Managing Director of VDT limited, Mr Biodun Omoniyi, is a restless man. As a fresh Engineering graduate in 1989, Omoniyi knew he was not cut out to carry files looking for paid employment. His restless nature had sent signals to his membrane that the answer rested in establishing his own company and become an employer of labour. His first instinct was to delve into the Information and Communications, ICT space. the desire gave birth to Bitcom Systems Limited,a System integration company.
Typical of a restless mind, twelve years after, Omoniyi was also to establish VDT Communications Limited in 2001. VDT focuses mainly on providing Broadband Communications Service to the growing data-centric financial sector of the Nigerian economy.
He has since led the growth of VDT through his dynamic management style from the then one branch office to the multi-branch entity it is today. In 2014, Omoniyi led a consortium of three companies including his VDT and Bitcom to bid for and won the coveted 2.3 GHz spectrum auctioned by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC.
Today, the spectrum has helped Omoniyi’s VDT to launch an advanced 4G LTE broadband service said to be close to a 5G service platform
He told Hi-Tech how the journey of his venture into the ICT space has been since after school and what businesses must do to survive in Nigerian business environment.
By Prince Osuagwu
You made headlines in 2014 when BitFlux group you are part of grabbed the 2.3 GHz spectrum auction by the Nigerian Communications Commission, against well-known telecom giants in Nigeria. What has that spectrum helped you achieve?
BitFlux group was a special purpose vehicle to acquire that spectrum. We knew that the spectrum would be an important factor in our strategy to institutionalise a strong network in the broadband market. Today, the result is tremendous growth in a market many operators are closing shops daily.
The spectrum is responsible for our reputation in the enterprise market and our confidence in venturing into the retail side of the market, now
Now, you are looking at expanding your services to retail broadband services, how better do you think you have covered the enterprise segment?
In the enterprise broadband market, I will say we are a giant. We have made much progress in the enterprise market to the extent that we now have about 33 offices nationwide from just three when we started in 2001. We can dedicate this to our loyal customers who have also confessed to have enjoyed excellent services from us, all these years.
We believe we can take that same success into the retail broadband market to show the general populace what quality broadband service should look like.
We want to show the world that what it does not take only low prices to compete in a market like ours, but more of excellent quality. I believe Nigerians are actually ready to pay for proven quality services when they see one. So, I will not say we are coming to compete for only low prices but with added value, in terms of good service
You have just introduced what you called Advanced 4G LTE service package. What makes it advanced, and, how is it different from the conventional 4G LTE packages we know?
What makes it advanced is our infrastructure. The infrastructure we are using to offer this service is a brand new infrastructure that was built from the ground up, to be able to offer LTE services. You probably would have been hearing about 5G services, with Advanced 4G LTE we are taking you there. With it, we are more like, practicing the future, now. We know that many other people providing these services do so with legacy systems; some of them probably did not even start from 4GLTE. So having an LTE platform, ab initio, actually differentiates our services. This equipment will eventually translate into quality services the customers would now experience on our platform.
5G is the catchphrase now, and from what you are saying it appears you’re building momentum towards 5G?
Like I said 5G is actually the immediate future, it is not here yet, but it is almost here. What I can confirm now is that we have the specifications, but in terms of the actual product, it is not really in the market, anywhere.
What we are saying is that with the applications we’ve built today which we are hoping 5G will actually enhance, definitely, when it berths, maybe in another year, two or three, we will be one of the first companies in Nigeria to offer services on it. Our infrastructure is primed for that already.
Every broadband innovation is launched in Lagos, when Nigeria is in need of broadband services in rural areas. Does it mean that all services must be commercially driven?
First, I will not blame businesses concentrating on servicing the Lagos market alone. We all know that Lagos is the economic hub and heart of Nigeria and most of these businesses providing services here are using private capital, which respects only return on investment. So, the first instinct for any businessman is to first, provide services where he can get good returns, and, Lagos actually offers that.
However, Lagos does not make the whole of Nigeria. For us, we have an expansionary mind. Immediately after the launch in Lagos, we will move on to five other commercial cities in Nigeria, including Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano, and Onitsha. Thereafter, we can take the next step. This is the general evolution of how our services are being introduced in Nigeria.
Everybody I know that offers broadband services in Nigeria, has a bitter Right of Way story to tell, are you an exception?
No, I am not. As a player in this market, I definitely have stories to share. However, I just want to be able to throw more lights on wireless technology in relation to the fibre links that are actually required in this right of way. As good as everybody says fibre technology would give better broadband experience, the truth is that when you are looking at the retail market, the quickest way to reach the masses is the wireless technology. But of course, these wireless technologies need a kind of broadness that the fibre links provide. The two actually work hand in hand. Whatever affects the fibre links affects the wireless providers.
For us, we also have some fibre cables used in linking our base stations; and it’s been quite difficult to make those available even within Lagos itself for sometimes now because Lagos state government has not granted a license to anybody to be able to do interlinking.
Although, there’s also advancement in radio technology that can enable use of this spectrum to do inter-base station links, of course, it’s a lot cheaper once that right of way has been granted and the fibre is laid.
So I am appealing to the authorities to open up the market so that we can further deepen the broadband penetration in Nigeria
Telecom industry is highly volatile and a lot of operators in your genre of telecom business have closed down. What’s your survival strategy?
There is no gainsaying we really operate in a very difficult environment in Nigeria. To run a successful business in Nigeria takes the grace of God. It’s not by anyone’s doing. However, there are also other basic tenets that I will say have kept us going overtime. One is maintaining a singular focus on where we are going.
Another is that we have been blessed with good team members, highly committed, dedicated members of staff and management and also board.
The things we set out to do are not too many. We just simply stay focused. When we started 18 years ago, my aim was to make sure that every corporation, especially banks actually get a test of our services. We just concentrated on doing that despite getting offers from different corporations to do other things different from our core competences. I rejected all the offers despite the huge profit I could make because I preferred to be professional.
Is change in business focus why the number of ISPs is drastically waning?
In some cases, market forces actually forced some of the ISPs to change business focus. But what actually forced them out of business was not being able to get the required capital base and reserve needed when you make such changes
However, I started by saying we are actually operating in a very difficult terrain where multiple taxations, arbitrary right of way levies and so many forces abound.
I keep on saying that the regulators are not supporting indigenous business. Of course, we like it when it is a foreign capital that comes in, so whereas we need to pay more attention to supporting and promoting our own, but the only thing I can say, it will only be by the grace of God that directed us to move to the opposite direction when every other person was moving in a particular direction because we knew that five 10 years, down the line, everybody will move back, so we are building our expertise in that particular direction.
What’s your view on the regulation of the Nigerian ICT space?
If I have to look at it over a longer term because I have been here for a while, I will say there has been a lot of somersaulting, you move forward and backward which is what the general economy looks like as well.
But, by and large, I must give kudos to telecoms regulators overtime, maybe because of the foundation laid when the GSM companies were coming in; they have been highly strengthened with a lot of knowledgeable people.
However, one would have expected that they do more especially to indigenous companies, promote our own, everybody does it. At the end of the day we’re here and the only place we operate is here; the people we’ve been employing are our indigenous people. We even go about developing the youths and making sure they’re properly equipped with the right skills to face the future. It’s only the indigenous operators that can do these, and that’s why I said the regulators needed to actually encourage and support us.
Advise government on how to raise the economy with ICT
We can’t overemphasise that we have missed our chances. When I was a young graduate, my vision was to manufacture some of those things that we are consuming. In those days, as young engineers, we dreamt of making transistors, but now nobody thinks about that. That dream did not crystallise because of the development chances that we have squandered. Today, if I have an opportunity to influence government policy, it will be on education. The government needs to focus on promoting indigenous businesses to be able to take on certain roles. It was a delight when an indigenous company was given the opportunity to run the TSA. We need more of such opportunities. We also need the government to embrace technology to drive governance.