A few months ago, the Senate Committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Cybercrime expressed worry over the slow pace of Nigeria’s broadband penetration and deployment. With just about a year left for the realization of the government’s 2018 broadband target, which hopes to deepen penetration, and make Internet access available to as much as 80 percent of the country, most Internet Service Providers express little faith in its actualization. This is because most ISPs still deal with issues such as a lack of power and infrastructure and a high cost of service delivery. And guess who gets the short end of the stick?
This is where YahClick comes in. YahClick is a cost-effective high-performance satellite broadband service that allows users access to high-speed broadband Internet service regardless of their location. In this exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, Boyd Chislett, the Executive Director of Sales, Yahsat, talks about the firm’s expansion across Africa, dispelling the myth that a satellite broadband service is expensive, sponsoring Nigeria Com, amongst other things.
Ventures Africa (VA): What is Yahclick?
Boyd Chislett (BC): Yahclick is a market name for our broadband satellite solution. Our company is called Yahsat and our satellite brand is called Yahclick. It is an Internet broadband alternative to other LTE/3G wireless, WiMax, etc. We have two satellites currently operating, and they serve Africa and the Middle East exclusively, of which Nigeria is our biggest market.
VA: How is Yahclick different from other broadband Internet service providers?
BC: I think at a technology level, first and foremost, we are immune to the challenges that a broadband provider in Africa experiences. Because we are a satellite-based operator, we have coverage across 28 regions in Africa and that gives us instantaneous access and our customers, instantaneous access to broadband without having to roll out fibre, roll out LTE, networks, hardware, and etcetera. Thereby giving us the ability to serve markets and areas that have never had connectivity on broadband.
VA: Who are your target users? Or is it for everyone?
BC: Absolutely! An important point is that consumers, SMEs, enterprises, and multinationals can utilize the product. There’s no specific target. For us, we’ve taken a geographic view that says, if you have no access to broadband, or even if you’re in Lagos or Kano or Abuja, and you have very poor access to broadband or LTE, this solution works for you in the sense that because we have provided a satellite that covers the entire Nigerian geography, you then have the ability to use the service. Obviously, our intention is to provide communication to markets that don’t have access to broadband at all. And the reason for that is because our product is absolutely fit for purpose for those environments that have never had access to broadband. So we don’t target any particular market, but certainly, we target areas that are not covered by traditional telecoms.
VA: How long have you been in the market?
BC: We’ve been in the VSAT market in Nigeria since 2012. We launched our second satellite, which gives us five years. We are the largest satellite operator in Africa and also the largest satellite operator in Nigeria. Our model in all the markets that we operate in is to work through local partnerships. Working through local partnerships does not always mean that our product in terms of brand name travels to the top of the brand-consumer space. But certainly, we utilise organisations like Hyperia, Coollink, Zeta-Web and other partners to market our products. And they may market our product under their own brand name. For us, we’re less concerned about that for now. We really want to make certain that we give the communities that don’t have access to telecoms and broadband access to an exceptional product. Over time, we’ll build a brand. While the brand is important, it is a secondary consideration for us.
VA: What are these communities that have little or no access to broadband?
BC: The two industries that are important to me personally and also to the organisation, is health and education. It’s not a coincidence that a large majority of schools in the outlying areas, as well as clinics in outlying areas, have no connection to broadband at all. So we partner with for example in Nigeria, the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and they provide access to funding. We connect schools to the Internet because these schools have not got any GSM, no LTE no fibre. We work very closely with them to implement solutions so that they have an online curriculum and there is regular communication with other schools. And it provides a much richer learning experience for school children. And then in clinics we do the same, less so in Nigeria because we’re focusing on schools but in East Africa we’re connecting clinics whereby there is no requirement for a doctor or nurse to send documents from one clinic to another that takes a week to go, it gets lost etc. Now, when you go online, you can immediately access a patient reports and you can treat a patient who may have gone to another clinic immediately and you can see without incurring large amount of costs or shipping the patient away. Those typically are the type of solutions that we have across all operations in Africa and in particular the school projects in Nigeria.
VA: Why favour the Ka-band over the popular Ku band technology?
BC: At a principle level, as the maturation of technology takes place, you’re going to see technological improvements at a product level. More specifically, the technology that Ka uses is…. we use a whole list of frequencies that are reusable and we operate satellites that are known as High-throughput (HTS). What it actually means is that when you get down to an actual customer level, you have a solution that needs less power, smaller satellite dishes and operates at a lot higher speed or capacity which means that your initial barrier to entry around satellite dishes and the high cost of satellite now starts becoming very affordable and not out of reach of an average Nigerian consumer or business. It lets us rate how we utilise technology to ensure that we provide a solution that is more meaningful for our customers.
VA: Tell me about your participation at the Nigerian communications summit
BC: We chose to sponsor it this year not because we wanted to see it as a marketing event or to look to sign contracts, etc. but certainly it becomes a by-product. We tried to use these events for a couple of things. The first is, we try to understand what is going on in the local telecoms communities and in the telecoms industry. We meet with the regulator; we try and meet with other operators and other institutions. And we try and understand how best we all work together to provide a solution to the challenges that operate throughout Africa. This year, we were a gold sponsor of Nigeria Com and it is one of the key highlights for us in terms of understanding what’s going on in Nigerian markets and we’ll continue to sponsor the events.
VA: Do you have a local service centre here?
BC: What we do is we operate through local ISPs in Nigeria. Each of these ISPs, for them to operate as a Yahclick partner, will have their own Internet …inaudible, technology centre, installation beams, and etcetera. What we do from our network operation centre is we support them to offer the services that we have in our proposals. We make certain that at a technological level, they can support the customers and they can bill them. Across Africa, that’s the model we use. We have no intention of going into the markets ourselves. We’d rather assist to create the local business opportunities or local ISPs and support them on the ground as opposed to doing it directly ourselves.
VA: Why is that?
BC: Two things. At a regulatory level, it could be a costly exercise for us to go and replicate the license across all the 28 countries we operate in. More importantly, the local partners in Nigeria understand the business, they understand the economy, they’ve also made significant investments into the businesses, and we don’t see any value for us to do it ourselves and bypass the local partners on the ground. They do a far better job than we can and it will be naive to think that we could come into any market, do it ourselves and do it better than them. We’d rather work together, support them and also create a local business.
VA: What are the challenges Yahclick faces in Nigeria?
BC: We are in a very fortunate position that we are immune to the typical challenges that broadband operators have in Africa; infrastructure, access to power, making certain that fibre does not get cut, etc. From a satellite perspective, we do not experience those terrestrial challenges that our competitors have. So we can manage our network at virtually 100 percent uptime. The one challenge we’re trying to overcome is the perception challenge that satellite is extremely expensive. And I guess it was. However, we are able to now offer satellite services to the market without it being prohibitively expensive. A satellite dish, for example, is probably one-third the price of an iPhone 7. On top of that we made certain that at a rate per gigabyte, we are not as cheap as LTE, but certainly, we are competitive. So to answer this question, the challenge we have is overcoming the myth that satellite broadband service expensive and out of people’s reach.
VA: What are some of the companies you partner with?
BC: We have a couple of service partners in Nigeria, one of them being the Hyperia group operating out of Lagos. The second being Coollink, also operating out of Lagos. Thirdly, we’ve just recently signed a multi-choice distributor called Zeta-Web. And then what we’re also doing is we are now signing smaller distribution partners that operate in geographic areas. We are looking now to not just expand in the areas we have but trying to find areas that have been underserved and uncovered; find local small SME operators that we can bring onboard.
Demonstrating our investment into Nigeria, we’re launching another satellite on the West African longitude in quarter four of this year that will be commercially available in the first quarter of 2018. What this means is that for West Africa and particularly Nigeria, we’re adding more capacity, better quality of coverage, and higher speed. From our perspective, it’s just another element to add to our investment in the Nigerian economy as we are going to keep investing in the economy through our partnerships.