Ghana Needs Smart-city InitiativesTo Deepen Internet Penetration – Kazeem Oladepo, Country Manager, MainOne
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Kazeem Oladepo, and I am MainOne’s General Counsel and Business Executive responsible for West Africa and Ghana.
The internet penetration in Ghana is quoted to be about 20%. What do you think are the factors responsible for this, and what can Ghana do to step up its internet penetration indices?
Ghana has an impressive growth story in internet penetration in Africa over the course of the last few years; thanks to early adoption of market liberalization by its government and the impact of what has become a matured regulatory environment, led by the NCA. Much more could however have been achieved, but for various reasons; some peculiar and others quite common to the region.
For instance, internet access across the continent continues to be hindered by last-mile connectivity, lack of a robust national and local access infrastructure, unwillingness of operators to share infrastructure, exorbitant costs of Right-of-Way, as well as administrative constraints.
All of which are hampering the demand side of broadband services. Cost of access devices, overall low per-capital income as well as stunted content market, amongst other factors, affects the demand side in addition to plethora of issues, including the dismal level of supporting infrastructure, municipality planning issues and frequent cable cuts, that are not peculiar to Ghana, but rampant in emerging markets.
No doubt, at 20% rate, internet penetration has grown significantly in the past 5 years, though it is still one of the African countries with the lowest internet utilization rates, after South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Fortunately, there are several opportunities for improvement.
What do you advocate can be done?
I believe the government has articulated an ambitious broadband plan to facilitate the provision of affordable access to broadband, as well as its plans towards convergence of infrastructure and services delivery to stimulate supply and demand. This is well-intentioned and should be encouraged. The NCA has also towed the line and appears to be doing well, particularly in terms of stakeholder engagement to move things in the right direction. But so much needs to be done in driving uptake and utilization.
Intervention is required from the infrastructure, content and regulatory angles. MDAs need to adopt IT in their processes. Similar to what has been done in more advanced economies, Government should establish Smart City initiatives and strategies that will establish pocket Silicon-Valley-type hubs around the country, connecting homes and businesses.
We need to adopt a ‘push’ role, through the provision of ICT infrastructure and development of a content-driven domestic ICT sector, and the ‘pull’ strategy, to promote digital literacy and establish an appropriate legal framework surrounding internet use and development of local content.
Pull strategies that have worked in South Korea and Kenya include government subsidies of personal computer ownership, regulatory interventions to encourage infrastructure investments and free digital literacy programs aimed at expediting internet demand via suitable content and application services. These can also work here in Ghana.
Government can support initiatives to drive indigenous content. In addition, the volume of traffic in incubation hubs and e-commerce and sites like Rmart, Kasoa, and Jumia will also help in a pull strategy. All these ultimately drive value, productivity and help develop the economy.
What is MainOne Ghana doing to accelerate internet penetration?
We view adaptable strategies for resolving access conundrum in Ghana from three perspectives: Infrastructure, Content and Regulatory issues. From an infrastructure standpoint, MainOne is continuing to extend its coverage areas and supporting the build-out of pervasive infrastructure in key areas of the market, in our efforts to provide reliable connectivity to our customers. These we are doing directly and through strategic collaborations. We will continue to partner with other operators to ensure we can together deepen internet access through superior service quality at rates that are highly affordable.
For content, we are interested in the Ghanaian ICT ecosystem, and will continue to collaborate with indigenous start-ups, social innovation centres and the entire software development ecosystem. Similar to our activities with the Andela group and CCHub in Nigeria, we provide complimentary support to various initiatives and provide connectivity to a few education providers here . We provide capacity to Spectra Wireless at the Kofi Annan Centre, which is pioneering white space technologies in Ghana. E-Learning, e-Commerce e-Banking, e-Health; all these are platforms that we are identified as capable of driving content, which will in turn drive connectivity uptake in Ghana.
We believe that strong regulatory intervention is required in terms of infrastructure rollout, harmonisation of taxes and fees, and the need for government to take services online. Just imagine if every government fee was paid online? This alone will encourage internet use.
What new enterprise solutions will you provide this year to the Ghana market?
We recently launched our Tier III Data Center, MDX-i Lekki Data Center in Nigeria which is the largest commercial Data Center in West Africa. The facility offers Colocation services in addition to Cloud and Disaster Recovery services. We also have some collocation space in Ghana and are looking to build a larger data center when the opportunity is ripe.
The e-commerce landscape in Ghana has grown rapidly, with influx of players like Jumia, Kasoa, Kaymu among others. How can a company like MainOne support these portals with connectivity and data storage?
The importance of fast and reliable performance of websites and online stores cannot be over-emphasized. Reliable connectivity is the core of their business. Without speed of response and ease of operations, it is impossible for e-Commerce to thrive. When asked to describe how critical MainOne’s connectivity is to his company, the CEO of Konga, Sim Shagaya said – “We are an internet-based business.
So it is important that we have a reliable connection with integrity and speed for us to serve our customers. If we don’t have that, then we cannot serve our customers. And our business and operations will deteriorate. It is like asking how important diesel is to a truck driver. It is important because without it, the truck cannot move. So the MainOne network has positively impacted on our business.”
The online retailers require infrastructure that enables their applications, servers, where their websites are hosted, or can be used to store and mine data. Another critical need is continuous availability for their websites 24-7, across locations. MainOne is the most reliable connectivity partner to provide this backbone, offering connectivity and required IT infrastructure backbone.