This speech was delivered by the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof Umar Danbatta at the 20th anniversary of the telecommunications revolution in Nigeria, held at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos recently.
Precisely on August 8, 2001, Nigeria witnessed the revolutionary introduction of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) service, following the licensing round of January 2001 in which the NCC, informed by its regulatory principles of fairness, forthrightness, transparency and firmness, sold Digital Mobile Licences (DML) to two mobile network operators, namely; MTN and Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria) and subsequently issued a DML licence to Globacom in 2003.
Further, the Nigerian telecoms regulator in 2005 decided to throw the telecom’s playing field open by granting Unified Access Service Licence (UASL) after the expiration of five years mobile exclusivity attached to the initial DML granted the bigger GSM operators in 2001.
It is noteworthy that the issuance of UASL was essentially to allow the smaller private telecoms operators (PTOs) that existed prior to the January 2001 licensing of GSM operators to operate on equal pedestal by scaling up their limited mobility services to allow them national coverage for their services.
Prior to the 2001 GSM introduction, which ushered in the telecoms revolution in the country, Nigeria was built on the obsolete Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) network and several other existing Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network operators, since its independence in 1960. There was a total voice subscription of about 400,000 lines as at 2001.
Two decades after, the sector has witnessed significant and phenomenal growth in terms of level of access to voice and data services and has become an enabler of growth in other sectors of the country. It is therefore exciting that, as of September 2021, the number of active mobile subscriptions in the nation’s telecoms sector stood at 190.8 million with teledensity rising from less than one per cent, 20 years ago, to 99.9 per cent currently.
Also, from ground zero in 2001, Internet subscriptions have risen to 140.2 million as of August, 2021 while actual broadband penetration is now standing at 41 per cent. The broadband penetration is equivalent of 78.3 million subscriptions on the Third Generation (3G) and Fourth generations (4G) mobile networks in the country.
While the telecoms sector reforms, engendered by effective and firm regulatory regime emplaced by the NCC, have expanded availability and accessibility of network and service provisioning, the telecommunications sector reform was also accompanied by unprecedented job creation across the industry value chain, as more operators were licensed which gave rise to corresponding business opportunities for Nigerians.
The multiplier effects of the services provided by the licensees to other sectors of the economy finds expression in the sector’s contribution to the national economy. Without any doubt, the sector has become a major driver of economic development, with the sector contributing an all-time-high 14.42 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2021.
Through NCC’s continuous commitment to an effective regulatory regime, policies and initiatives to advance telecoms sector growth, millions of Nigerians can now carry out most of their activities electronically in a more efficient manner. Today, individuals and corporate entities rely more on digital services to carry out their personal and official activities, a trend that gained greater traction in the peak of COVID-19 pandemic and attendant lockdown and restrictions.
Available data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) clearly shows that telecoms is one of the key sectors that positively reversed Nigeria’s economic fortunes, taking it of the recession occasioned by the pandemic. Indeed, telecommunications has continued to be an enabler in expanding the frontiers of the nation’s economy in the last two decades.
The Commission has since recognised that in the current global economy, mobile communications is a principal tool of economic development, growth and integration, and the mobile industry is a key enabler of productivity across economies and societies. Today, the mobile industry is not only a significant contributor to the economic activities of Nigeria, but also a catalyst for the growth of other sectors of the economy.
As you may be aware, another very important focus area for the Commission over the years, has been to ensure ubiquitous broadband availability, accessibility and affordability for all and sundry. This and many other initiatives have formed the critical pillars of NCC’s successive strategic management plans and strategic vision plans as eloquently amplified by the Commission in the last few years, especially through the NCC’s 8-Point Agenda 2015-2020.
Ladies and gentlemen, having undertaken this cursory assessment of the achievements of the sector in the last 20 years, it bears relevance to state that it is not yet Uhuru for us in the industry. To this end, NCC, as a regulator, continues to work with relevant industry stakeholders toward addressing technical and non-technical challenges hindering delivery of quality voice and data services to telecoms consumers in the country.
These challenges range from vandalism of telecoms infrastructure to theft of telecoms equipment, multiple taxation and regulation, among others. It must, however, be put on record that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy has been working assiduously with the NCC, the licensees and other industry stakeholders to jointly address the focal challenges and many others, towards sustaining Nigeria’s status as one of the fastest-growing telecoms markets in the world and to ensure consistent growth of the Nigeria’s digital economy.
The next digital frontier
First, as a foremost telecommunications regulatory agency and consistent with our mandate as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003 and other guiding legislations, the NCC has always been at the forefront of leveraging latest technologies to put Nigeria on the global map of the digital economy.
The NCC has been working to ensure increased broadband penetration in line with Federal Government’s targets as contained in the Nigerian National Broadband Pan (NNBP), 2020-2025, launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2020. Some of the key targets of this national policy document are to ensure a 70 per cent broadband penetration to, at least, 90 per cent of the population. It also seeks to achieve broadband speeds of 15Mbp and 25Mbps in rural and urban areas respectively over the next five years.
The Commission is also driving various initiatives aimed at ensuring deployment of Fifth Generation (5G) Mobile Technology in Nigeria. With the emergence of technologies such as 5G, which offers enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC) and Ultra-Low, Ultra-reliable Latency Communication (uRLC), there is already a platform that would bring succor to our connectivity challenges if the requisite policy, frameworks and infrastructure are put in place.
The Commission recognises that emerging technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing; Quantum Computing Augmented/Virtual Reality, among otehrs are already playing a critical role in improving remote communication over the internet with great user experience globally. This explains why NCC has seen the need to promote the use of these emerging technology trends for great economic development in Nigeria.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me state here that, having a robust broadband infrastructure will play a greater role in fast-tracking the effective deployment of 5G technology and facilitate availability of other emerging technologies earlier itemized.
Recently, the Commission instituted the process of renewing our licensing structure in the sector. This decision was informed by the wide range of technological advances, convergence of technologies and services which have characterised the global telecoms space over the years, and which impact is increasingly being experienced in Nigeria.
It is reckoned that, the current licence structure is almost 20 years old, hence the need for an urgent review of the existing licence patterns to reflect new licensing trends in line with international standards while providing opportunities for improved revenue for government. It is hope that the review will culminate in the appraisal of the terms and conditions of the various licence categories, including licensing fee, as well as identification of the limitations of the various license categories, with a view to clearly determining licences that should be phased out or amended.
As a corollary to the above to the licensing structure review, the Commission has finalized review of its Spectrum Trading Guidelines (STG). This instrument allows that the spectrum resource in-country to be traded on the Secondary Market through Transfer, Sharing or Leasing (TSL) upon satisfying stipulated regulatory conditions. It suffices to mention here that the NNBP 2020-2025 requires that these Guidelines be reviewed to ensure that un-utilised spectrum is fairly traded to facilitate rollout by other operators among others. The Guidelines will, therefore, facilitate the country’s yearning for ubiquitous broadband access in line with the economic agenda of the Federal Government.
As vehicles for implementation of the NNBP, the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) and other similar digital economy policies, the NCC has unveiled its Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024 and the Strategic Vision Plan (SVP), 2021-2025, which will ultimately drive the next frontier of growth in the telecoms sector. The two strategic plans embody critical areas in which the Commission intend to focus on toward driving the implementation of digital economy of the government.
While the new SMP 2014-2024 focuses on five pillars, namely: Regulatory excellence, Universal broadband; Promotion of development of Digital economy, Market development and Strategic partnering, the SVP 2021-2025 focuses on achieving the following: Organizational Renewal for Operational Efficiency and Regulatory Excellence; Facilitating the Provision of Infrastructure for a Digital Economy which fosters National Development; Promoting Fair Competition, Inclusive Growth, Increased investment and Innovative Services; Improve Quality of Service (QoS) for Enhanced Consumer Quality of Experience (QoE); and Facilitating Strategic Collaboration and Partnership.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is important to emphasise that these two regulatory documents (the SMP and SVP) encapsulate the totality of several regulatory and policy initiative, designed to re-invent and transform the telecom ecosystem, within the context of regulation, to a greater height. This, to us, is the NEXT FRONTIER for the sector. While emerging technologies are disruptive by nature, Nigeria cannot afford to lag digitally behind and this explains why the Commission is engaging in developmental regulations for the industry and we are irrevocably committed to this.
Thank you for listening.