MainOne Cable: A decade-old journey to bridging the digital divide in West Africa

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MainOne Cable Company Nigeria Limited recently celebrated 10 years in the business of bridging the digital divide in West Africa.

As the provider of the first privately owned, open access 7,000-kilometer undersea high capacity cable submarine connection in West Africa, MainOne continues to attract the interest of individuals, corporate bodies and government institutions across the continent.

However, the failure of the company’s management to produce its financial statements since December 2014 raises questions.

Unsurprisingly, MainOne was among six telecom operators recently mandated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to submit their yearly financial statements, within 7 months after the end of their financial year.

The company, though celebrated, is not without its challenges, which its financial statements would make clearer. However as we await the submission of the statement, Nairametrics looks into MainOne in this week’s Company Profile to understand what makes it tick.

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How it started

Funke Opeke returned to Nigeria in 2008, where she was faced with ridiculously poor internet connectivity, so she decided to do something about it.

She started Mainstreet Technologies, the developers of MainOne Cable in the same year, to serve as a service and network solutions provider, not only in Nigeria but in West Africa.

What is now recognized as one of Africa’s biggest cable companies started with all of Opeke’s savings as start-up capital. She encountered stiff challenges related to raising more capital to take care of the foundational works, feasibility studies, business plans, and technical plans. However, the company was able to pull through.

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On April 28, 2008, Main Street Technologies awarded a turnkey supply contract for the MainOne Cable System to Tyco Telecommunications. After completing and commissioning the project, MainOne went live on July 22, 2010.

The company has since grown in leaps and bounds from its little beginnings. Its connections extend from Portugal to West Africa, with Cable Landings Stations along the route in Accra (Ghana) and later to other countries in Africa like Dakar (Senegal), Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), and Lagos (Nigeria).

The Phase1 cable system spans 6,900 kilometres. Additional connectivity extending to Angola and South Africa occurred in the Phase2 of the project.

In 2015, the company started operations of MDXi, said to be Nigeria’s largest Tier III Data Center, and extended a submarine cable from Lagos to Cameroon.

Operations and unprecedented glitch

MainOne is in the business of providing telecommunication services and offers wholesale broadband services through a system of cable networks and fiber optic infrastructures.

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With its services acclaimed to come at fair charges, MainOne Cable has in its clientele, telecommunication operators and providers, governments, large enterprises, and schools across 10 West African countries.

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The company claims that its decision to provide its services at rates that are less than the current international bandwidth prices in the region is to encourage local content development via skills transfer of critical networking technologies and job creation, with the location of the network operational center (NOC) in Nigeria.

Main Street Technologies is also backed by influential investors such as the Africa Finance Corporation, the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund (PAIDF), and a couple of Nigerian banks.

In 2018, the company recorded a 74-minute glitch during a network upgrade that caused some Google global traffic to be misrouted through China. This temporary disruption attracted immediate reactions from critics, but the company assured that stringent processes had been put in place to prevent a repeat of such outage in the future. To its credit, there has been no other record of such.

Financials

In an interview with Nairametrics in 2017, Opeke stated that the company was yet to attain profitability, but was making strategic investments that would pay off in the future. However, with the last publicly available statement being that of 2014, there is no way to ascertain what level of progress has been made in the last 6 years.

The 2014 financial statement was audited by KPMG Professional Services at the time when Babatunde Dada was still CFO. The report showed progressive growth in the company’s fortunes from 2011 to 2014. However, all of the company’s expenses went up, despite the various cost optimization programs implemented.

Profit before tax grew from N146.8 million in 2013 to N189.6 million in 2014, while total revenue grew from N1.1 billion in 2013 to N1.7 billion in 2014.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and other incidents also took their toll on the company’s finances. During the company’s 10 years celebration recently, Opeke pointed out that the cost of the company’s services had become slightly expensive due to power challenges and the currency volatility in the country.

However, she said that the company was working towards deploying smarter policies to further realise its vision. She also noted that the company was in the process of winding down its foreign debt obligations and increasing exposure to Naira loans, to shield itself from the impact of the fluctuating exchange rates, since its customers paid for services in naira.

Management  

A decade after its establishment, Opeke still runs MainOne Cable as the Chief Executive Officer, while Anil Verma serves as the Chief Technical Officer.

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Others are:

Solanke Abimbola, Chief Finance Officer; Tinuola Ipadeola, Head of Corporate Services and Development; Gbenga Adegbiji, Chief Operations Officer MDXi; Abayomi Adebanjo, General Counsel; and Olawale Fayose, Company Secretary.

Heading the Board of Directors is Fola Adeola as Chairman, while Dapo Oshinusi, Taiwo Okeowo, Bennedikter Molokwu, Innocent Ike, Souleymane Keita, Banji Fehintola, Sipho Makhubela, George Olaka, Sandeep Fakun, and Praveen Beeharry, are all Directors.

With this calibre of talents and seasoned professionals on its management team, the mystery shrouding its financials becomes worrisome.

Recognitions

The over $400 million infrastructural investments in West Africa have made noticeable impacts across the economy and earned MainOne a number of recognitions and awards.

In 2019, MainOne was awarded the Datacloud Africa Award for Excellence in Data Center (Africa) and Africa Cloud Service Provider of the Year, Nigeria Business Leadership Award for Connectivity and Data Centre Service Provider of the Year, and BoICT Award for Best Tier III Data Centre in Nigeria – MDXi.

Others are NTITA Telecoms Wholesale Provider of the Year (2017), Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry Award for Excellence in Broadband Infrastructure (2016), Frost & Sullivan Best Practices winner for the Nigerian Data Center Customer Value Leaderships Award (2014), Ghana Telecoms Awards: Telecom Wholesale Carrier of the Year (2013), and Nigerian Telecoms Awards: Broadband Company of the Year (2011), African Telecom Hall of fame – Best Telecoms project of the year (2010), amongst others.

Bottom line

Besides acting in line with the new NCC policy, the Management of MainOne will have to do something about making the financial reports available to the public. Not only will this satisfy stakeholders’ curiosity, but it will also keep interested and potential investors abreast with the progress made so far and help them determine where assistance is required.

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