‘Why fixed telephony services are declining in Nigeria’
Reviving fixed telephony services in the country remains difficult going by the current challenges in the sub-sector.The fixed telephony services market comprises establishments providing voice services through physical media such as wire or fibre optic cable instead of wireless transmission. These services are also referred to as landline or dedicated line services.
Indeed, fixed telephony services in the last 10 years in Nigeria have sustained a downward profile, moving from about five million to 349,185 with only 161,742 lines remaining active as at August 2016.
However, while there are challenges, especially with the dominance of the Global System for Mobile (GSM) Communication, The Guardian investigations have shown that four telecommunications firms are currently keeping the operations alive, though on a low key.
But efforts by the operators, which include MTN, Globacom, IpNX and 21st Century, have only managed to put fixed telephony penetration at 0.1 per cent in the country. The GSM technology has 99.5 per cent, while the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operation has 0.4 per cent.
Statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) show that 21st Century has the largest market share with 83 per cent penetration. The other three operators are in a far distance, with Globacom in the second position having nine per cent market share, followed by MTN with six per cent and ipNX services with two per cent.
Worried about the continued decline of fixed line subscription in the country, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, stressed the need for the country to revitalise the service, saying that it should be a complementary telecommunication service to mobile telephony.
Danbatta blamed the continued decline of fixed line telephony on total neglect by the telecoms operators and subscribers. He observed that before the advent of digital technology in 2001, which ushered in GSM, Nigerians were using fixed line telephony, whose operator was majorly the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), but “it has suddenly been neglected for mobile digital telephony.
“In developed countries of the world, mobile telephony runs side by side with fixed line telephony and I see no reason Nigerians had to dump fixed line for mobile telephony.”
Danbatta alleged that many times, the commission had invited operators, especially those currently offering the service for a meeting on how it can be improved in the country, but none of them showed up. “We have invited the service providers to NCC to discuss how we can revive the sub-sector, but that invitation is still waiting to be honoured by them,” he stated.
According to him, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development put fixed line penetration rate at 0.01 per cent in Nigeria, whereas other countries have better and deeper penetration. He explained that when the digital technology came, most countries never dropped their analogue technology, but made both to run side by side. “But we discovered that it was a different ball game in Nigeria.”
According to him, it is not late for Nigeria to revive the sub-sector. “This is an invitation to potential investors that fixed telephony still has viable chances of thriving in Nigeria. We have the market. So as many investors that are ready, the NCC is open for discussion and partnership.”
But one of the operators, who spoke to The Guardian anonymously, said they did not receive any letter of invitation from NCC for discussion on reviving fixed telephony in the country.
“The landline may not really thrive again, even with new policies because of several bureaucratic bottlenecks, especially from state governments, when it comes to getting the right of way approval. They see telecoms operators as ‘cash cow’, so they are ready to bill us anyhow and where is the money now?”
Buttressing the need to keep fixed lines afloat in the country, the Managing Director of Vodacom, Lanre Kolade, said the development of fixed broadband infrastructure remained important, despite the predominance of its mobile counterpart.
“Telecoms operators will remain the main investors in fiber networks to extend high-speed fixed broadband services to enterprise customers and wealthy urban and suburban neighbourhoods,” he stated.
While Nigeria struggles to remain afloat, The Guardian findings showed that in other parts of Africa, such as South Africa and Kenya, where adoptions have been between low and high rates, both government and private players are engaging one another to revive it.