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TELECOMS: WHY NETCOM AFRICA IS REINVENTING AND EVOLVING IN A CHANGING ECOSYSTEM

Nigerian telecommunication space can be said to be evolving since the early 2000. A reference point to what telecommunication regulation ought to be in Africa, especially the Sub Saharan region.  Having said that, the country isn’t yet there and lot has to be done.  Since the arrival of GSM in the country, many telecom firms have either died, given up or evolved since the advent of GSM licencing. One of the hardest hits were the satellite communication firms. In the early days the country was heavily dependent on satellite technology for calls and internet connectivity. With all the inherent disadvantages saddled with this type of communication, telecommunication companies (Telco’s) started an ambitious project of laying fibre optic cables across the country. This is in line with broadband masterplan of the country. This fibre project literally threw some satellite companies out of balance or out of business leaving the infrastructure companies (Infracos) as the kings. 

Some of these Satellite Service Providers evolved while some were innovative, one of the firms that have made tremendous impact whose footprints are visible in the telecommunication ecosystem is NETCOM AFRICA. Netcom can be described as an early bird in the Nigerian telecom space, not only being an early bird, the company has consistently shown adaptability and innovation in the space. Not only having the best worms as it is in case of early birds, figuratively, Netcom has brought world class solutions and international expertise in a local space. This singular attribute has made NETCOM visible and their services commendable to clients and prospects.

On the transition of the company, Sean Hsu, Chief Executive Officer of NETCOM Africa said “The transition is a matter of economics, the margins on data are small, it’s around three to four percent and this is not sustainable. The cost of doing business is high and as an organization, for one to still stay afloat in a highly competitive market, there is a need for evolution. Let us look at this example; data sales need so much volume now compared to when we entered the market 14 years ago. The internet penetration in Nigeria is in major cities and the rural areas need satellite and they are not economically viable. But in managed services, you can make some decent margins. That is why we have to diversify, and in technology there is constant evolution. At the end of the day we have to look at costs, prices, and margins, and that is why we did a transition. When we started out, the culture in the company was like “we are fine, why change”, but today everyone in the company embraces change because we are trying to predict the future of business’, which is business intelligence, analytical intelligence, that is the future. Companies are beginning to come to terms that as they mature, they might not have that 10% profit or more, the profits would shrink because of the ever-evolving market, sophisticated customer base and competition especially in a stable environment.” 

Speaking on the evolution of Netcom Africa, Charles Harrington, Vice President, Corporate Development & Marketing, NETCOM Africa speaks the evolution of NETCOM AFRICA. In his words he said “When Netcom entered the market 15 years ago, we were primarily an internet service provider with a focus on corporate clients. As time went on our customers’ demands for more solutions led us to expand our service offerings. Our focus has not shifted from the corporate market, but our area of expertise now lies in connectivity, managed services such as Office 365, Virtual servers using Azure and Amazon, infrastructure as a service, and IT Outsourcing. Our IT outsourcing in particular is one area that is gaining a lot of momentum. We take decided to look at the IT needs of firms and we offer to handle the day to day duties of a company’s IT staff allowing them to focus on their core competencies while we handle their technology. In addition to taking over the responsibilities, we also set a technology roadmap showing them where they are and where we want to bring them to.” 

The Group Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer of Netcom Africa, Yen Choi, speaks of the evolution of Netcom Africa these past years. He said “Well a lot has changed from how we started to the Nigerian information technology (IT) space. It was 2004 that Netcom Africa was established, and we started with VSAT services, ours was one of the most innovative then, we came to the market with a different mind-set. We came with 1.2 meter antenna whereas others have antennas that are as large as 2.4 meters. The 1.2 meter antenna which was smaller and also revolutionary in the Nigerian IT market, it was also cheaper and more efficient than what was available then. We grew in this space rapidly and our subscriber base increased exponentially. One of our ways of working was innovating, we constantly tried to innovated and that is what IT firms must understand, innovation is the key in this industry. We were also one of the first companies to connect to the SAT 3 cable system. ” 

Yen added “This is an undersea cable that connects Europe to Nigeria. The benefits were that the capacity was large; this reduced the cost of internet and also latency. We were the first to offer SAT 3 services outside of Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) of then which was a national carrier. We tried to pre-empt the fact that the country wouldn’t only be dependent on satellite services. Very shortly, we launched one of the first mobile broadband platforms, it was a device that is the size of an average mobile phone it is a PCMCIA card that can be inserted into the laptop. This device made customers to have access to SAT 3 bandwidth anywhere in Lagos. We called it “MyNetcom.” At that time, the competition was the fixed wireless and our solution was faster than the competitors who were offering to subscribers then about 100 kilobits per second. When we came into the market, we changed the conversation and we started offering services over 10,000 kilobits kB per second as of then.” 

On Fibre Optics and telecom infrastructure, Yen said “that We began to roll out fiber across the city, we focused on exclusively on demanding business customers, and we started connecting them to the internet using fiber and microwave. These are high speed connections. Upon enjoying extremely reliable and high-speed connections. These customers not only wanting wanted the internet connection, but they also wanted us to manage their IT operations. We achieved ISO and TL 9000 certification. These are a demonstration of our quality of service. We were the first and probably the only telecommunication company in Africa with TL 9000 certification. This was a big milestone for us.” 

As consumers are getting more sophisticated, they demand for world class services. Netcom Africa understood the need to be abreast and in tune with the realities, having evolved from data or high-speed internet service provider. The company took a great step by introducing Smart Home Solution into the country. This service is focused on bringing a bouquet of telecommunication and smart solutions to facilities management. In today’s world, buildings are going smart and tenants are becoming more sophisticated by demanding that buildings are connected with fiber optic cables, biometrics, VPN, access control, and security cameras, this is why we came up with the e-space. “We are the preferred service provider for these buildings; we can tailor the solutions for each client. We have many partnerships globally for different solutions. We position ourselves to our clients as the trusted adviser or consultant. We try as much as possible to understand our clients and offer the best solutions. Netcom’s Smart Building Solutions connect, manage, and automate your building IT infrastructure. Downtime from IT infrastructure can lead to a huge loss in productivity and in turn affect the revenues. Global companies can lose precious time and money due to inefficient management of the IT infrastructure”, Yen opined.  

As the world is shifting to cloud solutions, NETCOM AFRICA understands the need to move Nigerian corporate organisations to secure cloud solutions. As a world class company, security, encryption and support is their watchword over these years, Harrington expressed his view on this in a chat some time ago. “A couple of years ago companies would shudder to think they could put their servers in someone else’s server room or data center, and even worse to put it in the cloud! Today companies here in Nigeria are embracing the idea. At Netcom we offer data center colocation as well as VM’s. In addition, we now offer these on Microsoft and Amazon platforms, and we have in house experts to setup and manage these solutions for your company. One of our solutions for data backup and recovery is eVault. All companies should take data security seriously and it’s only after a disaster that some people think of it. Power outages, Hardware failures, ransomware and even human error are threats that could compromise your data. We can custom tailor a data backup solution for whatever environment you have so that you can feel confident knowing your critical data and systems can be recovered in such an event. Network security, event monitoring and access are few of the solutions that we have in place. 

“The move to the cloud is never easy, and it’s even scary for some! Change is something that we as humans fear the most, but we can all agree that with constant improving change is best. Part of the big change for data is moving it to the cloud and then try to make it easy as possible for our clients. We go in and look at all of the data need that they have and help develop a plan for what they need to move. You would be surprised at how much data they don’t actually need to move, or that’s been duplicated or simply unnecessary”, Charles added. 

“Netcom has been in business since 2004 as one of the foremost internet service providers in Nigeria, and we try as much as to stay ahead of competition. We have over time deployed cutting-edge infrastructure technology solutions such as VSAT, WIMAX, radio and as of today, fiber technology, as well as, managed IT solutions (Cloud PBX, ERP, CRM, SaaS, HaaS and IT outsourced services). Now we can be seen as a front runner in the area of transformational IT solutions for business. We also try as much as possible to engage organizations and ensure that they lead their market space by been abreast of the rapid changes in IT innovations. This is one of our strengths, using our team of our experts and in line with global best practices, we deliver transformational IT solutions. With a 24/7 dedicated support team, we can be said to be one of the best in the country. From our team of network engineers, system integrators, and application developers, we have been able to bring global best IT solutions to Nigerian firms”, Sean Hsu, CEO of NETCOM Africa concluded. 

Anthony Nwosu

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