Karo Akaba, Chief Commercial Officer, Pan African Towers
Karo Akaba, Chief Commercial Officer, Pan African Towers

Pan African Towers is exploring roll-out plans to provide telecom and data services to rural areas in Nigeria especially areas that do not have access to life-enhancing services in health, education, banking and other sectors

Karo Akaba, CCO, Pan African Towers

The Chief Commercial Officer of Pan African Towers, Karo Akaba has evaluated the state of the tower industry in Africa. The CCO who focused primarily on West Africa while speaking at the TowerXchange Meetup Africa Borderless 2020, noted that Nigeria has the largest telecom market in Africa with over 203.5 million connected mobile lines as at August 2020. Akaba stated that out of these total number of connected mobile lines, 149.7 million of them are connected to internet services. She however, stated that despite this connectivity, there is a huge telecom infrastructure gap of $136 billion in the country. She explained that Nigeria needed an additional 40,000 towers to its existing 40,000 towers in order to bridge that telecom infrastructure gap.

Highlighting, the impact of COVID-19 to the tower industry in West Africa, the Pan-African Towers Chief Commercial Officer noted that, there were supply chain disruptions, oil price crash, frozen economic activities, forex volatility, lay-offs and slashing of salaries that impacted the economy in Nigeria. She said these factors also impacted the tower industry as it delayed the roll out of new sites, new rural programmes and even 5G deployment in the country.

Akaba stated that the Nigerian government had developed an economic recovery and sustainability plan where it planned on injecting a stimulus package of about N2.3 trillion into real sectors of the economy like manufacturing, construction, renewable energy, housing, digital economy just to mention but a few. The PAT CCO said the stimulus package was aimed at creating jobs for Nigerians, maximising government revenue and achieving the value for money and was to be implemented by all Ministers in their various sectors through the formation of a Ministerial Implementation Committee that will oversee the implementation of the stimulus package.

The PAT Commercial Chief also highlighted the importance of rural programmes in helping Nigerians especially in underserved rural areas, gain access to broadband connectivity and other digital telecom services. She noted that MTN, Nigeria’s largest Mobile Network Operator is scaling up its services and deploying 5,000 new rural sites before the end of 2020 to accommodate the high demand for data as well as rural areas deprived of telecom connectivity. She also mentioned that the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) has approved the disbursement of $100 million to help promote the “Smart Villages Project” aimed at transforming Niger’s economy into a digital one by providing broadband connectivity to rural areas in the country. The Commercial Specialist also stated that Pan African Towers is exploring roll-out plans to provide telecom and data services to rural areas in Nigeria especially in areas where Nigerians cannot access basic life-enhancing services in health, education, banking, and other sectors due to the unavailability of network connectivity in those areas.

In a discussion that was highly interactive, the CCO stated that 4G deployment in Nigeria was still developing as it had received about 43.03% broadband connectivity. She stated that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had expressed their plan to increase this figure to more than 70% broadband penetration before the end of this administration. She mentioned that in line with this agenda, the federal government of Nigeria had developed a National Broadband Plan that highlights a five-year plan to deliver download speed of about 25Mbps in urban areas and 10mbps in rural areas. She said that this plan was conceived to transform the Nigerian economy into a digital one and as such the development of a policy for the implementation and deployment of 5G technology in Nigeria, is an action initiated by the government as part of this broadband plan to transform Nigeria into a digital economy.

Akaba highlighted that, with the conduction of 5G trials in Nigeria in late 2019 by MTN, 5G roll-out would have been deployed in 2020 but not for the impact of COVID-19. She stated that during the lockdown period, people had peddled fake news attributing 5G to be the cause of coronavirus and so this posed a major challenge for 5G roll-out in the country as people were sceptical about the technology. She said Pan African Towers believes that 5G technology can open a global market worth $12.3 trillion and create more than 22 million jobs worldwide as it will foster Artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, robotics, telemedicine, smart cities, agriculture, automated self-driving cars, etc. 5G technology according to Karo Akaba, will present huge opportunities for telecom market as it will also help provide seamless data download and connectivity especially as the world has tremendously shifted to the virtual world, in order to promote business continuity.

The Pan African Towers CCO used this opportunity to call for a uniform acceptability and implementation of the Right of Way as well as the passage of the Critical Network Infrastructure Bill into law as this will help foster the growth and development of the tower industry in Nigeria and West Africa at large. She stated that these regulations will help reduce OPEX and CAPEX and foster new roll-out plans by towercos. She also said with the passage and implementation of these legislations, Nigeria will help to bridge the $136 billion infrastructure gap that currently exists in Nigeria’s telecom industry.