By CHIMA AKWAJA, Lagos And NKECHI ISAAC, Abuja
Telecommunications offers great promise for Nigeria in terms of growth, productive use of the Internet, and creating a real digital landscape for Nigeria. Great emphasis is placed on Nigeria becoming a Digital Society despite the lack of power and other IT Infrastructure to support the change.
The telecommunication sector has witnessed significant growth in strategic areas some of which includes broadband penetration; launch of the 4G; improving quality of service; better regulation of MNOs; 2.6 GHz spectrum auction, amongst others since the President Muhammadu Buhari administration came into power on May 29, 2015.
Internet and Broadband have been globally acknowledged as the foundation for transformation to a knowledge-based economy. It is also widely acknowledged that broadband infrastructure is an enabler for economic and social growth in the digital economy.
Broadband has the potential of enabling entire new industries and introducing significant efficiencies into education delivery, health care provision, energy management, ensuring public safety, government/citizen interaction, and the overall organization and dissemination of knowledge.
One of the most conspicuous achievements of the current administration is the growing of the nation’s broadband penetration to 21 per cent which hovers around 13 to 14 per cent prior to now. This feat inches the nation closer to its target of achieving 30 per cent broadband penetrations by 2018.
Apart from getting the nation to the 21 per cent milestone, the federal government is still putting machineries in place to ensure the nation hits the 30 per cent threshold by 2018; the minister of communication, Barr. Adebayo Shittu, has reconstituted the Nigerian National Broadband Council (NNBC) dissolved at the end of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
The reconstituted a 19 member council has the mandate to midwive the Nigeria National Broadband Plan (NNBP) and ensure the nation hits its target next year.
Also, the telecoms regulatory body, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), has also set up a broadband implementation monitoring committee within the commission to give proper assessment on regular basis of broadband infrastructure deployment in the country.
Launch of 4G/LTE Network
This administration also witnessed the launch of the Fourth Generation (4G) network architecture or Long Term Evolution (LTE), a new technology designed to improve the handheld experience. Prior to this evolution, Nigeria was using the Third Generation (3G) network, which is significantly slower than the 4G. The new wireless network represents a technological step beyond its 3G forerunner.
The main advantage of 4G is that the terminal communicates with the network solely by sending IP packets, ruling out the possibility of making circuit calls. This greatly simplifies protocols, drastically cutting down signaling and making communications (of any type) much more efficient. It also adds on a series of radio improvements to boost the amount of information that can be sent/received in the same bandwidth. The combined effect of these two features is mobile communications with very low latencies and much bigger effective bandwidths than before. In its first versions 4G allows (at least in theory) for speeds of about 100Mbits/second.
This administration has also shown commitment to improving the Quality of Service (QoS) for better customer service delivery and satisfaction.QoS is characterised by key performance indicators (KPIs) which are defined by terminologies associated with drop calls, inability to get calls through and vice versa; these are situations when someone calls you and he or she is not able to get through to you.
However, the current leadership of the NCC has shown commitment to ensure the improvement of QoS. Over the last two years, the commission has consistently put customer satisfaction on the front burner of its activities.
In 2016, the NCC launched an 8-point agenda with one of the points solely focused consumer protection and empowerment. The commission went further in 2017, to flag off a strategic campaign on May 15, where it declared “2017: the Year of the Consumer” and unveiled strategies and series of activities aimed at empowering and protecting the consumers of telecommunications services in Nigeria.
Implementation of DND Facility
NCC banned unsolicited pre-recorded voice calls and text messages by network operators and Value Added Service (VAS) providers with effect from July 1, 2016 with the implementation of 2442 Do Not Disturb (DND) short code platform. The facility has helped to reduce marketing messages from operators and third party services.
These include bulk SMS, VAS promos, which had become nightmare for consumers. The DND 2442 facility when activated has given telecom consumers the freedom to choose what messages to receive from the various networks thus helping to improve quality of service on the networks.
Key components of the Year of the Consumer include creation of greater awareness on Quality of Service, EMF, DND, and NCCs 622 complaint line. The campaign hopes to secure the support of network operators towards meeting set targets and key performance indicators, (KPIs) on quality of services especially as it affects drop calls.
Better Regulation of MNOs
The nation has also witnessed a better regulation of Mobile Network Providers (MNOs) with emphasis on protecting the rights and security of mobile network consumers.
Prior to now, MNOs was having a field day in terms of non-compliance to telecommunication regulations, but with the present administration the regulators now apply the carrot and stick approach to enforce compliance and promote healthy competition among operators.
Speaking on telcos regulation, the executive vice chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said erring operators that will be sanctioned when the need arises. He said: “We’re not fining operators on flimsy excuses when and if cases of infringement are established; they are fined on cases of infringement consistent with the law.
He said: “Our main responsibility is to the Nigerian consumers, there should be fairness when and if infringements are committed then we look at the laws and apply appropriate sanctions. At times, we warn and other times we even give opportunity to the operators to explain why disciplinary measures cannot be meted out. An operator is supposed to be a de facto regulator. One thing is to encourage competition in the telecoms sector in this country and you cannot do that by always applying the ‘big stick’ method. We invite operators for meetings in order to explore areas of mutual cooperation to improving telecoms services including rendering professional advice as to how this could be done.”
2.6 GHz Spectrum Auction
Telecoms regulators all over the world understand that rapidly growing wireless traffic will require increase in spectrum over time. This obvious reason must have compelled NCC to auction the 2.6GHz spectrum in 2016 so as to create enough spectrum licences for rapid rollout of broadband services across the country.
The 10-year radio spectrum licence for mobile broadband services won by MTN Nigeria has enhanced the availability of spectrum for speedy deployment of broadband services across the country.
The spectrum created the opportunity for the deployment of advanced wireless 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology services, as well as standardisation and harmonisation of telecoms operations.
The 2.6 GHz band, which spans from 2.5 GHz band to 2.7 GHz band, is generally considered to cover the frequency range between 2500-2690 MHz, although there are some minor national variations among countries in the use of the frequency band.
The frequency band was designated for mobile terrestrial services and other applications of the frequencies in this band include satellite services – fixed, mobile, and broadcast – as well as terrestrial video broadcasting. In certain countries, frequencies in this band are still occupied by non-commercial entities, such as the military.
NCC licenced MainOne Cable Company and IHS Communications for Lagos and the North Central zones respectively for the Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) in the pilot phase. In May 2015, the NCC under the leadership of Dr. Eugene Juwah was in the news for the secret sale of fourth generation (4G) Digital Dividend Spectrum licences to Globacom and Cyberspace Ltd 900MH and 700MHz bands towards the dying days of administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The licensing did not pass through the normal bidding process.
On August 4, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari sacked Dr. Eugene Juwah and replaced him with Professor Umaru Danbatta as the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC.
New Entrants, Race for 4G LTE Services
The last two years witnessed the entrance of new operators into the market. They include NatCom Development & Investment Limited, trading as ntel It commenced commercial operations of its 4G/LTE-Advanced network in Lagos and Abuja providing superfast internet access that enables high-definition voice, data and video services built on the 900/1800 MHz frequency bands.
In May 2016, Bitflux Communications, a consortium of three companies: VDT, BitCom and Superflex that paid $23.25 million for the 30MHz slot of the 2.3GHz spectrum in February 2014 finally deployed a long term evolution (LTE) data network in the country enabling it to operate as a mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE), supporting multiple MVNO operations on a single hosted platform.Other telecom networks like Smile Communications also made some marks in their ways.
Nigeria Missed 2015 Digital Switchover
On June 17, 2015, Nigeria missed the digital switchover deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for countries to switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting despite nine years of starting the process. NBC blamed its inability to ensure that all television stations in Nigeria migrate to digital broadcasting on lack funds, insufficient awareness, absence of set-top boxes and right technology to adopt.
N330bn Settlement of Simcard Fine
In June 2016, MTN Nigeria and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) eventually settled the landmark N1.04 trillion fine imposed on the operator for flouting the simcard registration directive with the fine reduced finally to N330 billion ($1.671 billion). This amount includes the “goodwill” payment of N50b billion earlier made on February 24, 2016 by MTN to the government.
By the terms of agreement, MTN would pay N30 billion into NCC’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in June while the remaining balance will be discharged as follows: N30 billion on 31 March 2017; N55 billion on 31 March 2018; N55 billion on 31 December 2018; N55 billion on 31 March 2019 and N55 billion on 31 May 2019.