africa at a much respectful level to the world, especially with the calibre of speakers already lined up for the conference, the country needs more collaborations and growth driven policies to sustain the tempo.