Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We’ve spent $300m in rolling out telecom towers - Fazal Hussain

Chief executive officer, Helios Towers, Mr. Fazal Hussain, spoke to newsmen on the activities of his company, during which he revealed that his firm has the capacity to accommodate new telecommunications entrants into the Nigerian market. Senior Reporter, REMMY NWEKE was there.

What infrastructure do you provide for telecom operators? 
In essence we provide two services at the moment. We build sites for co-location, meaning sites that allows at least four different operators whether GSM, CDMA, WIMAX to co-exist within one base station. Secondly, we manage sites on behalf of the operators.
We guarantee 99.9 per cent uptime and so far we have more than 1000 sites nationwide
What is your assessment of the telecom industry in Nigeria?

The telecom industry in Nigeria is still growing. First, it was the voice, 2G  the GSM and the CDMA obviously, that has been growing  after the deregulation  and probably  at the end there will be about 80 to 100 million subscribers because Nigeria is a large country.
The second wave of technology which is to provide value added services on top of the voice and the third which is data base services of broadband internet based on 3G and Wimax. I believe as far as telecom sector is concerned the consumers will benefit because it is a competitive market and it is very positive as far as I am concerned.
What are the environmental challenges you have seen so far?
This is one of the challenges that we are facing in the industry. What we try to do on our part is to work with the community .We go further by engaging the services of the people by employing them to render services in these communities. So, generally speaking, we have been having a good relationship with the host communities.
Do you operate in other countries apart from Nigeria?

Not at the moment, we still have a lot of work to do in Nigeria, but very soon we will be expanding to other African countries.
How about the legal battle between Lagos state Government and some service provide and operators?
First of all, it is legal issue between the government and telecom operators. We are a service provider to operators and we actually provide services that are environmentally friendly, which is one of the biggest concerns of government entities. The concern of the government is that building sites everywhere is not good and that the environment will be degraded if not checked.
So, what we do is to build sites so that four to five operators can make use of that site and the concern of government is taken care of. It is very cost effective for the service providers and in turn they can provide cheaper services to consumers.
Does co-location affect the quality of service in any form?
Absolutely. Let me explain, first of all, we build the sites and we build it to the highest specification and it is designed for multiple tenants. We provide everything power, security, and if any operator wants to launch, all they have to do is to bring their electronics so as to provide service much more efficiently for their consumers and on top of that we guarantee a 99.9 per cent uptime. The market average is 70 per cent and it’s even lower sometimes. There is 24/7 power supply and security. As you know in Nigeria you get public power supply for about six (6) hours in a day, so, 18 hours in a day you don’t have power. So, what we do is to provide battery backup then we have a generator and then backup generator. Also we have personnel on that site with a mobile generator for quick response if there is a problem with the battery and the two generators. This is to ensure that the site does not go down at all.
Today, quality service is relatively poor but in two years time and with the emergence of new operators, Quality of Service (QoS) will be taken seriously as consumer will not tolerate any operator that provides poor quality of service.
What of the capacity to cover the requirements of operators?
We’re very relevant to speedy roll out of telecom and related services in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, we’re the heart of wireless operators.
We do have the capacity and even with the coming of new entrants into the market. We are rolling out as fast as we can.  First of all we are rolling out in the major cities and the smaller cities and then the villages. So far, we have spent over $300 million in rolling out so as to meet the demand of the operators. Finance is not a problem to us as we are well funded to provide efficient services to the operators.
Tell us about the corporate social responsibility of your firm?
We create job opportunities for the communities we are operating from by engaging the services of the people in host communities and in all, we have created close to 3000 jobs and apart from that we participate in school projects and other community-related activities.
Congestion of the landscape by the erection of towers and masts?

We are a very responsible corporate citizen and therefore obtain approvals from the appropriate authorities. We have a high specification of our sites and our towers does not fail, they are designed for 25 years .They are not local standard but international standard, so we ensure that we get the approval of the government entities concerned before we build our sites
What is the relationship like with the regulator? 

We have a very good relationship with the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and they have been supportive to us . We are the pioneers and as a matter of fact, we started the collocation so the relationship has been very good.
What other challenges are faced by your company in Nigeria?
Financially, we have not really faced challenges in the sense that we have been able to raise money internationally. We are actually a company registered in Nigeria but investment comes from abroad.  The biggest challenge that we are facing is finding a good quality sites. If, for example, you are given the license to operate telecommunication services in Nigeria, and you want to roll out nationwide, you will spend a lot of money in getting a good quality site and besides it will take you years but we have the money, you don’t have to spend your money, it is a wonderful value proposition .It even allows small Nigeria companies to compete with the big players out there.
How affordable are your charges?

Our charges are very affordable. It depends on the space that you want to hang your equipment, if you are a GSM or CDMA operator, you will probably take more space but the cyber café or Wimax operator, radio station, television station to name a few; you will take small space and you will pay less than the former.
So, our charges depend on the space and specifications of your equipment.
What should we expect from Helios Towers in the next few years?

We hope to see Helios Towers in other African countries. Right now, we are still serving Nigeria because Nigeria is a big market but very soon we are looking forward to exporting our skills to other Africa countries apart from Nigeria.

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