Telecoms: Nigeria’s Tizeti tries its luck in Francophone Africa

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Digital Africa

By Maher Hajbi
Posted on Monday, 17 October 2022 11:47

Kendall Ananyi, CEO of Nigerian start-up Tizeti, founded in 2012 ©Tizeti

Tizeti, a provider of internet access via solar terminals in Nigeria and Ghana, is looking to move into Côte d'Ivoire and Togo, two already busy markets.

For Tizeti’s tenth anniversary, Kendall Ananyi, at the helm of the Nigerian start-up founded in 2012, pulled out all the stops: between growth forecasts, expansion plans and an IPO, this former member of the Californian incubator Y Combinator proudly displayed his colours. The company, which has 300 employees and 3,884 access points in Nigeria and Ghana, is moving forward with plans to enter two markets that are already well served by traditional telecom operators.

While Tizeti hopes to enter the Togolese market – where the regulatory authority for electronic communications and postal services (ARCEP) has called on mobile and fixed-line operators to “improve the quality of services and lower prices” – there are major competitors that could curb the Nigerian start-up’s ardour in Côte d’Ivoire.

In the first quarter of 2022, Orange, MTN and Moov controlled mobile internet services with a respective market share of 44.1%, 35.7% and 20.2%. According to data from the Ivorian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARTCI), the French operator also largely dominates the fixed-line market with 97.6%, followed by French ISP GVA (1.5%) and the Moroccan company Moov (0.3%).

Financial stability

“I don’t know Tizeti, I haven’t had the opportunity to see their operations in Ghana and Nigeria although I am often there,” says a major telecoms player in Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. However, the managers of the Nigerian start-up, which currently boasts 2.8 million subscribers, remain optimistic and consider their expansion project in French-speaking Africa “strategic” for the future of the continent.

Their arguments? “The broadband gap in Africa is still very high. Operators like Tizeti need to expand by ensuring that more Africans have access to a reliable, affordable and truly unlimited internet network,” said CEO Ananyi on the sidelines of the second annual Tizeti NextGen 2.0 event, which brought together technology enthusiasts in August.

A pioneer in wireless internet connectivity in West Africa, Tizeti delivers its network from submarine cables and solar-powered terminals. © All rights reserved

Ifeanyi Okonkwo, co-founder and chief operating officer of the start-up, with revenues estimated at more than 11 billion naira over ten years (nearly €26 million), points to Tizeti’s financial stability, profitability in three of the last four years, and the first dividends paid to shareholders in 2021. “With a positive balance sheet over the last few years, we have the free cash flow to continue to invest in our network, and drive our expansion into underserved areas of both English and French-speaking West Africa,” Okonkwo says.

Getting more robust with Nokia

A pioneer in wireless internet connectivity in West Africa, Tizeti powers its network via submarine cables and solar-powered terminals. Indeed, the Nigerian start-up is taking advantage of the lower development costs of photovoltaic panels, and the importance of its bandwidth, to “market unlimited packages at disruptive rates to differentiate itself from competitors”, according to Ananyi, who was one of Paystack’s investors before it was bought by the American company Stripe.

A solid performance, which has been reinforced by the recent expansion into several states in Nigeria and Ghana, but also by a strategic rapprochement with Nokia. In 2020, Tizeti entrusted the Finnish telecommunications multinational with the reinforcement of its internet network using new radio modules and routers. The aim was to strengthen its infrastructure, offer more robust connectivity, and meet the growing demand and future upgrades to move towards 5G. A winning choice, since in 2021, its management confirms that the Nigerian supplier “delivered more than 38.648 million GB, and multiplied its profit before depreciation and amortisation by 2.5 despite the pandemic”.

Legitimate expansion ambitions

“There is still room for growth,” says Ananyi, a Canadian-trained ex-engineer who has worked for Microsoft and ExxonMobil. “The number of people connected to mobile internet will rise from 303 million in 2020 to 450 million in 2025,” according to estimates by the Global System Operators’ Association (GSMA). Hence the “legitimate” ambitions of the Tizeti boss who, convinced of the attractiveness of his start-up, is working to expand into West Africa.

Ananyi and his partners plan to do this through a public offering on Nasdaq or the London Stock Exchange, as well as on the Nigerian NGX. With a positive balance sheet and accounts in the black, Tizeti is planning an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market for investors/shareholders that could be extended to the French and English-speaking countries of the sub-region.

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