We’re increasing Internet speed in Nigeria by 500% –Balogun, Google’s SSA head

Dec 26, 2021

Published 26 December 2021

The Sub-Saharan Africa B2C Marketing Lead, Google, Mr. Olumide Balogun, speaks on issues affecting the technology industry, in this interview with TEMITAYO JAIYEOLA

How will Google’s $1bn investment affect Nigeria?

There are four key areas where we are going to invest from a Nigerian perspective. The first area is around access, how we are enabling affordable access, including and through our Equiano sub-sea cable. A lot of work has been done. We would continue to invest in that. A lot of work has been, and we would continue to invest going into the future. For Nigeria, it is about how we build infrastructure, to help drive affordable Internet access for the continent. So our Equiano sub-sea cable, which will do this, will run through a few countries including Nigeria, and connect Africa with Europe. The initial configuration of Equiano is scheduled to be ready in the second half of 2022. That is what we are looking to do there on the access side. Based on the research that we have done internally, we are looking to see Internet speed in Nigeria increase five folds as an example. The Internet is important, it is almost like lifeblood to the generation we are in. We are looking to see how we can scale this access to more users in Nigeria. Our investment would drop Internet costs by 16 to 21 per cent, and increase speed by five folds in Nigeria while offering 1.6 million jobs. That is on the access side. We’ve also built products, helpful products that are really instrumental to how people run their businesses daily and we are looking to see how we invest in that, going forward. We’ve brought Nigerian voices to maps, what we want to do going into the future is to double down on delivering products. Recently, we just launched a product, YouTube Shorts, which essentially helps creators here. As you know, we are in a very creative environment in Nigeria. YouTube Shorts helps creators create videos with their mobile phones. On the product side, we want to create and invest in tools that help solve problems. The third thing is around how we help small businesses. Nigeria is a massive small business economy. Up to 75 per cent of people earning an income in the nation are in the informal sector. We are trying to help with digital transformation on that front. We have done digital skilling, and we have trained up to five million people in digital skills. The last thing is how we help the local developer community here. We have done a lot in the last few years, we have supported more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space, and access to expert advice over the last three years. We recently announced a black founder fund where we supported up to 50 businesses, 26 of them from Nigeria. We also invest in not- for profits in Nigeria that are solving problems. We announced a $40m fund, essentially to help not-for-profits going into the future. So, those are like the key areas that Google is playing a helpful role in Nigeria.

What is Google doing as regards access to smartphones for Nigerians?

There is a lot of work we are doing. Specifically, with our partners across the continent, we provide more affordable devices, or a framework for people to be able to purchase these devices. This is something we have done in other places, and are looking to adopt in Nigeria. We have some partners here, and we want to see how we would deliver device financing programmes here in Nigeria, together with driving more affordable devices into the space as well. We have partnered with a number of telcos in the past, and we will continue to look at that. Airtel and MTN are partners that we work with across the continent and in Nigeria as well. On the side of the device, we have partners that help drive device affordability as well as financing programmes here in Nigeria.

Since creating a Nigeria office, how much impact has Google created?

We have been driving digital skills here on the ground. We have trained five million people so far in digital skills, and they’ve been able to scale their businesses. We have created a developer accelerator class and just concluded Class six. This is a programme that helps us to support early-stage startup companies and provides them with access to Google tools. The programme also supports Google staff, and enhances mentorship that helps businesses to scale. I think it is important to note that some companies have gone through our process during their life cycle-Flutterwave, Paystack as examples. You can check some of the work that these companies are doing. There is a health tech company providing product intelligence, really battling medication counterfeiting for businesses in Africa. Supporting businesses like that over the last few years is something we’ve been really proud of, and we want to continue to invest in this going into the future. We are also helping to build the Nigerian startup community. We’ve also tried to support news and publishers; we care about journalism and the future of news publishing and we have collaborated with the industry to drive increased engagements and drive revenue. As part of that, we’ve held the GNI (Good News Innovator) challenge in Africa as well, and recipients have received up to $2.1m in funding for projects initiatives that are really critical and instrumental to the Nigerian space.

What challenges are you facing in running a business in Nigeria?

We are a solution-oriented company. We build products that help people thrive, help businesses grow, connect, and we’ve had great relationships with policymakers. What we are really focused on is looking at the challenges users, everyday people, face, and how we can offer products either directly or through local developers, not for profit, in terms of what they are doing. Those are the challenges we are trying to solve. These are the challenges we trust that our investments will make an impact on.

The year 2020 was peculiar because of the pandemic. People spent more time with their phones. What were Nigerians interested in knowing in 2020?

The pandemic affected Africa and by extension Nigeria. It really showed how important it was for people to be online and on the Internet.  In 2020, people were asking questions on how their businesses could work remotely, reach their customers without being a brick and mortar store. We saw a lot of trends about how people wanted to be educated remotely. Remote learning was something we saw during the pandemic. Health-related queries were on the rise too; people were asking about how they could stay healthy, their well-being.

With the global focus on virtual reality and its possibilities, how will Nigerians benefit from this?

I think that the VR space is really exciting and offers some sort of boundless opportunities as to how technology companies can drive seamless connections globally. As a company, we’ve evolved in technology that plays an important crucial role in people’s everyday lives. For Nigeria, with VR, you do require some level of infrastructure, as an example 5G technology. 5G is critical to that. 4G is still ramping up, a majority of our users here are still on 3G and a significant percentage are on 2G. When we think about technology and how it can be helpful, it is really nuanced and focused on what the country requires. What the country needs.

How would you rate the Nigerian government in its digitisation plan?

The government has, and continues to do a lot of things right, and Google has been fortunate to have worked with them on a number of initiatives including the pilot of the Google Station Wi-Fi programme in 2018, and the multiple capacity development training for business owners. There, are, however still a few improvement areas, and a lot has to do be done to advance the country towards full digital transformation.

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