By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor
The Information and Communications Technology, ICT sector, closed the year 2021 on a high note.
This is despite the effects of the alleged interference in the independence of the telecom regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
The blip, which industry practitioners tagged regulatory capture, was predicted to erode the gains the sector could make in five years.
However, two major activities, the successful auctioning of the 5G licenses to MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications and the smooth sale of MainOne technology company at $320m to Equinix, nullified all predictions.
The transparent manner the NCC auctioned the 5G licence and the contest which produced the two winners, injected fresh hope that Nigeria may still retain its ranking as the leading tech economy in emerging markets.
5G is a global development. The international community, including International Telecommunications Union, ITU were keen to see Nigeria chart a transparent course to 5G adoption and deployment in Africa.
According to industry players, the NCC method of selling the licences fulfilled that expectation.
5G is a disruptive enabler. It violently disrupts the status quo and entrenches new and innovative ways of rendering services. It is expected that when the licensees start rolling out services on the technology, all sectors of the economy, including health, telecom, banking, transportation, oil and gas, among others, will transform and the country will easily administer telemedicine, govern robust data economy, deploy seamless banking transactions, have ubiquitous internet access, plan smart cities and operate driverless cars among other innovations.
5G is also held seriously to have the powers to revamp governance.
Another activity that significantly shows that Foreign Direct Investors still have regard for the Nigerian market, is the $320m MainOne acquisition.
Before this deal, the impression was that Ghana had pipped Nigeria to become the beautiful bride to foreign business suitors.
The Mainone-Equinix deal and the amount involved has settled that.
President and CEO, Equinix, Charles Meyers, while expressing delight at buying MainOne, said: “The acquisition of MainOne will represent a critical point of entry for Platform Equinix into the expansive and rapidly growing African market.
“MainOne’s leading interconnection position and experienced management team represent critical assets in our aspirations to be the leading neutral provider of digital infrastructure in Africa.
“Growth of data consumption in Africa is amongst the fastest in the world, and our customers are looking for a trusted partner to pursue the opportunities presented by broad mobile adoption and greater connectivity across the region.
Although a few reservations were made by some industry professionals about the manner an otherwise unknown Mafab pipped Airtel to the bidding and the fear that selling MainOne, a Nigerian data-based company to a foreign company means data neo-colonialism, considering that the local Nigerian data would now be exposed to foreign handlers, it still does not remove anything from the facelift these activities gave the sector in 2021.
Even at that, there are answers to those reservations.
Much ado about Mafab:
In 2004 when Globacom picked a bouquet of licenses which made it the second national operator, the telecom company was barely known. As at the time, it had never performed ground-breaking telecom activities to warrant the licences it got. But today, the operator is not only a sector giant, it is also the only telecommunications operator that single-handedly landed an undersea cable to the shores of Nigeria.
Again, in 2014 when a consortium, Bitflux won the bid to acquire the licence for the remaining slot in the 2.3GHz spectrum band, it was entirely an unknown entity in the sector.
In fact, what made that case more interesting is that it was like the biblical contest between David and Goliath. Bitflux went into that contest against Globacom. Bitflux offered twenty-three million, two hundred and fifty-one thousand dollars ($23,251,000) to win the licence as against Globacom’s offer of twenty-three million, fifty thousand and one dollars ($23,050,001 million) in a keenly contested licensing round that attracted information and communications technology experts around the world to the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
Despite being the underdog in the contest, the industry is still counting the gains of Bitfux’s victory because all the parts that made up the consortium are still strong industry players today.
Considering that data is the new oil, every Nigerian should ordinarily be wary of foreigners managing our database let alone owning a data centre in the country.
However, over 70 per cent of Nigerian data is hosted abroad. Over 80 per cent of the software used in Nigeria are not only foreign but also developed by foreigners.
So, to single out mainone sale may only pass as a distraction. Rather a conscious effort should be made to protect indigenous data and software by way of laws and government policies.