Year 2015 ended with issues of poor service quality in the telecoms sector as 19th edition of the Consumer Town Hall Meeting organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) delved on the matter, hence there is hope that the New Year will be an opportunity for a quick fix for improved service delivery, DAYO PAUL writes.
Telecommunications subscribers, who gathered at the19th edition of the Consumer Town Hall Meeting held in Sagamu, Ogun State, South West of Nigeria, unleashed their anger on service providers, stressing that they were yet to get value for their money.
It was instructive that the issue of continuous downward profile of telecommunications services delivery for both voice and data has been a source of worry for telecoms subscribers and, as such, subscribers urged telecoms operators to improve on their networks and the regulator to intervene on the issue in 2016. Currently, Nigeria has over 152 million mobile subscriptions and 97 million mobile Internet users for voice and data services respectively.
According to stakeholders, with the growing number of telecoms consumers in the country, it has become imperative for the operators to increase their network investment while telecoms regulator also works with necessary stakeholders to support the operators in their infrastructure rollout drive this year. However, in achieving improved service for subscribers, which is the ultimate mandate of the regulator and should be the focus of the operators too in order to attract more subscribers on their networks, stakeholders have pointed at certain indexes that require attention this year.
As at the middle of 2014, Nigeria’s telecoms sector became a $32 billion industry, comprising investment: local and foreign direct investment (FDIs), but further investment by telecoms operators sparsely seen in the previous year, despite the fact that telecoms networks continue to add new subscribers in millions on a monthly basis. “Telecoms operators and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) need to look for means to get new funding to upgrade and expand their networks,” said President of Medallion Communications, Mr. Ike Nnamani. “As we enter 2016, one would expect that operators should do more in the area of investment to make their networks more robust to accommodate more customers without sacrificing the quality.” Already, effort should be made by the operators to either invest more in building base stations beyond about 30,000 base stations they currently have, as the industry is said to need an estimated 70,000 base stations to be able to provide improved services, he said. Investigation shows that for base station, Nigeria is facing an infrastructure deficit of over N1.6 trillion while additional $10 billion broadband investment is also expected in the next five years, according to KPMG, a consulting firm. “We have noted that telecoms companies like increasing their subscribers without paying attention to building a robust network. However, when they make moves to deploy more facility, they have got to contend with a number of challenges, but what is important to us as subscriber is quality of service,” said a banker, Mr. Raji Oluwakorede.
Another area that stakeholders expect the regulator to focus on this year is the auctioning of relevant frequency bands that are useful to deploy broadband infrastructure. According to the President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, “NCC needs to accelerate the auctioning of the 2.6 gigahertz spectrum band and other related spectrum this year to attract investment in the nation’s broadband sector.” He said the NCC would do well by ensuring that the issuing of the remaining five telecoms Infrastructure Companies (Infra- Co) licences are done speedily and transparently this year.
The NCC had postponed the issuing of the remaining InfraCo licences and suspended the auctioning of the 2.6GHz spectrum based on administrative constraints. The commission had developed the InfraCo idea after holding extensive consultation with industry stakeholders to license seven telecoms infrastructure companies each in the six geopolitical zones and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Only two of the licences have been won by Main One and IHS for the South-West and North Central locations respectively. “Issuing these licences will help in boosting broadband penetration in the country,” Ajayi said.
According to the NCC, broadband penetration in Nigeria currently stands at 10 per cent and the industry targets 30 per cent penetration by 2018. “To make this happen, we need all these licences this year, as they will also help in boosting Internet service provisioning,” Ajayi said.
It is cheering that the NCC has started engaging the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) in a move to work with them to remove obstacles to infrastructure deployment by telecoms operators. “We have started engaging the state governors and this will continue this year in order to ensure that cases of multiple taxations, high cost or denial of Right of Way (RoW) among others are removed for the operators to deploy faster,” said Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo. Similarly, MainOne Chief Executive Officer, Ms Funke Opeke, believes that government must come to the aid of telecoms operators and other telecoms companies by working with necessary stakeholders to remove obstacles to infrastructure deployment if telecoms sector should achieve 25 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution to the economy in the next 10 years. Telecoms currently contribute 11 per cent to the economy.
Finally, while the President of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Mr. Deolu Ogunbajo, expects increased quality of service for both voice and data in the current year, the National Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, called on the regulator to create more enabling environment for the operators to have smooth operation to meet subscribers’ yearnings for better services.