Pan African Towers – Ready for 5G

Pan African Towers is a telecommunications infrastructure and wireless service facilitator that made their debut on the African continent in 2017. From their initial business operations in Nigeria, the company has grown to the point where they now operate nearly a thousand towers across every city in Nigeria as well as 300 towers in Ghana. We learn about a young company that is getting ready to transform Nigeria in time for the next communications revolution.

“Our major focus area is Nigeria where we are the fastest growing tower company in the country. We have grown significantly this year and are poised to continue growing,” explains Wole Abu, Pan African Towers’ CEO. “We have also made inroads into Ghana, although they are not operationally live yet. We have got several projects that will start there at some point this year.”

Part of the reason the company has managed to grow so quickly in Nigeria is that they are a truly homegrown company that understand the needs of the market deeply.

“Our key differentiator is that we offer our services within Nigeria in the local currency,” Abu says. “This is a huge advantage for customers who typically require foreign exchange currency to make deals with our competition. Because our revenues are always in local currency it makes it convenient for them to pay us and is good for our value proposition. It also means they can pay us quickly without the additional burden of sourcing for foreign exchange to pay for services.”

As well as having the home-field advantage, Pan African Towers also benefits from last mover advantage, being a young company at the cutting edge of their field, by avoiding the pitfalls of their predecessors.

“We are brand new. We have the advantage that our solutions for power shortages, which are a huge problem in Nigeria, are very modern,” Abu explains. “We have the latest solutions that let us roll out sites faster than our competition at more affordable prices and better quality. So as well as financial benefits we offer technological benefits.”

Capital Gains
But while Pan African Towers brings a lot to the table and has experienced enviable growth, a new company in the telecommunications sector has many challenges to overcome.

“As a new company we have certain challenges with regards to access to capital because we are indigenous, so raising capital has been a challenge,” Abu says. “However we have found ways around that with local infrastructure fund providers, and thanks to our performance in the past we have attracted the attention of international private equity companies interested in taking a stake.”

The company’s next job is to build on that interest, and turn their first few admirable successes into a reputation you can bank on.

“In terms of attracting capital, it is about timing and track record. When we started, it was tough because we were an unknown entity, but through our growth trajectory, we were recognised as the Emerging Tower Company of the Year and attracted a number of people who wanted to invest,” Abu points out. “Because of that we have surmounted that issue and have been able to attract long-term funding and also potential equity injection into the business.”

From there Pan African Towers have an aggressive growth plan to reach every part of Africa and deploy up to 35,000 towers within the next five years. By doing this, Pan African Towers hopes to bridge the broadband coverage gap in Africa and accelerate Africa’s strong appetite for next-generation mobile broadband growth and internet penetration.

“We are poised for growth in Nigeria and ready to make forays into other attractive markets in the subcontinent,” Abu says.

As well as gaining the confidence of investors, Pan African Towers also needs to negotiate its regulatory environment.

“We have to deal with the plethora of regulations and statutory organisations. It is part of the terrain, but it can increase our costs to deliver infrastructure within the country,” Abu admits.

Fortunately, the regulators appreciate the important role companies like Pan African Towers have to play in Nigeria’s future.

“On the issue of regulation, we actively engage the key regulators to make them see the impact of certain policies on investment,” Abu says. ”There are positive gains there because the government is keen to show that the environment in Nigeria is friendly for business, so in discussions happening at the level of the minister, and the NCC we have seen they are becoming more welcoming, and supportive to telecommunications, which the digital economy is built upon. We try and work together as a team in collaboration with other companies. We have industry working groups that present position papers to the regulators and the government, setting policy.”

The Next Generation
Of course, the telecommunications infrastructure relies on another level of infrastructure altogether.

“We face the operational challenge of providing this service in areas with a poor grid or no grid at all, so we need off-grid solutions. We must always be on top of power access,” points out Abu. “For power, the key issue is the productivity of diesel engines at the heart of the power generation metric and the availability of diesel.  To mitigate that what we have done is to identify companies that have good battery and solar panel technology to change our energy source from diesel to solar. Going forward we are going to have more of our sites totally hooked up to the solar system. That is our mitigation for power. It is more reliable, it is silent and is environmentally friendly, in line with our long-term goals of reducing emissions and not adding to climate change problems.”

This is becoming an increasingly important issue, as Nigeria, and Africa as a whole is changing.

“Pan African Towers will develop along two lines. Technology is tending towards 5G, so we have grown to deploy the support for that. From the market reading, there is an increase in activity in that area so there is a lot of work to be done there and we are positioning for that,” Abu says. “In rural areas, there is huge potential for rural coverage. A lot of leading MNOs in Africa are looking for rural solutions for this huge countryside. In 5G, we are also going to evolve to the level where our fibre and towers are connected, positioning ourselves to give incentives to our customers in terms of capacity, resilience and transmission. Within Nigeria and in other African markets that are beginning to open up there is a huge potential for Pan African Towers to enter emerging markets.”

The task Nigeria is facing is an enormous one, and Pan African Towers is on the front-line.

“30,000 additional towers will be required in Nigeria for coverage, there is no single company that can offer that huge coverage, so we see ourselves as essential for national development and democratising access,” Abu says. “The future for Pan African Towers is bright.”

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