Nigerian Digital Surge Prompts Visafone to Grow Data Services


Nigeria’s Visafone Communications is spending “billions of naira” upgrading networks to cope with a surge in digital data transmissions in the West African country, Chief Executive Officer Sailesh Iyer said.

The work will be done by Huawei Technologies Co. of China, starting with a $20 million expansion of Visafone’s broadband network in Lagos, the commercial capital, Iyer said in an interview yesterday. “We plan to upgrade the remaining five networks in other areas of the country this year,” he said.

The upgrade follows the start in November last year of a central bank project, called Cashless Nigeria, to encourage more non-cash transactions and reduce banking costs in sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest economy. From June, individuals will be limited to cash withdrawals of 150,000 naira ($900) a day and companies to 1 million naira.

A pilot project has been operating in Lagos since January 1 and Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi wants 150,000 point-of- sale terminals to be available this year to process card-based transactions, rising to 375,000 by the end of 2015. The nation’s banking industry will also increase the number of automated teller machines to 75,000 by December 2015, the Central Bank of Nigeria said last year.

“The future of the telecommunications industry is data as against voice,” Iyer said. Visafone also plans to expand its services to 36 of the country’s states from 26 states now and to increase subscribers “to 10 million from 3.5 million within three years, with the cost of expansion running into billions of naira,” he said. Iyer would not say exactly how much the full upgrade would cost.
RIM Discussions

Lagos-based Visafone, which pulled out of talks last year to buy Multilinks Communications Ltd., “is engaging Huawei for its broadband expansion to fast-track growth organically,” Iyer said.

The company is also in advanced discussions with Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM), to offer data and Internet services to subscribers using the Canadian-based company’s BlackBerry device, he said.