Temitope Osunrinde

In 2012, Kendall Ananyi and Ifeanyi Okonkwo had an idea that would improve internet access in Nigeria. It was still the early days of mass adoption of the internet, with memories of mobile browsing and EDGE barely years before. The internet was still painfully slow, unreliable, and expensive, with the Mobile Network Operators, and the few WiFI internet service providers that Existed at the time.

Thanks to their experience in other countries, the duo believed that organizations and homes in Nigeria required unlimited internet access and thought they could provide it cheaper, and faster than any of the available ISPs at the time. The duo had previously worked on a video-on-demand box but were unable to realize the concept due to the unavailability of unlimited internet at the time.

So, they learned as much as they could about providing internet services, researched various wireless internet technologies, pivoted their idea, and erected the first telecoms tower in the hopes that it would work.

The first tower was built at Friends’ Colony Estate and it worked perfectly. The founders were able to persuade the estate’s occupants to subscribe. Other estates in the area heard about the unlimited internet solution, initially called Friend’s Colony internet, and wanted the service, and this started what eventually became Tizeti.

Today, Tizeti is widening internet access in Africa with solar-powered masts, to deliver the most cost-effective and reliable unlimited internet services. With its focus on renewable energy via solar panels, instead of grid electricity or generators, Tizeti is better able to significantly reduce its operating costs, especially during a period of skyrocketing diesel prices, and pass on these cost-savings to consumers, making it hyper-competitive in terms of subscription costs.

Largely bootstrapped till 2017, when the company got accepted into Y Combinator, the startup accelerator company, and raised a seed round. By this time, Tizeti had bootstrapped its way to $1m ARR and had five thousand internet users. It was able to raise a seed round of $2.1m, the largest publicly announced round at the time and then launched Express Wi-Fi, with Facebook (now Meta). Over the next few months, Tizeti increased its coverage with hundreds of thousands of customers connecting daily. It subsequently raised $3m in its Series A financing round from existing investors, which brought its total investment to $5.1m. Tizeti deployed this funding to upgrade its network infrastructure, improve its customer service, improve its internal processes to keep up with the increasing user data demand and provide a fantastic user experience for its customers.

The Tizeti team had by now, expanded from two at inception, to 50 to about 270 employees in 2017. They acquired a new office, strengthened its partnership with Facebook, via ExpressWifi, and deployed over a thousand hotspot locations in Nigeria, making Tizeti the largest outdoor public WiFi deployed in the nation. Tizeti’s ExpressWifi users grew 5x to 1.8 million, across over 4,000 retailers, during the pandemic and earned the company a place on Fast Company’s Annual List of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2020, as the 6th Most Innovative Company in Africa. Tizeti also partnered with companies such as DSTV to host the Big Brother Nigeria Seasonaa 3 and Battle Ground.

To improve its customer experience, Tizeti upgraded from 802.11n Wifi Access Points to 802.11ac technology to enable it to deliver faster speeds and a better user experience. It also expanded in Lagos by building more towers and ensuring over 80 percent coverage of Lagos to better serve its customers. In addition to Lagos, Tizeti also has coverage in Edo, Oyo, Rivers, and Ogun states. In Ghana, Tizeti expanded to five new locations: Adenta, Madina, Spintex, North Kaneshie, and Tema. This expansion allowed the company to extend its coverage to more populated locations in Accra, Kasoa, and Tema and drive the demand for reliable internet connectivity.

In 2019, Tizeti secured 4G LTE spectrum and its voice solution, WifiCall to expand its product offerings and better position for its triple-play ambitions. WifiCall has since grown almost 4x, from 3.6 million minutes in 2019 to 13.5 million minutes in 2020 as more people relied on its low-priced, unlimited call features to reach their friends, families, and business contacts. WifiCall is now integrated with a leading CRM provider, Freshdesk, and has launched the voice calling app on Android and IoS.

In line with its focus on accelerating access to affordable broadband connectivity in Africa’s underserved populations, and more recently, due to the increased customer demand for connectivity solutions during the pandemic, Tizeti upgraded its core network infrastructure capacity to 100Gbps, to provide additional capacity to support its services as well as future upgrades and ensure that its customers continue to enjoy high-quality and reliable internet services. Immediately after this upgrade was concluded, the company’s data consumption increased to over 100,000 Gigabytes a day (100 Terabytes per day), and Tizeti delivered over 38,648 TB (38.648 million GB) in 2021.

To accelerate its efforts toward bridging the digital divide in West Africa, Tizeti has collaborated with several partners, global technology providers, and local players, to ensure that its 50,000+ customers and the 4 million devices are on its network infrastructure. Some of its partners include Microsoft Corporation (Airband initiative), Nokia, Cambium, MainOne, an Equinix company (fiber infrastructure), and Nomba (formerly Kudi) among many others. Tizeti announced Nokia’s Fastmile Long Term Evolution technology as a partner to enable it to provide superior Internet services to over 1 million subscribers in Port Harcourt, Edo, and Ogun. Tizeti proprietary solar towers help deliver premium internet services to residential, small, and medium enterprises and ensured that the company could bring the internet closer to its customers in those areas. Tizeti’s partnership with Cambium Network, a provider of wireless networking solutions, helps Tizeti to expand its Internet Service Provision operations in the nation and meet its customers’ increased demand for quality and high-speed connectivity, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In ten years, Tizeti has quietly impacted the internet space in Nigeria, and has become the number #1 fixed internet operator with the largest connected and active subscriber base in West Africa’s biggest economy and has contributed a leading role to tripling internet users in Nigeria from 16% when it started operations in 2012 to about 50% in 2022. Tizeti’s impact has not gone unrecognized: it recently won the Internet Service Provider of the Year 2021 award in Nigeria.

What started as a simple side hustle to provide fast, yet affordable internet to as many people as possible, eventually played a significant role in West Africa’s digital transformation narrative. Tizeti has disrupted the traditional ISP operating model and become the one of the largest ISP in Nigeria by subscriber base and the partner of choice for international tech companies coming into West Africa.

The opportunities for Africa in the digital economy are built on physical infrastructure laid by operators like Tizeti. While we have contributed to building the digital infrastructure in Nigeria and Ghana and plan to expand to ten new states in Nigeria, new locations in Ghana and expand to francophone West Africa, we believe that broadband must be pulled, as much as it is pushed. This is why we started the annual technology conference, Tizeti NeXTGEN, to convene prominent corporate leaders, C-level executives, IT managers, technology startups, and digital thought leaders and discuss services and solutions that can further improve broadband penetration and digital inclusion in West Africa. The maiden edition, themed “The future of Digital is Here”, featured insights from Yinka Adewale, co-founder/Chief Executive Officer, Kudi (now Nomba); Akin Jones, co-founder/Chief Executive Officer, Aella App; Dr. Femi Kuti, Chief Executive Officer, Reliance Health, Eniola Campbell, Country Managing Director, Nokia Nigeria, and Olubunmi Ogun, Deputy General Manager, Nigeria Sales, MainOne, an Equinix company).

The second edition of Tizeti NeXTGEN, which coincides with its 10th anniversary, will continue the flagship’s focus on conversations on Africa’s digital environment and highlight the role of digital transformation in empowering more Nigerians, stimulating economic activity, and providing a foundation for a robust and thriving ecosystem to enable digital leadership for Africa in the 4.0 world. Themed “The Next Frontier”, Tizeti’s NeXTGEN conference will announce new digital innovations and products, explore new partnerships, and articulate strategies to accelerate Africa’s digitization.

Compared to the global average of 63 percent internet penetration, with significantly high penetration in America and Northern Europe, Africa’s largely mobile internet penetration of 36 percent pales in comparison.

When we juxtapose the submission from the report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), that Africa’s internet economy is one of the largest overlooked investment opportunities available, with a potential to add US$180 billion to Africa’s GDP by 2025, and the current broadband gaps, we realize the need to do tremendously more to bridge the digital divide and ensure that the opportunities from digital are available to everyone in Africa, irrespective of social class or geography.

Africa, Africans, and friends of Africa must do more to widen the broadband connectivity envelope and improve digital inclusion, thus impacting knockdown effects on financial, healthcare, academic, and other inclusions.

We can do more. We must do more.

Osunrinde is the Vice President for Marketing at Tizeti.

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