" ITREALMS: W.AfriTel, vetting ground for investors

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

W.AfriTel, vetting ground for investors

Features of the week:

The West African International Telecommunications (W.AfriTel) exhibition is in its sixth year. REMMY NWEKE examines its impact since inception in this report.

FOLLOWING the return of democracy in Nigeria over six years ago, the level of growth recorded in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the telecommunications sector, has been overwhelmingly more than $10 billion (about N1,287 trillion).

This is up from $50 million in 1999. The sector is now competing with the banking and financial sector for the second place position after petroleum, according to the Communications Minister, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, recently.

One key factor in attracting FDIs into a given economy in this era is through specialized exhibitions accompanied with conferences. This enables potential investors opportunities to pay a visit to the country, feel the pulse of their potential customers, as well as carry out subtle market survey on likely products to be introduced in such an economy.

A step well taken

As at today, there are about seven ICT-inclined exhibitions held annually in Nigeria. From the United States embassy organized Computer, Telecommunications and Office Equipment (CTO), to African Information Technology Exhibition and Conference (AITEC), e-Nnovate organized by XL8 Communications and West African International Telecommunications and Information Communications Technology (W.AfriTel) among others.

Leading the pack in attracting FDI lately is W.AfriTel, which began driving investors into the country to visualize the enormous consumers’ yearning for attention in year 2000.

This step was given impetus by a British national, Mr. John Thomson, who has criss-crossed the globe including South Africa, severally organizing events through his firm, the Exhibition Management Services (Pty) Limited, who discovered Nigeria as a veritable future land of opportunities.

His footsteps soon paid off than expected as it got the blessing of the management of the popular Eko Hotel in form of partnership and in no distant time, an appendage came up at the hotel’s premises in the highbrow area of Victoria Island, Lagos. This appendage is known today as the New Expo Centre.

While the likes of MTN Nigeria Communications Limited and Econet Wireless Nigeria (EWN) were busy pursuing their Digital Mobile License (DML) with the nation’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Mr. Thomson’s EMS was busy strategizing to bring to Nigeria more potential investors.

Partnership that works

And before the first call was made through the two competitors in the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) market, EMS has finalized plans in June 2001 for the first in the series of ICT exhibitions to come.

In the words of some of the exhibitors thereafter, it was a boom, hence Mr. Thomson did not waste time as he commenced plans to stabilize the expo.

This culminated in the partnership with IT & Telecom Digest, as a sole agent for W.AfriTel in the country.

This partnership has continued to pay off as annually visitors and exhibitors alike keep growing both in interests and investments potentials.

Therefore, it was not a surprise to note that over 3,000 visitors were recorded in 2005 alone.

Available statistics showed that W.AfriTel’s participating companies main function focused on telecommunications, oil and gas, banking and legal sector. Others are commercial, manufacturing, building and construction.

While visitor’s role in purchasing decisions was aggregated into four main categories, namely final decision makers, recommend a decision, specify a product and non-categorised.

The four categories made up about 3.7.60, 3.9.75, 7.90 and 14.75 per cents in that order within the year under review.

In addition, visitors’ job function cuts across chief executive officers with the highest mark of 40.10 per cent; sales and marketing, 12.80 per cent; senior management, 14.20 per cent; while professionals recorded 11.06 per cent.

Also in the visitors’ job function were consultants with 4.35 per cent, technical management 4.05 per cent, general operating cadre scored 3.90 per cent, research and development was 1.85 per cent, technicians 2.35, education and training 2.0 as well as unclassified 3.34 per cent respectively.

“So, it was a welcome development for us at EMS that we finally found a worthy Nigerian partner for this important event,” Mr. Thomson had declared at the sealing of a deal with IT & Telecom Digest.

Voices @ W.-AfriTel-05

Speaking on W.AfriTel-05, Communications Minister, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, described it as a success story due to the pedigree it has achieved over the years, saying that the impressive arrangement on the ground speaks volumes about those behind the exhibition.

“It is clear that you have built your enterprise on trust and honesty hence the very encouraging numbers of exhibitors that participate yearly at your exhibitions. I congratulate you for your vision and your commitment to the growth of the telecom sector of the Nigerian economy,” he said.

For the former chief marketing strategist at MTN Nigeria, Mr. Afam Edozie, last year’s edition was simply great given increasing crowd that graced the event.

Stressing, “At our stand at MTN which is the Y’ello stand, I think we’re getting loads and loads of people there, certainly more visitors than last year, there’s a tremendous amount of interest in the solutions that we have there. For us, it’s been a great show, we’re really enjoying it, and I think we’re getting lots out of it as well. We’ve been at W.Afri.Tel right from the beginning.”

Marketing Director, SES Astra based in Luxembourg, Mr. Mathias Steinhe, said the show was a big win, promising his firm’s participation this year.

“The exhibition has been great for us. There has been an incredible demand for our products. We deal in satellite and selling bandwidth to the Nigerian market and Africa at large. As I said there is great demand, it has made a lot of people here very interested in our solutions. We feel we are going to become a very big player in the African market place in general because people here seem to be developing a very strong relationship with us and that we know will give us a great success. On the other hand, it also has been a great learning experience for us because we are just seeing the ingenuity of the people here and making solution basically out of nothing and we are very impressed by the Nigerian attitude towards communications in general,” Mr. Steinhe asserted.

Equally for the Development Manager, France Telecom, Ms Catherine Mauvais, W.AfriTel exposed her firm to the Nigerian market and would not be forgotten in a hurry.

“We are here in Nigeria to look at the market and at the same time look for distributors and partners for our products. We have people in almost every country but we do not have any in Nigeria, so that is why we are here,” she declared.

Thomson’s promise

Obviously determined, Mr. Thomson recently told newsmen that more FDIs are on their ways to Nigeria, due to its accommodating nature. He therefore predicted more inflow in the country in the next five years.

Over the last five years, the W.Afri.Tel, has consistently brought in companies from Europe, America and Asia, among other regions, to exhibit their technological products and services in Nigeria.

As the dates for this year’s event draw closer, editor-in-chief of IT & Telecom Digest, Mr. Mkpe Abang promises participants that last year’s show having been a sell-out, “this year’s event will offer unmatched opportunities for plugging into Nigeria’s engine of growth – telecom.”

He also said that already, this year’s event would open the floodgates to greater chances for growth for operators, equipment suppliers and professionals.

“Last year was a sell-out and from early indications for 2006, we are already having problems with space, as most of the exhibitors at last year’s show are returning with scarcely any chance of expanding the event venue as it stands today,” he confirmed.

W.AfriTel-06, scheduled to hold between June 20 and 22, is expected to be declared open by Chief Adebayo, along with notables in the ICT industry.

Last line

Therefore, more of such events as W.AfriTel should be encouraged to take root in the country, given that it has impacted positively on the economy and people of Nigeria. This would not only make the nation a more veritable land for investments, but open up the system for stakeholders to deliberate on issues of high concern, especially on efforts at bridging the digital divide.

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