USTDA Business Briefing on Nigeria Satellite Technologies; an Excerpt

USTDA Virtual business briefing flyer

The US Trade and Development Agency hosted a virtual business briefing for satellite sector decision-makers. The first day’s programme began with Joshua Egba’s brief overview of the business briefing’s purpose. Accordingly, the objective is to connect Nigerian satellite sector stakeholders and with their U.S. counterparts (Reverse trade missions)

After the overview, Jillian Foerster discussed the USTDA, stating the agency’s missions and tools. According to her, the agency’s missions include supporting:

  • Jobs through exportation;
  • Sustainable infrastructure in emerging economies; and
  • Partnership building activities. 

Furthermore, the agency’s tools include supporting project preparation (i.e., feasibility studies, technical assistance, pilot projects) and partnership building (conferences and workshops). USTDA’s priority sectors include;

  • Clean Energy;
  • ICT (Connectivity, cybersecurity and smart cities);
  • Transportation;
  • Agriculture; and 
  • Healthcare

Jillian remarked that, unlike previous years, the agency was involved in more projects in their ICT role than in the Energy sector. Jillian also discussed the Access Africa initiative. It is a collaborative effort between the agency and the U.S. industry leaders to support the quality development of priority ICT infrastructure and related services across Africa. Through this initiative, the USTDA supports the FTTX planning and expansion feasibility studies in the Niger Delta. 

Tying the agency’s activities to satellite technology, Ms Kathleen FitzGibbon of Chargé d’affaires, U.S. Mission in Nigeria, discussed the USA’s satellite industry. She stated the importance of satellite technology, remarking that the USA, through several innovations, has driven down the cost of satellite design launch and deployment. Kathleen also commented on the USA’s technical expertise and tools in satellite technology. She stated that the agency was ready to leverage these for Nigeria. 

Ms Therese Jones subsequently gave an overview of the Satellite Sector relying on the 2021 report of the Satellite Industry Association’s State of the Satellite Industry Report for 2021. She noted that the satellite industry represented about 74% of the global space economy at USD 271 billion 

The delegate presentation followed suit and was moderated by Mr John Leuer. Dr Abimbola Alale of NIGCOMSAT spoke first and presented the opportunities of U.S. companies in Nigeria’s satellite sector. She prefaced the presentation with a needs assessment stating disparities between the urban and rural areas in terms of connectivity, resulting in a digital divide. Accordingly, the areas of investment opportunities include:

  • Satellite upstream 
    • Space resources
  • Satellite downstream
    • Providing affordable broadband services
    • Ground teleport facilities
    • Navigation services
  • Satellite ground equipment
    • VSAT equipment such as antennas, modems etc. 
  • Satellite Design Development
    • Concurrent design facilities for satellites
    • Satellite manufacturing centre/Assembly, Integration and Testing Centre
  • Satellite Spinoff technologies
    • Agro space-based spinoff seeds
    • Space-based telemedicine
  • Satellite R&D Innovation Centre
    • Startup R&D centres

The delegate presentation also featured a presentation by Aristotle Onumo of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). The presentation was on implementing the national digital economy policy and strategy for a digital Nigeria. 

Subsequently, a panel discussion followed the presentation. The discussion was titled ‘Nigerian Entities Active in Satellite Industry; Users and Manufacturers’. Panellists included Content Oasis Director Diseye Isoun; CEO, Hotspot Nigeria, Morenikeji Aniye; 21st Century Technology Limited Managing Director, Wale Ajisebutu; the chairman of Association of Licensed Service Providers of Nigeria. The panel also featured Engr. Gbenga Adebayo and the former chairman of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, Professor Armstrong Idachaba. 

On the opportunities available in the Nigerian satellite industry, Morenikeji Aniye, 21st Century Technology Limited Managing Director, discussed the huge gap in network connectivity in rural areas. Accordingly, many rural communities in Nigeria are almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world because network services don’t provide adequate connectivity. Furthermore, according to him, 21st Century Technology Limited is committed to deploying rural telephoning services in 2000 rural communities by 2023. 

Commenting on the skill gaps in the satellite operation industry and how they can plug the gap, Engr. Gbenga Adetayo opined that due to the socio-economic challenges in Nigeria, the problem the country is battling is retaining capable hands through brain drain rather than skill acquisition and inadequate capacity development. The country loses many trained professionals in the industry to even less promising markets because of the country’s state. He recommended that the government find a way to entice local skills and experts to stay and build the industry. 

Furthermore, the panel unanimously agreed that the most significant challenge in satellite deployment and operations in Nigeria is the cost that operators incur trying to purchase and disburse satellite connectivity services. Content Oasis Director, Diseye Isoun, noted that if the industry can get the prices of certain upstream services to come down, data bundle costs would also be reduced, making it affordable for the average Nigerian subscriber. Nigerian markets are usually swayed and determined by foreign exchange. This reliance on the exchange rates, which is constantly rising, affects the cost of investments in these upstream services. 

Thus, Dr Abimbola Alale revealed that the problem could be alleviated if US companies that supply these upstream services partnered with other organisations in the Nigerian market to bring these prices down and localise these services. She mentioned that as incentives, interested companies could be given tax holidays, amongst other things. Although Professor Idachaba agreed with the rest of the panel, he added that the problem was also an infrastructure issue. He cited instances where citizens vandalized working satellite equipment, costing the affected areas satellite connectivity. 

The second day’s programme began with Joshua Egba’s welcome remarks, followed by an overview of the panel discussion by Sarah Whitten, Regional Manager; Financing and Implementation at USTDA. The panel session saw presentations from two speakers – Michelle Patrick-Akinrinade, Africa Investment Advisor for Anglophone West Africa at the US International Development Finance Corporation (DCF), and Reza Nikfarjam, Loan Origination/Head of Business Development (Global Technology Sector, Structured & Project Finance Division) at the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). They both presented their company’s financial offerings and solutions for satellite infrastructure.

Speaking on the numerous financial offerings of the DCF, Michelle Patrick-Akinrinade, explained that the company commits to providing the necessary corporate financing for the Nigerian space industry. Furthermore, she enumerated some of DCF’s offerings spanning from direct loans; loan guarantees; to political risk insurance. Likewise, she mentioned some of DCF’s prospective offerings. These offerings consequently include direct equity financing of up to 30% for a project to support investment funds and technical assistance (from USD 100,000 up to USD 4 million) to accelerate project identification and preparation to attract private investment in development outcomes better. Michelle further explained that DCF has invested about USD 33 billion globally and has a further USD 8.2 billion in investment across several sectors in Africa, reiterating the company’s dedication to providing corporate financing to the space industry in Nigeria.

Furthermore, Reza Nikfarjam spoke about EXIM partnership with organisations to provide access to a range of financial solutions in the form of short term and medium & long term financing. Reza also highlighted EXIM’s track record in the satellite industry from 1967 to date with resounding success and restated the company’s commitment to doing business with the Nigeria satellite industry. Additionally, he explained that EXIM could provide the necessary financing for several projects such as satellite systems, launch services, launch insurance premium and ground network equipment with a repayment period of up to ten years.

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