Engineer Ikechukwu Nnamani is the President/Chief Executive Officer of Medallion Communications Limited.
With over 15 years of core telecom experience, Engr. Nnamani is very active in promoting forward looking industry policies for the growth of the telecom industry across Africa working with both regulators as well as operators to achieve this goal.
He currently acts as an Executive of the premier telecom body in Nigeria - the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) where he is responsible for coordinating the activities of the Licensed Telecommunication Operators in Nigeria under the body.
He has also promoted the establishment of Interconnect Clearinghouses in Africa, working recently with the Ghanaian Telecom Regulator (NCA) in the creation of the Interconnect Clearinghouse license in Ghana.
He is currently helping to ensure there is a successful implementation of the license in the country.
Engr. Nnamani is also the Chairman of Demadiur Systems Limited, a system integrator company, responsible for the successful deployment of fixed wireless networks in several cities in Nigeria including Enugu, Aba, Owerri, Onitsha, Abakaliki, Kano, and Abuja.
He had worked as an optical systems engineer at Luxcore Networks Inc., in Atlanta Georgia, USA, among other experiences to his credit.
Engr. Nnamani holds a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering degree from Tennessee State University, Nashville Tennessee, USA and a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering degree from University of Nigeria, Nsukka. While leading Medallion top executive courtesy call on Communication Week Media Limited, he spoke on various issues in the industry. Excerpt.
We plan to deploy critical infrastructure to enable interconnect, datacentre and hosting services across the six geo-political zones.
It is critical in our targets for the year. We feel the country needs economic empowerment. It is at time of economic recession that companies can deploy that will enable businesses to operate in a cost effect manner.
This is in the heart of our operations; making sure those infrastructures are available where they are needed. Sometimes, not necessarily where to make the largest amount of revenue but there are places these infrastructures are critical to drive innovation.
We look at it as part of our 10-year plan which gives us a lot of timeline to handle the finance aspect of it. Once it is needed, we are sure of doing that.
Our goal is to launch in four cities. Presently, we are in Lagos and Abuja and itching to put infrastructure in Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kano and Ibadan; from all indications, we might be adding Asaba. The datacenters and interconnect points will boost the industry to meet and interact; similar to what we have done in Lagos.
Today, Medallion infrastructure in Lagos, without controversy, is the most connected point across the sub-region in terms of operators and clientele.
The industry is benefiting from it. Without such investment, the cost of doing business would have been higher than it is today. That is value creation.
But we believe in localization of contents. To us, ensuring that South East has a datacentre is important, the same reason we are deploying in PH, Ibadan and Kano. When that is done, costs drop drastically.
Medallion’s Datacentre Certification
This is one of the areas Nigerians need education. The challenge is some companies throwing buzzwords to confuse people.
They create the notion, but in practically terms fail to handle what are expected of them. When you talk about Tier Certification of Datacentres, there are two ways to look at it.
First, there are policy documents on what is obtainable in a datacentre to be classified. A major part of it is availability; in other words, Uptime.
If you have equipment in the datacentre, there must be guarantee of power availability to certain time, yearly, monthly or weekly; it largely depends on design and resources.
For you to achieve this, for instance, power supply must be available 99.99% of the year which requires you don’t depend on a power generating set. The Institute will insist that depending on a generator denies the facility chances for redundancy. Therefore, you will be recommended as Tier I datacentre/facility.
That doesn’t mean one generator cannot guarantee steady power, especially based on your location. Tier III, which is the buzzword in this environment, requires that in a situation public power supply is interrupted, the facility should be up for 72hours/3days.
It is easier to achieve abroad where public power supply is stable. The batteries or generating sets are mere backups. But in Nigeria, by default you are a power generating company. It makes those requirements, by default, things you must have, especially in Nigeria.
Basically, the infrastructure to ensure steady power is critical in certifying the datacentre. You may wish to go through the formal process of certification. In that way, the Institute will visit you facility after going through your postmarks and issue a certificate.
To us, while the certification is important, the day-to-day operation must be reassuring. In other words, in Medallion, the way we operate could depict us as Tier III datacentre, though we have not obtained the certification. It is not different from someone who has gone through school, acquiring the knowledge but has not obtained the certificate.
In principle, it is good to have the certification, because bequeaths the facility with such a status that an independent organization has verified your processes.
Thus, for the fact we have every major player in the industry operating out of the facility, it shows, to a large extent, we have met the global standards in terms of availability of services. In addition, we offer right pricing; not compromising quality for it.
Telcos Threat to Block Over-the-Top Services (OTTs)
The simple answer to that is No. As technology evolves new services are introduced. As an advocate for technology I am against anything that will kill innovation and stifle technology advancement. I represent the quest for new technology and innovations.
I also understand that if you have invested on a particular technology you deserve to recoup your fund and make returns to your investors. That makes me align to both sides. However, there is a difference here.
You only start fighting technology only when you are not innovative or adjust business models and solutions to the new/emerging technology.
Like the OTT services, most of them run on data. Rather than fight them because they are probably affecting the traditional voice, why not find a way to also generate revenue out of it. I can assure you there are multiple ways the telecom operators can make revenue through OTT services.
Telcos’ Slide in Revenue and Impact on Interconnect
About ten year ago when we started, the industry was standardized on Time Division Multiplexing processes (TDM-SL-7) means of interconnection. Though, we still have the TDM links, but we are connected to all operators on internet protocol (IP).
Why Did the Migration Took Place on Interconnect?
That is the current status of technology. Why didn’t people choose to remain on TDM? It is simple: IP platform provides additional benefits.
That is why they implemented IP on the core of their network. Now, the issue we are talking about is subscriber’s preference to the means to call.
Same situation is playing out in the area of international traffic. And that is where the telecos are complaining bitterly, because with Skype, WhatsApp calls people can call across countries provided you are connected on the internet.
At that point, the telcos are losing the revenue from the traditional international call (voice). But what we are saying is that telecos shouldn’t fight these platforms rather move around it to generate revenue. As we speak some are generating revenue.
We at Medallion are constantly restructuring our business to be able to participate even in the emerging technologies.
Competitions are growing, but we are not afraid to compete, because we have fine-tuned our business model to enable us play in the emerging industries. You first line of action shouldn’t be ‘oh, there is a new technology, it will kill us, let’s kill it’.
The point is that even with the new technology let your businesses evolve too. We have envisaged a time companies will need to switch packets. It is a matter of time you can not hold back the OTTs any longer.
What Would Have Happened Without Interconnect Clearing Houses?
I believe the level of success the industry has benefited is still a far cry from what it ought to be and where it should be.
The interconnect clearing houses have drastically reduced the pains previously associated with establishing interconnection.
Today, a licensed operator can approach Medallion and by next week, as long as your network can connect to us, you should be ‘talking’ to every network in the country. In the past, the project takes up to two years to actualize as you must approach each operator, negotiating interconnect protocols agreement.
As a new competitor in the block, the company you are talking to feels threatened by your presence. So, the Company foot-drags, delays and engage every tactic to frustrate you. At the end, they give you a protocol which they are very sure you don’t have.
So, you have to reinvest on new equipment which are not related to your technology for access network. But we bridged those gaps. We interconnect you seamlessly.
So, we were able to bridge the gap of operators on GSM and TDM. That is a value created and huge benefit to the industry. In the area of anti-competition, we have been able to bridge the gap too as a carrier neutral operator.
We can accurately and independently enhance interconnection for efficiency. Also, for traffics that go through us, because we have independent records, billings settlements and reconciliation is more transparent and easier to handle.
However, some operators view us as detrimental to their anti-competitive strategy. They intend to make things difficult for us. But the regulator would intervene.
What Is Happening with Value Added Services?
For years, we have been pushing for value added services (VAS). Because telcos still force these people and collect what is due to them, majority are frustrated and getting out of business.
But, if they had from onset embraced channeling their services through the clearing houses, the same way we create values for telcos, and we would have helped solved the VAS operators’ problems.
Can Mobile Virtual Network Operators’ (MVNOs) Licensing Solve Some Problems
It is a sort of two-edged sword with a yes and no answer. Yes, because MVNOs is a welcome development; same time, the policies and implementation scheme will determine the success or otherwise. Example, Ghana licensed MVNOs about two years ago and it has been a challenge for them to take off.
There is a difference between operating virtually and when it is officially announced. At the time of branding the operations then people can understand how it works.
Actually, it is a matter of time before it happens. When operators realized that managing cell sites is not their core-operations, they outsourced. Even with all the problems facing interconnect today, a time will come when they will appreciate it is not something they need not to hand onto. Similar stuff will happen when MVNOs get into full force; the telcos will start to outsource some part of their operations to them.
With a good revenue sharing formula, it is a win-win for everybody. How fast and successful it will become depends largely on the policies that back it up.
Secondly, the licensing model the regulator decides to adopt. If the telcos perceive it as anti to their operations they will create bottlenecks. The big question is: what part of the challenges operators are faced with presently that MVNOs will address? You must be able to create the value proposition. If not, if we implement MVNO licenses because it has worked in the UK and other environment, we can show you over ten things that have worked elsewhere but made little headway in this environment.
Mobile Money is working very well Kenya, in Nigeria it has been a struggle. It is even more successful in Ghana than here. We need to address the why.
The operators simply refused to cooperate with them. So, if you do it here and run into similar problem, you will get similar result. A model for the implementation of the scheme is very key to its success.
We also need to appreciate that here certain factors can militate against VMOs while they are thriving in other climes. It behooves on us to critically examine why they might not succeed here and address them before licensing them.
National Roaming and the Challenges
Roaming, traditionally, is a commercial arrangement between operators that benefits even the home network than the roaming network. It implies that with XYZ operator’s sim card I can work into a city that has only ABC operating, thus, XYZ can generate revenue by my presence in the city, likewise the home network. So, it is viewed as a plus.
But the context is viewed here as a minus. It is meant to by symbiotic not parasitic relationship. Two things must happen for roaming to occur.
First, there must be an existing network that you want to roam on. So, when people argue about USPF intervening in the matter, unless it wants to invest on a network in those places and allow third parties to roam on it. If not, somebody must invest in those areas for roaming to take effect.
Allowing others access to the your network is a matter of having right agreement because it is a source of additional revenue. It is similar to interconnect.
Why would you not want interconnect when it is additional revenue, because your existing subscribers are making calls on net. You are down to revenue made via your network, but by virtue of interconnect you spread your net for more revenue.
It should be a no brainer. But people look at it as ‘oh, if that subscriber comes, then the person won’t buy my sim card’, but subscribers roam when on transit. There tends to be a lot of ignorance with regards to this; people are just fighting the wrong fight.
Why Moving to Other Cities to Invest?
Nigerians exist in these cities. What happens today is that costs of services in those cities are higher. Obviously, everything has to come back to other areas where infrastructures exist and they bear the brunt.
Aside telecoms, look at petroleum distribution. When the price was increased, Lagos had a problem moving from there it was to N145/litter, because within Lagos we had access to the tank farms and seaport, but people outside Lagos where like ‘what are you people saying.
We have been paying N200/litter as standard here, because there was additional cost of getting it to the people. The same thing is happening in telecommunications hence we want to get infrastructure to everybody and make services cheaper. We believe if the patronage will be higher and user experience will get better.
Medallion in Next 5 Years
We hope to be able to offer services across the sectors of economy across the geo-political zones in multiple cities as a foundational infrastructure provider.
Of course, every now and then we get partnerships with people that want to take services outside the country. So, we also see ourselves doing a lot of intercontinental partnerships.
We would always want to partner indigenous companies in those cities we are invited. We have cemented partnerships in Ghana, with other opportunities in Uganda where they want to take advantages of the expertise we built over the years in Nigeria.
Ultimately, in moves to grow the brand, we see ourselves been listed as public company for Nigerians to participate in what we are doing. It is very key to us as part of our five-year strategic plan.