TOP 20 CEOS – BIODUN OMONIYI, MD/CEO, VDT. Quality of service subscribers get is a product of the environment where service providers operate Biodun Omoniyi, MD/CEO, VDT.
Biodun Omoniyi, MD/CEO, VDT, recounted myriads of challenges confronting businesses in Nigeria, especially in the telecom environment and offered solutions. Excerpt.
Providing quality of service (QoS) has been an issue with the operators. The QoS, to some extent, has not met expectations. What seems to be the issue with the QoS in the country?
We are looking at this mainly from what I called the retail eye. What the ordinary person sees on the street. In the enterprise space, I must state that we’ve actually driven good service quality in the corporate organizations where our service seems to be very high. I won’t say it is the highest, but it is very high. But of course then, there is a difference between serving the corporations and serving the individuals. When you serve the individuals, we have about 190 million population the number of base station that you would need to serve that population is also going to be many.
In fact, to serve that population, you need close to 100,000 base transceiver stations (BTS); but I don’t think we have up to that in Nigeria. That then brings me to the issue of what are the other things that militate against those. One, we really have a very unfriendly business environment in Nigeria. Our business environment is not friendly. Our business environment is not promotional. It is not encouraging. In other spheres, all these things actually walk hand-in-hand.
Now you need support as a business owner and it shouldn’t be a situation where you need to site a base station somewhere, and that’s when all sorts of people would come to make demands. Some of them would shut down the base stations that have already been approved. There is the issue of multiple taxations, issue of fibre to do inter-base station traffic etc. Wireless has its own role but in this era of digital world where you need more and more bandwidth between base stations with the ever high consumption of data, you need fibres to link those base stations.
You also know what happens on the roads. You know and you probably would have been reading reports about Right of Ways (RoW). So, all these eventually affect quality of service. If you cannot get all the approvals, if the environment is unfriendly and right now, I’m not even talking about power because the issue of power has been over flogged, so, let’s not talk about that. Now, I think telecoms companies are taking the issue of power as non-existent. Many of them provide for every base station multiple generators. So, that’s no longer news in Nigeria, and that’s why I’m not going to talk about that.
Now, we need to have all these things in place: Friendly business environment, streamlined collection of taxation system, organized and protective system of telecoms infrastructure by the government. And there has to be an act to be enforced. People cut cables indiscriminately without any repercussion. It is not just in the hands of the telecoms operators to provide quality service. In fact, the operators strive to provide good QoS.
We’ve not even talked about security. It was just some days ago that I read the news about some people, who in the middle of the night carted away everything at a particular base station before they were arrested by the police, and there are many of such crimes all over the place and they cause destructions to telecoms facilities. So, the quality of service that we get from the operators is a product of the environment where we actually operate. I must commend the telecoms companies as they continue to strive.
Anyone that is running a thriving business in Nigeria is actually doing a lot. In terms of quality, I want to believe that there is no company that would want to give poor quality of service but there are so many things that militate against continuous provision of quality service especially to the masses. In the corporate service, we can count the number of base stations that we deployed and then we got those vigilante groups but in the retail space where you may have many of them, unmanned, and that is how it is run in other countries. But so many things work against upholding that policy in our environment. So, we need to get all these things right before we can start blaming the telecom operators.
There are wide VAS value-chains in the telecoms industry, why has VDT chosen to be a metro fibre operator?
We are primarily a wireless company and not metro fibre. We do have some metro fibre capabilities, metro fibre wing; however, we are primarily a wireless communication company. And you see, technologies have advantages and disadvantages but in VDT, what we have actually decided to do is remote wireless services. By wireless services, I mean the likes of MTN, Airtel etc.
How would you rate the MTN? Would you call it a metro fibre service provider?
No. I would rather call that company a wireless, just like some other companies out there like Vodafone, Horizon etc. So, wireless is quite vast and covers more people than metro fibre. And also in terms of quality, yet, metro fibre is like a standard that wireless is trying to adjoining it.
But on the other side as well, what you would see is that fibre is actually use by fixed network whereas wireless technology is for mobile. It allows you to move from one point to another. It is easily carried about. So, if we get the quality to be as good as fibre, which has always been, but because there has been improvement, say in the last two decades, I noticed that you can hardly notice the difference when you deploy wireless and a fixed network.
You are into DLC cloud internet and wizard. Can you talk about these services?
We are better known in the enterprise commodities providing services for corporate organizations such as banks, manufacturing, FMCG etc. So, we are not really into the retail space. Some of our products actually apply to the corporate organizations and that is why you probably thought that we are a metro fibre operator. So, rather, our market segment has always been in the corporate and enterprise segment of Nigeria.
And of course, we started our business by being a last mile service provider. Of course, as the last mile, we have grown it using the wireless technology to build distribution. In the interim, we hire the trunk that actually carries using fibre. Most times, we use trunks but the wireless distribution access network is actually owned and used by us. And that is why I say, naturally, our affinity is towards the wireless. Of course, we use fibre for our services.
So now, we are lead capacity carriers, and once it is dropped at our point of presence, we distribute it around the metro. We would rather be seen more as a metro wireless service provider. So, the core services, the inter-city side of it, actually are carried by fibre network or whatever trunk the provider gives us. We also provide wireless like you see within a metro. We actually use wireless to carry traffic. And cloud service is the other of the day.
It is a new product in our arsenal now and it is something we just developed; but of course, we also understand that now, that is where the digital world is going. Most people are looking at taking their data centres onto the cloud which is the more reason way. We also need to join them. Moreso, when we actually provide the transit circuit.
You have been in business for long. What are the issues responsible for not having footprints in the 36 states of the federation?
Things are quite challenging in country but irrespective of that, I can mention that we actually started from a humble beginning and we are not the baby of giants and we did not come with a lot of capital into the market. If I told that we started with a three-state affair, five PoPs, and I am an entrepreneur and in terms of number of staff then, we were just 11. So, what happened is that we’ve grown organically over the years and we have ploughed back our profit to be able to expand and as you can see, we’ve still not been able to cover the whole country.
The country is very vast. And today I’m aware that we’ve made a very good progress. In all modesty, we’ve made a very good progress within the space of time that we’ve been around. Maybe it’s because we’ve been around longer than most businesses that you expect so much but like I mentioned, therefusion of capital has been an issue, but when you then compare us to big multinationals, companies that actually have a lot of capital to deploy, yes, probably, we are not really doing as great.
Of course, in terms of covering the whole country, we are also following our customers. Like I earlier said, we are customer centric. We listen to them and then ask: where are we going. We simply just follow the line of the business: enterprises and corporate organsisations. It’s not everywhere in the country that is very viable, except state capitals. Given our background, state capitals are the most attractive.
We actually provide services in all the state capitals but the only thing is that in terms of having offices, we have our offices in about 30 state capitals. And of course, in many of the state capitals, we have multiple offices. Take for instance, in Ibadan, we have about four offices. In Lagos, we have more than 12 offices etc. There are some states where we only have just one office. Within the corporate environment, I think we have a very good spread. But now, we are migrating and expand our services.