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Ready for African Data Boom?

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Opinion by David King

Africans like their mobile phones, too. So surely the African continent will simply follow the same telecom development and usage pattern as the rest of the world, just maybe a little later?

Well, not quite. Africa has proven to be somewhat different when it comes to mobile telephony; Just look at the unexpected speed with which cellphone usage took off as it substituted for the lack of fixed-line networks and other key infrastructure.

Africa has always had myriad challenges for mobile operators and other telecom companies to overcome: lack of or substandard infrastructure, political uncertainty, regulatory issues, challenging environments, vast and sparsely populated geographical areas to cover, unreliable energy supplies and poorer target groups.

These challenges have been overcome with ingenuity and perseverance. Prepaid cards in small denominations sold in numerous mobile booths have given consumers with little money access to mobile telephony.

Off-grid base stations are increasingly using green power solutions almost completely replacing the use of dirty and expensive diesel.

Roaming costs are often lower than in the developed world, enabling communities separated by colonial borders to communicate. M-PESA and other mobile money systems have revolutionised the way money is transferred, making it possible for almost everybody to use basic banking services.

Africa-Next Market for Data Boom
It is no great secret that the next big step for Africa is the “post-mobile data revolution”. The penetration of data in African markets is still low, even in South Africa, and prices are still high. And even if everybody agrees that data will take off in a big way, it is difficult to predict when it will happen and how fast. There are of course going to be a number of challenges to overcome.

How can you best prepare to quickly respond to the anticipated demand without investing too much too early?

The biggest challenge is infrastructure. High quality, efficient data centres are essential. They house and power all the equipment needed for transmission of data and are both the heart and brain of any network. But traditional builds for data centres take a lot of time to plan, co-ordinate (with different suppliers) and construct.

Furthermore, challenging environments add a lot of risk to a data centre project, often resulting in delays and budget over-runs.

Buildings for data centres are often not purpose built to be used as technical facilities, often with water leaks and other problems, as well as being over-dimensioned since they cannot be expanded quickly and easily.

Pre-fabricated Modular Data Centres Ideal for African Networks
The solution is pre-fabricated modular data centres. They are quicker to deploy and will in most cases save considerable time and money compared to traditional brick and mortar buildings.

The facility will always be the “right” size since its modular structure makes it easy to quickly expand in response to changing needs.

More efficient power and cooling will make a pre-fabricated data centre more cost effective to run. And quality, budget and the time plan can more easily be ensured for pre-fabricated purpose built facilities, bringing predictability to the project.

A pre-fabricated solution also makes it much easier to customise the data centre for specific needs and it can be deployed anywhere. Let us take a look at a live example: Vodacom in Mozambique (a subsidiary of Vodafone) recently decided to deploy a modular data centre (the eCentre) on top of a six-storey parking garage next to its corporate headquarters in central Maputo.

The roof top turn-key deployment is a 126 square meter open space data centre. Vodacom needed to put the facility in place quickly, efficiently, and on time.

The pre-fabricated build reduced the project risk significantly because the construction work was all done in ten weeks in a clean environment (in Sweden) and the installation work needed on site was completed in only eight days, in total a fraction of what a similar local brick and mortar project would have taken.

Speed and predictability in challenging environments are critical issues in Africa considering it is the fastest growing mobile market in the world and the take off for data could be right around the corner.

Pre-fabricated, modular and custom-designed data centres that can be deployed very quickly, and easily re-deployed if needed, is yet another innovative solution to an African problem (or rather African situation, since there is nothing problematic with fast growth).

It is a solution that will allow data centre owners – internet service providers, hosting companies, mobile operators and banks – in Africa to act quickly and confidently towards a demand for data that might be stronger than any of us expect.

David King is CEO of Flexenclosure, a specialist developer of hybrid power systems and pre-fabricated data centres for the ICT industry.
King has decade-long experience from C-level work with many international high-tech companies, many in emerging markets.


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FCT Lifts Suspension Order on Masts, Towers

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Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has finally lifted the suspension order it earlier placed on telecoms masts and towers in Abuja metropolis.

FCT Lifts Suspension Order on Masts, Towers

The FCTA has therefore asked telecoms operators to commence fresh moves to regularise, update and settle all outstanding bills on their masts and towers to enable them resume installation of masts and towers in the territory.

Relieved of the burden of the suspension of telecoms masts installation in Abuja, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licenced Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said that the suspension order would enable telecoms operators resume telecoms masts and other telecoms infrastructure rollout in Abuja, a situation, he said would address the issue of poor telecoms services in Abuja and its environ, having suffered from poor telecoms service delivery in the territory since the suspension order in February this year.

The FCT Administration had on February 3, 2020, placed a suspension order for the installation of telecoms masts and towers in the federal capital territory and communicated same to all telecoms operators through a letter.

In a recent letter dated September 25, 2020, written to all telecoms operators through their association, ALTON, the FCT Administration lifted the suspension order and asked telecoms operators to commence masts installation after seeking the necessary approvals.

Part of the letter with reference No: FCDA/ES/460/Vol.1, which was signed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Administration, Olusade Adesola, read: “I wish to refer to our letter dated February 3, 2020, which conveyed the suspension of the grant of permits for the erection of telecoms masts/towers in the FCT and the series of correspondences by you dated April 30, July 14, and September 8, 2020, wherein you appealed for reconsideration of the directive to facilitate prompt resumption of the issuance of the build permit process.

“After carefully studying your concerns, the FCT Administration is delighted to convey the lifting of the suspension of the processing/grant of permits for telecoms masts and towers in the FCT, with effect from the date of this letter.”

Reacting to the letter, Adebayo said: “For some time now, telecoms operators in Abuja have not been able to provide adequate capacity to carry the load of Abuja subscribers because of the non-approval of the expansion of telecoms masts and towers by the FCT Administration.

The implication is that those who travelled into Abuja from other states and from other countries were not able to have uninterrupted telecoms services, which was a reputation issue for the country, because travelers will leave the country with the impression that telecoms services are poor in the country. But with the lifting of the suspension order, telecoms operators will be able to install more masts that will lead to better user experience of telecoms services in Abuja. The government agencies will also have better user experience and service delivery.”

“We are happy with the lifting of the suspension order for the telecoms masts and towers in Abuja, and we are glad that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, was able to resolve this for us. So we are ready to expand telecoms infrastructure in the FCT.”


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FG Launches Digital Nigeria Portal, Mobile App

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Dr Isa Pantami, minister of Communications and Digital Economy (FMCDE) has unwrapped a Digital Nigeria Portal and Mobile Application in furtherance of the Digital Nigeria Programme.

FG Launches Digital Nigeria Portal, Mobile App

Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami

The Digital Nigeria Programme was kick-started by President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 19, 2020.

At the virtual launch of the mobile application in Abuja, Pantami, said it was part of the government’s key initiatives aimed at empowering innovators and entrepreneurs with the requisite skills to thrive in an emerging digital economy.

He explained that the Digital Nigeria programme was a key component of the Digital Literacy and Skills Pillar of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria which was being championed by himself.

Pantami said the ministry was partnering with global institutions including the African Development Bank (AFDB) and Microsoft to enable Nigerians to acquire cutting edge digital skills within the comfort of their homes.

The Minister, however, reiterated the government’s resolve to promote skills over paper qualifications.

“We are championing a paradigm shift that lays emphasis on skills, in preference to merely having degrees without skills.

“Degrees are only meant to validate skills, this is a growing trend across the globe.

“The digital literacy and skills pillar recognises the fact that citizens are the greatest assets in any economy, including the digital economy.

“It will support the development of a large pool of digitally literate and digitally skilled citizens. The “Digital Nigeria” mobile app is available on play store and apple store, enabling Nigerians to enrol in ICT courses within the comfort of their homes,” he said.

Pantami said that much of the content was provided through AfDB’s partnership with Microsoft, adding that students can download certificates after completing the courses.

According to him, across the globe, there is a growing focus on the need for developing skills, rather than merely acquiring degrees.

“To this end, Nigerians are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity by enroling today at https://digitalnigeria.gov.ng; or https://academy.nitda.gov.ng/ accordingly.

“The portals will give details on how to register and how to download the relevant Mobile Apps.

“The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is committed to developing the capacity of Nigerians to use technology to solve problems.

“We will keep updating the course offerings to reflect global trends. The Digital Nigeria Programme will provide a platform to empower Nigerians to develop relevant skills and build innovative solutions to address challenges within,” Pantami said.

Some of those present at the launch included Prof. Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and Prof. Mohammed Abubakar, managing director of the Galaxy Backbone (GBB).


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Digital Explorers Launch Paid Traineeship in Lithuania for Nigerian Female Data Analysts

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Digital Explorers has launched applications for the second cohort of the program. This time, it is a female-only track that will select up to 15 female Data Analysts and Data Scientists at entry-level who will undergo up to 6 months paid traineeship in Lithuania. The program will consist of an intensive training and a placement at a Lithuanian company.

Digital Explorers launched in 2019, selecting 15 Nigerian ICT specialists, from a pool of 1,400 young talents. The first cohort of 15 digital explorers have spent a year in Lithuania, working, learning, and networking. They are now wrapping up their 1 – year career advancement journey and transitioning to full-time, more permanent employment.

For the next cohort, Digital Explorers is partnering with Data Science Nigeria to identify and select Data Analysts/Scientists for its 2020 Virtual Bootcamp (to commence on 20th October, 2020).

The objective of this cohort is to support women in tech and contribute to closing the global tech gender gap by offering tailored data analysis / data science traineeships to selected participants.

Interested Nigerian entry-level female data analysts/scientists are required to register for the DSN Hackathon through this link – bit.ly/AIBootcamp20_hack in order to make it into the Virtual Bootcamp.

This also gives an opportunity for Nigerian Companies with existing female entry level data scientists and analysts to encourage their staff to apply.

Participants will receive tailored training, international exposure and return after 6 months better equipped to contribute to the success of the organization. Application for the DSN Hackathon closes on October 3rd, 2020.

The training participants will receive will be tailored to meet market demands in Lithuania and Nigeria. At the end of the programme, participants will be further assisted in finding the right employment opportunities in Nigeria.

Nigerian companies interested in hiring data analysts and data scientists in the future can partner by registering here to recruit participants who successfully complete the programme on their return from Nigeria.

In his vision essay about this program, Kola Aina – Founder of Ventures Platform says this project is “about upskilling the next generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs and knowledge workers with global networks and connections.

“Our ‘Digital Explorers’ will be working side by side with amazing people on world class teams, building products and services for global clients, and spending a lot of time in structured learning and networking activities… Looked at from a certain perspective, the people who make it into the Digital Explorers programme are effectively being paid to learn and acquire world class skills.”

Speaking on the launch of the second track of the Digital Explorers program, Eugenija Kovaliova, Co-founder of AfriKo says, “Lithuanian ICT sector has been maturing significantly over the past decades and this has been recognized by many international tech companies, hiring Lithuanian specialists to work on complex projects.

“At Digital Explorers we want to open up an opportunity for Nigerian talents to work alongside Lithuania’s best and bring back acquired skills and knowledge for a stronger Nigerian digital landscape.”

Mimshach Obioha, the Executive Director at Ventures Platform Foundation, added, “The choice to focus on Data Analysts and Data Scientists is fueled by the growing global demand across different industries for jobs such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists or Data Scientists.”


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