Nigeria, the most populous black nation, Africa’s leading telecommunications market with its growing startup ecosystem had a grand performance at the just concluded ITU Telecom World 2017, where it sought new investors for its national broadband plan to build a digital economy.
A recurring thought on the minds of delegates, investors, technologies companies and participants at the just concluded ITU Telecom World 2017 organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in Busan, South Korea, was how to maximize the huge market opportunities that emerging economies presents with the deployment of new technologies and one name ringing bell was Nigeria.
At the annual global technology showpiece convened by ITU, the information and communications technology (ICT) regulatory agency of the United Nations, Nigeria’s educated and youthful size which dominates its 180 million population, its growing financial technology (FinTech) cluster, telecoms success stories and attractive return on investments (RoIs) were highlighted as signposts that could shape the future of ICT investments as the Fourth Industrial Revolution beckons.
Secretary General of ITU, Mr. Houlin Zhao in his address at the opening ceremony said “In our digital era, ICTs drive the world’s economy and the transformation of our societies. The digital economy continues to grow and expand. Smart technologies change how we work, communicate and do business. We have moved from smart phones to smart electricity, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, health, education and smart cities. And yet, 3.9 billion people are still not connected to the Internet.
“It is an opportunity for all of us to connect with each other, forge new partnerships and create new business opportunities. Ladies and gentlemen, tech SMEs are critical to industry disruption, market growth and job creation — in both developed and developing markets. They are called to have a crucial role to play in stimulating economic and social growth, accelerating innovation, digital inclusion and the development of smart societies” Zhao said.
The conference and exhibition, which held under the theme: “Digital Transformation, Global Opportunities,” looked at how digital technologies are transforming industries and societies, exploring how best to seize the opportunities this brings. Key topics included Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, banking, smart cities, sustainable development and building inclusive innovation ecosystems.
Zhao had commended Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya at the opening press conference stating that Nigeria’s mobile, internet and broadband strategies and achievements contributed to the 95 per cent of the world’s population who are now covered with mobile telephony. He said ITU was working to expose African small and medium entrepreneurs to emerging technologies and networking with world’s leading technology companies and regulators to further avail them opportunities to grow their businesses.
Nigeria’s Telecom Market Opportunities
Buttressing his point, the ITU boss said “the commitment of the government of Nigeria to supporting the ICT sector and driving growth through the digital economy is truly impressive. I hope many of you here will make the most of this opportunity to meet with Nigeria’s high-level officials, leading corporate players and innovative SMEs to explore new projects and initiatives, and to discuss opportunities for partnership and investment.
On his part, executive vice chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta speaking at the official opening of the Nigeria Pavilion at the ITU Telecom World 2017 brandished Nigeria’s attractive investment credentials noting that the fairytale success story of Nigeria’s telecommunication has become a signpost of the untapped opportunities in virgin markets.
The Nigeria Pavilion featured innovative products from SMEs and leading industry players driving the growth of Nigeria’s digital ecosystem. Top government officials from the Ministry of Communications as well as Commissioners from NCC Board led by its chairman, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye were also present to network and engage with participants to showcase developments, opportunities in the sector, flagship national projects and initiatives to deepen connectivity for better socio-economic impact.
According to Danbatta, in 16 years since the Digital Mobile Licences (DML) were issued, investment in the sector has hit about $70 billion from a mere $50 million in 2001. Most of these investments are Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).
“Although, we have made very modest progress in the sector, we still need to deepen investments to make broadband pervasive in the country. We are at 21 percent now and our target is to hit 30 percent by 2018, consistent with the National Broadband Plan.
“In this connection, we are here to tell the ICT community that Nigeria with a population of about 170 million is a preferred investment destination in Africa. With over 150 million active subscribers, in the voice segment, over 102 percent teledensity and a little over 92 million internet connections, Nigeria is indeed a place to invest” he said.
Executive Secretary, Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Ms. Yewande Sadiku, in her keynote presentation Nigerian Investment Forum said Nigeria will drive Africa’s growth and has been projected to be the 14th largest economy in the world by 2050. She told investors to borrow a leaf from MTN which has risen to the biggest telecom operator in Africa and among the top 10 in the world by reason of its decision to invest in Nigeria’s telecom market.
Improved Ease of Doing Business
According to Sadiku, Africa is the most attractive investment destination in the world. “The Nigerian investment case is a real one. Nigeria is a strategic market undergoing dynamic changes and I wonder what MTN would have been now if it didn’t invest in Nigeria” she said, adding that the Nigerian government’s Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) recently introduced new Executive Orders focusing on eight reform areas to fast track Ease of Doing Business.
Ms. Sadiku said these reforms removes investment restrictions by enforcing visa on arrival, fast tracking business name registration, granting quick building permits, tax holidays, easy repatriations of profits, conducive business environment for investors, etc. “Nigeria is building a globally competitive economy and we recognize we need to promote a digital-led growth. That is why our government through the NCC is promoting investments in broadband infrastructure with incentives.”
While appealing to investors to look the way of Nigeria, Sadiku said: “Managers will be queried in the future for not investing in Nigeria at a time like this.” The NIPC Executive Secretary said it now takes one day to register a business unlike the previous 10 days. She said there is income tax relief of three to five years; 20 per cent investment tax on enterprise qualifying expenditure for research and development; exemption from income tax for three years (new companies); indefinite carry forward of losses; zero per cent import duty for power generation and distribution machinery, among others.
The Charge De’ Affairs of Nigerian embassy in South Korea, Mr. Lazarus Basaba who disclosed that Nigeria and South Korea’s bilateral trade has reached N3 trillion ($9.9 billion), said government has eased restrictions to attract further investments into the country. He noted that the best time to invest in Nigeria is now as new Executive Orders from President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is an indication of a level playing field for foreign investors.
“We invite you to come and invest in Nigeria. As a developing country, we have challenges which can be turned into opportunities for investors. Our huge youthful population, high unemployment rate and unstable electricity can become areas of investments for you. We offer visa on arrival to facilitate business and tourism visits” Basaba stated.
Zhao who also attended the Nigerian Investment Forum with Broadband Nigeria as the theme, said Nigeria has remained very ambitious in the drive towards enthroning a digital ecosystem in the country, saying “such should be supported from all angles.” According to him, the commitment of the Nigerian government to support ICT sector and drive growth through the digital economy is truly impressive.
Zhao said he was happy that Nigeria continues to use ITU Telecom World as a key platform to showcase its commitment and promote digital vision. He urged investors to look at the Nigerian market, its population, noting that innovation is gaining traction in the country. He urged Nigerian SMEs to leverage the strength of the Korean SMEs for growth, saying there are rooms for partnership that could provide profitability.
ROI, Security of Investments
Prof Danbatta who assured potential investors in the telecommunications sector of government’s commitment toward ensuring the safety and protection of their investments, told them how the NCC in collaboration with Nigeria’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), prevented a takeover bid for a telecommunication company by a consortium of banks back in Nigeria.
“The NCC is assuring the investors that our doors are open and that we will do whatever we can within the regulatory mandate assigned to us to ensure that their investment is safe and secure,” he pointed out. He said the NCC would continue to build a reputation “of a firm but flexible agency”, which provides incentives to operators and potential investors in order to ensure the gains recorded over the past couple of years are sustained.
He said NCC has put in place measures and guidelines to licence wholesale broadband service providers consistent with the Open Access Model for broadband deployment. “Of the seven infrastructure companies (Infracos) earmarked for licensing, only two have so far been licensed for Lagos which is commercial hub of Nigeria, and Abuja including the North Central zone of the country leaving five more licences for the South West, South East, South South, North East and North West zones of the country.
Investment friendly laws
Member of House of Representative Committee on Communications, Alhaji Abubakar Yunusa, assured investors of the provision of enabling laws that would guarantee return on investment (RoI). He said the National Assembly was ever ready to soften its rules to fit the plan and purposes of investors. According to him, more than ever, the political will now reside in Nigeria for economic growth, stressing that the lawmakers would work with the executive arm to attract foreign investments.
Focus on SMEs
At the ITU Telecom World 2017, Nigeria brought five Nigerian technology SMEs who made it to the final pitching at the conference. The SMEs competed with 16 others from South Africa, Rwanda, Poland, Indonesia, Sudan, Azerbaijan, Japan and the United States of America. The winner and grant involved would be announced on the last day of the conference. Nigeria presented Mavis Computel; Medsaf; MyQ; Nicademia and Ubenwa Intelligence Solutions.
Entrepreneurs from countries around the world continued pitching their creative ideas and innovative solutions in the SME space at ITU Telecom World 2017. In the presence of H.E Rudiantara, Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Indonesia, the SMEs shortlisted for the prestigious ITU Telecom World Global SME Award pitched to a jury, comprising social entrepreneurship and tech experts including Dr. Omobola Johnson, former Minister of Communications Technology.
Pitches spanned areas including drones, tech financing, location-based grocery shopping, multilingual robots, health monitoring, prenatal telemedicine, IoT-enabled poultry incubators, disaster recovery, face recognition and secure payment services.
The Coming 4th Industrial Revolution
The conference looked at how digital technologies are transforming industries and societies, exploring how best to seize the opportunities this brings. Key topics included Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, banking, smart cities, sustainable development and building inclusive innovation ecosystems.
Danbatta said Nigeria is committed to meeting the National Broadband Plan, which eyes 30 per cent penetration by next year, adding that NCC is working with state governments to enthrone smart cities, broadband and digital economy through enabling policies and institution, human capital development; vibrant ICT sector; and necessary ICT infrastructure and ICT applications.
The 4th industrial revolution offers huge potential for socio-economic development in terms of building and delivering personalized products and services at scale, dramatically increasing productivity and revenue, and creating new business models, competitors and markets.
Representatives from KT, Nokia, Huawei joined together to discuss the huge potential for socio-economic development in terms of building and delivering personalized products and services, in the session sponsored by the host country, Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT. Also, a diverse panel from financial institutions, venture capitalists, academia and start-ups considered key questions around AI and financial services, in a session moderated by IBM’s Neil Sahota.
Hossein Moiin, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Nokia Mobile Networks was optimistic that efficiency will be improved in the coming networks that enable the 4th industrial revolution. As he said, we could see a “30 per cent productivity increase with ICT in all sectors by digitizing services.” While optimistic, he noted that investments are needed along with the right regulatory frameworks – to foster investments and ensure that the right resources are allocated.
Marcelo Motta, Digital Transformation and Big Data Market Management, VP of Marketing, Huawei Technologies said “in the 4th industrial revolution, digitization is a must” He discussed the ways that 5G is will allow faster speeds, around 8GB per second. He also alluded to the dramatic increase in connections per square kilometer. As he said, right now approximately there are three connections per person and we could expect more than 100 connections per person as the internet of things (IoT) and 5G enable ubiquitous connections.
AI has much to offer in a field such as microfinance, where dealing with the unbanked can be time consuming. “AI can be made more efficient by technology that engages users and connects disparate data points,” explained Chris Czerwonka, chief innovation officer, InvestED, USA. Crucially, AI can also provide local language interaction. In addition to new services, the 4th industrial revolution may dramatically change the way we manufacture, connect, analyse and operate, creating new opportunities and new business models in the years to come.
Discussing 5G as the driving force of the digital ecosystem worldwide with representatives of all key stakeholders raised a number of fascinating issues as hard to pin down as 5G itself mobile is at the heart of the current transformation and at the heart of the future age of automation,” according to Andy Hudson, head of Technology Policy, GSMA.
Connecting the 52 per cent of the world’s population that is not yet online must be the first priority, through a mix of fast reliable network coverage, ensuring affordability, and developing both local content and digital literacy. Digital lives are not, however, founded on technology alone. We need privacy, security and standards in the current 4G age, let alone as we move towards 5G and a world of immersive communication, VR, augmented reality and increasingly blurred line between the physical and the digital worlds.