Lagos, Nigeria-based data center and cloud services company, MainOne, was founded by Funke Opeke in 2008. It laid the first private undersea cable in West Africa to improve access to the internet just in time for the takeoff of smartphone adoption and 4G broadband in the region. Last month US-based Equinix acquired the company for $320 million.

What has driven up the interest in Africa’s cloud and data center business over the last three years?

Over the past decade, I would say approximately 40% of the population of West Africa has gained access to mobile broadband; that is a population of over 100 million eyeballs. And 60% of people across the region are still yet to be fully connected. Now, when you look at the data consumption of the average subscriber in Africa, relative to the rest of the world, it is a small fraction even though the population in terms of usage is much higher. But we see continued growth in internet access and 4G deployment. Data consumption and access to services will also grow. When you add all those things together it shows a rapidly growing market. 

That’s where data centers and interconnectedness come in and is really motivating the new investments in this large growing population of underserved users. I think it is really only just beginning for our continent.

How do you think about rising competition from global platforms and cloud companies?

The situation is the same globally in terms of the role of these global technology companies and the adoption of their applications by consumers globally. So, I don’t think Africa is unique in that respect. So I think this is a good development that the infrastructure investment is actually going to take place on the continent. And it starts addressing having more of the value chain. So we’re not just a consumer of those services, but we have to provide more of the value in terms of hosting, delivering, and connecting the data to the various networks here from within Africa.

 Given the ongoing boom in data centers, why sell MainOne now? 

I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for the shareholders. They have stayed with me for 12 to 13 years and we’ve had their support. But I think the timing was right in terms of what we’re seeing on the continent and global interest in these kinds of assets. And Equinix reached out to us, did their due diligence and we fit the bill to become part of their global platform, where they currently do not have a presence in Africa. 

How do you intend the new resources at your disposal after the acquisition closes?

Building more data centers, servicing more of their requirements, providing new solutions for African businesses and financial institutions, so they can do business on a global platform equivalent to what we would have in any advanced market, right from West Africa. I think that is probably what I’m most excited about. We expect data consumption per head to grow as the networks scale. 

*This 3 Minutes With interview first appeared in the Rest of World weekly newsletter. Sign up here.