Google Won’t Be Building Fibre Infrastructure in Nigeria

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It’s Thursday…

…but you already knew that. They don’t want us to introduce ourselves in the digest…so we gotta introduce ourselves in the digest. Hello, it’s me again, DJ Secret Handshake, AKA Yung Soggy Fries. I’ve got news for you today. Lots of it, about the internet.


1. 🇳🇬 Google won’t sell you surfboards. Don’t be scared – Google isn’t taking the “local” in “local e-commerce” a bit too seriously. I’m just sad because Reuters reported that Google’s Country Manager for Nigeria, Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor, said they won’t be building any fibre-optic infrastructure in the country.

+ Context: Between 2009 and 2015, Africa saw a 20x increase in available bandwidth, because of submarine cables like Seacom and Wacs. The new problem is getting all that bandwidth to the last mile (schools, offices, hospitals, and other places where people can actually use it) via fibre-optic cables. The thing is, a large component of the cost of laying these cables is the money you pay the government to let you do it (I believe the correct term is Right of Way, and in fact, we only have a technology ecosystem in Yaba because the government waived some of those Right of Way fees for MainOne in 2010).

Local ISPs would do it, but the number of internet users in the country and the amount of money they spend on bandwidth every month is too low to justify the investment. So, we have ourselves a good ole’ catch-22. It’s hard for local startups to gain traction because there aren’t many people who spend money online, there aren’t many people who spend money online because internet is slow and expensive, and internet is slow and expensive because there aren’t enough people using it to justify the cost of the upgrade. Sad.

+ Google started Project Link in 2013 to solve these kinds of problems, by laying the cables (they’ve done so in Uganda, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire) and selling bandwidth to ISPs at a lower rate than they’d normally spend. The incentive for Google is clear – the more people on the internet, the more of them who will use Android phones, and Google services, the more money Google makes. But the lack of internet users (ironic, I know), lack of local internet services, and the multiple fees (both federal and state level) they’d have to pay in Nigeria especially, mean the economics don’t quite work out. The result?

2. 🇿🇦 Opera is jealous of Facebook 🇳🇬 🇰🇪 – My litmus test for frontend developers (I’m obviously not talking to those of you who rely on Bootstrap – keep walking 😒) is not how cool their animations are, or how pretty their CSS is. It is what happens when a user with slow internet and a browser that doesn’t support Javascript tries to access their service.

Regular readers of the digest already know that Opera is by far the most used browser in Nigeria, Kenya, and the second most-used in South Africa. Its appeal is the fact that it strips webpages bare (and saves precious bandwidth) before delivering to the user. That’s why this TechCrunch article about their plans to become a media platform sent my alarm bells ringing. They are investing $100 million in the big 3 African markets to expand, and work with publishers to deliver news articles and other forms of media to their users.

Having users treat your service as a regular destination to discover content (and being able to figure out their interests based on what they consume) is the backbone for a great advertising business. Opera wants to become Facebook, before Facebook becomes Opera (i.e. becoming “the internet” for most people). They have 100 million users across the continent (vs Facebook’s 170m). I’m not smart enough to say whether it will work out or not, but it’s definitely an interesting play.

3. Elsewhere, MTN Group did relatively well in Q1 2017. Their Nigerian subsidiary grew its revenue by 11.6% (despite a 2.3% drop in total number of subscriptions, as per NBS’ telco report), fueled by a 71.3% increase in data revenue. MTN SA grew revenue 4.1%, fueled by a 17.8% increase in data revenue.

4. 🇰🇪 Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has reportedly hired Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company that got credit for helping Donald Trump Presidential campaign, and the Leave side of the Brexit referendum


Innovators working on justice and legal issues worldwide can apply for up to 20,000 EUR in equity-free grant money as part of the HiiL Justice Accelerator’s Innovating Justice Challenge here. The Call for Applications, which opened March 1 and remains open until June 30, encourages two types of application: first, startups with an idea and team may apply for funding in the Call for Innovations; second, individuals without a team or idea can apply for the Call for Talent.


What else is interesting?

+ It’s Bankole‘s birthday, today. 🎉🎉🎉

+ If you’re a product geek like me, you’ll love this post on Twitter’s engineering blog, about how they rank(ed) tweets on your timeline.  Link.

+ If you’re a math geek like me, you’ll love this video about the Fibonacci series and the Pisano Period.

+ You can now apply for the third edition of GE’s Lagos Garage. Link.

+ Interesting feature about Transsion Holdings, the company that owns Infinix, Tecno, and iTel.

+ Correction, from yesterday’s digest. We said Nigeria’s CBN increased debit and credit card maintenance fees from N100 to N600 per annum. Thanks to Tayo Oviosu for pointing out that the increase is a guide, and the banks are not required to increase their fees (even though I’m almost certain they will).

+ Now, everybody go read the result of DHL’s interview with Tayo Oviosu on their magazine, Delivered (which is exactly what I’d name my magazine if I was a logistics company).


OneMedical is helping hospitals across Nigeria go digital, and is looking for a systems admin to join its amazing team. If you know your way around Docker, PostgreSQL databases, and Linux-based systems, it could be you! Apply here.


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