Why data warehousing should be domesticated…ATCON President, Engineer Ikechukwu Nnamani
The President of the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria [ATCON] Engineer Ike Nnamani in this exclusive interview explained the implications of hosting local data locally and why the data centres in Nigeria are underutilized. Excerpts….
Do you think data warehousing should be domesticated?
We must look at it from two perspectives. It is good where there is an official directory for something that is good for the country. The question is why should we monopolize your data? If you understand that question, then you will understand why the federal government wants to domesticate data. Domestication of data has a lot of value to the country. It is in the area of cybersecurity, securing the data and ensuring the third-party countries, especially, if it’s national data that is related to the citizens’ and government’s affairs. You can’t accurately guarantee that when the data is hosted in a foreign land and the hosting company is sited abroad. But if it’s in the host country, at least you are guaranteed that things will be better for the country. If the data is not close enough, and you have to go far to retrieve it, it affects the cost because you have to pay the hosting company.
Another factor is that hosting data outside the country affects the quality of the data in terms of latency. If the quality of your connectivity is not strong, then you run the risk of getting an inefficient service. So from the financial standpoint and quality of service, there is a value in localizing your data and hosting it locally. The other part is economic in nature. You pay to access wherever the data is sited. So if the data is hosted in Nigeria, it means other countries will pay Nigeria to access it. These are some of the reasons why hosting data locally is good. It creates employment. It leads to a more efficient system. I think it is based on these factors that the federal government is saying, if some doesn’t value or appreciate it, then it may be mandatory, especially when it comes to sovereign national data. That is not an option.
For national security issues, it must be hosted locally. That is the key point. So in terms of compliance, it’s a catch 22. When there was no standard datacenter in Nigeria, there was no available infrastructure to host locally. I don’t have any problem with Nigerian companies growing their businesses and getting big enough to play in the global space including data centre operators. But that is different from hosting local data outside the country.
Why do you think Nigerians host data outside Nigeria?
The reason people outside the country is because it is cheaper to host. This is something that must be addressed by the federal government in order to bridge the gap. The more people that are hosted locally, the lower the unit cost for anybody. The more people you have sharing the same infrastructure, the lower the unit cost for each person.
Can you shed light on why the cost of the data centre is higher in Nigeria?
It is because the volume of the usage is low. A company like Web4Africa that has a local infrastructure, host locally. I know a lot of companies have their platforms hosted and the quality of service they render is not different from the likes of Google, AWS and others but why will Web4Africa have only 20 clients when their foreign counterparts have over 1 million clients and they both invested $1 million to provide the infrastructure. So they will charge more to recover the investment over a particular period of time. There must be an enabling environment to encourage the uptake in terms of the user base because the moment we do that, sharing the same infrastructure, the unit cost will come down. The same thing applies to the bandwidth. The less number of people who are using the bandwidth the higher the cost. The higher the number of people who are using the bandwidth, the lower the cost.
How does Medallion Data Centre play in this game?
This goes back to data hosting and the fact that if data is not localized you would run into problems. In the current class of service being rolled out to subscribers, it has been said that the communication between the machines will be more than communication with women in terms of data generated and used. All these are happening because of the Internet of Things [IoT] and the future is here. Nigeria is not excluded in all these developments. If you check the case of Nigeria today in terms of infrastructure, we have about five active submarine cables with several others coming in the next few years. Even with the existing ones, the statistics show that some of them are under 20% utilization. So there is a disconnect between having available capacity at the shores in Lagos where all of them are located with the rest of the country – where the bigger population is located.
One of the goals that come into the national broadband plan which wants to extend connectivity across the country is to have content closer to the users. Then we can create a regional data centre from there you create an edge data centre. That is what drives the main connectivity and runs most connectivity between the users and the location of the infrastructure. What we are trying to do is to build infrastructure for Nigeria and that’s why we are trying to expand data centres across the country. The services will be affordable to subscribers and it will be a qualitative service.
How does this tie with the digital economy?
The current programme from the Ministry of Digital Economy and Communication as well as the regulators such as Nigeria Communications Commission [NCC], National Information Technology Development Agency [NITDA] et al, if you partner with what the private sector is planning to do, I believe it can be achieved. If the current broadband plan that has been implemented this year, then we can achieve things. We live in a data-driven world. There is going to be a demand that will drive the adoption of data. It is just that the infrastructure can catch up with it, but for infrastructure to catch up with it, we need a lot of things to be put in place. Funding is needed. If we don’t have the fund, we are not going to achieve it.
This has to be addressed. We must address the issues of multiple taxations that have made it difficult to roll out services. We must address the issues about not having the right approval whether the right of way to lay fibre infrastructure or securing existing infrastructure in some part of the country. There is a demand to make it happen if the infrastructures are in place.
What did you do right during the lockdown?
The lockdown gave me the opportunity to spend more time with the family and on the other hand, because we know that lives and families and other businesses are dependent on our business, we have to keep working during the lockdown. We worked through even during the restriction of movement our operation continued during the period. At Medallion, we have processes to handle situations like this, so it was just the case of ensuring that the process works to deliver efficient services to the people.
You have just been elected as the President of ATCON. What is your vision for the association?
Some of those things I’ve mentioned, we can’t do it alone and we have to do it in partnership with organisations and associations. The issues around broadband penetration, telecom financing, liquidation of content, getting the federal and state governments in order to bridge the gap in terms of local hosting. We will ensure that our members get value. Beyond advocacy, we will introduce benefit packages. We will do a lot of industry-related stakeholders meetings, both to address inter-membership challenges. We will create an investment forum where we will bring in financial institutions to have a genuine conversation with us in order to understand the telecom industry.