A lot of the time, people ask who the best ISP to use in Nigeria is; my answer rarely changes – “It depends.” On what? Time of day, weather conditions, disposition of the staff on duty, how much your subscription is worth to the operator, your attitude to the support staff, where your location is, whether there’s been a submarine fibre cable cut, whether a local farmer somewhere along the national long distance route has uprooted the terrestrial fibre servicing you, whether vandals have cut up your cable in their search for resellable copper, whether the management of the ISP is having financial troubles, whether it’s rainy season where multiple network nodes are suffering electrical surges, or any other number of factors.
A large number of factors can affect the quality of Internet access you get here. Some of them can be predicted and controlled while some are totally out of your control. How do you get by then?
- Do a lot of homework when choosing your ISP. Don’t believe the hype. Find out which providers are presently performing best in the locale you plan to be in and if possible, get a trial run before you commit. A fantastic ISP for personal use may not necessarily be fantastic with corporate connectivity (or vice versa). A seemingly good ISP could also be on the edge of bankruptcy due to poor management.
- Plan to use more than one ISP. Sometimes equipment gets overloaded and other times it’s the staff that are overloaded. Nigerians don’t carry multiple phones just because we like to flaunt all the top Apple, BlackBerry and Samsung gadgets; we do it to reduce the chances of being totally disconnected from the world. Be careful in choosing as it’s possible to end up with two Virtual Network Operators using the same back-end infrastructure.
- Try to use more than one technology. If your primary connection is via 3G/4G from one operator, your secondary should come from a satellite or WiFi or cable or some other type of connection. This will reduce the chances of being affected by the same occurrence of interference or regulation or vandalism.
In my work functions over the past twelve years, I have dealt with a decent number of network operators providing corporate connectivity and have found that there are several types.
– Larger operators which are slow to deliver the initial connection but deliver high quality connectivity once the service is rolled out. They typically have large amounts of bandwidth so you won’t suffer speed problems that trouble smaller congested networks. You will probably enjoy the service but heavens help you if there is a technical problem that is not immediately obvious to the staff. You typically have to be a big client with direct access to the top management to get remedies that bypass their internal bottlenecks. It also helps when you have technical experience yourself and can properly describe your situation.
– Nimble medium-sized operators which are quick to respond and also deploy fairly decent connectivity when you choose a good one. They typically run on a tight bandwidth budget to remain in profitable business so you won’t get speeds as high as the larger operators but are more likely to get faster response in the event of a technical problem. If they can’t solve the problem, they wouldn’t mind giving you a stop-gap from another service provider if it is readily available.
– Medium sized operators that are on their way to becoming large operators. These may be quick to deploy but if they do not take particular care to scale up their infrastructure and customer service as their customer base grows, their services quickly become unreliable and congested.
– Tiny service providers that cover just a small area but provide services that are as good as the management team. Some could be pretty good and others not so good.
At the end of the day, to have a good Internet experience in Nigeria, you need to have a reliable means of monitoring your connection, a reliable channel of communication with your service provider, a backup connection, and your ear to the ground.
Disclosure: I presently consult for the Bandwidth Consortium (http://www.bandwidthconsortium.org), a not-for-profit organization that facilitates Internet bandwidth at reduced rates for its members through wholesale purchase so I have interacted with a number of network operators. I have also consulted for a few network operators in the past so my views may be seen as partial in some cases.