An estimated 73 per cent of over 15 licensed telephone companies by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) have closed shops in the last 10 years, following the liberalisation of the industry in 2001, New Telegraph can report.
Affected operators are players in the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and fixed line segments. According to available data from the telecoms regulator, Nigeria used to have 13 registered CDMA operators about four licensed Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) operators 10 years ago.
Etisalat came on board around 2007 after having been issued Universal Service Access License (USAL), bringing the number of licensed telecoms networks to the CDMA and GSM technology platforms to an excess of 15.
New Telegraph’s findings showed that only two CDMA players, Visafone and Multilinks, are active today, though lacking the needed brand visibility.
Until its recent acquisition by MTN, Visafone was the last surviving CDMA mobile operator in active service. When Nigeria’s telecoms sector was liberalised in the late 1990s, breaking the monopoly of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), the first operators to enter the field were tagged: Private Telephone Operators (PTOs).
The PTOs basically delivered fixed wireless, cellular and fixed lines services, mainly in cities such as Lagos, Warri, Port Harcourt and Abuja. Many of the PTOs, including Multi-Links, Intercellular, Mobitel, Prestel, Independent Telephone Networks (ITN), were using Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and later CDMA technology.
Analysts say the operators created the pathway for others such as Starcomms, Reltel (later Zoom Mobile), MTS First Wireless, 21st Century Technologies Ltd and VGC Communications Ltd, among others, to emerge.
The deregulations of the sector, regarded as a watershed, opened up a lot of vistas for the sector as new jobs were created directly and indirectly, enabling engineering and technical job opportunities, according to industry analysts.
According to the analysts, the PTOs also provided businesses opportunities for distributors, sub-distributors, retailers and call card manufacturers as well as opportunities for banks to invest in an emerging sector.
However, not only are CDMA operators, at the moment, finding it difficult operating their networks in Nigeria, but have packed out of business.
According to experts, with the arrival of GSM operators in 2001, namely MTN, Econet (Airtel), Mtel, Globacom (2003) and Etisalat (2008), the fortunes of CDMA operators took a nosedive.
It was gathered that the technology has faced stiff challenges from richer GSM operators, which have used their massive war chest to develop the roadmap for future mobile technologies that favour GSM networks more.
As at April 24, 2014, available statistics showed that there were 314 CDMA operators globally with 71 of them located in 46 countries/ territories in Africa and Middle East, with Nigeria having seven CDMA deployments. Globally, the CDMA subscriber base has come down from 538 million in the second quarter of 2012 to 351 million as at the third quarter of 2015, while GSM subscriptions currently stand at 3.73 billion lines.
Also, at the end of the third quarter of 2015, Visafone had active 2,031,802 lines while Multilinks had 10,213 lines. The NCC December statistics shows that CDMA subscription stands at 2,148,727 lines while GSM subscription is 148,681,362 lines.
Already, industry stakeholders have blamed poor management on the part of the chief executives of the CDMA networks, lack of funding, tough operating environment and regulatory limitation occasioned by lack of issuance of spectrum on stateby- state and regional basis to the operator rollout as well as lack of support from the NCC for the poor fortunes of the technology in the country.