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Telecoms services remain poor despite promises from operators, regulator

By Adeyemi Adepetun and Oluwatosin Areo
30 April 2019   |   4:20 am
Despite promises of improved telecoms services from both the regulator and operators, it appears that the over 174 million active subscribers...

Phone users

Despite promises of improved telecoms services from both the regulator and operators, it appears that the over 174 million active subscribers in Nigeria have been scammed by those promises, as telephony services across the country remained at its lowest ebb.

From Lagos to Abuja, Ondo to Port Harcourt, Jos to Enugu, Borno to Sokoto, the profile of the quality of service, especially from the GSM operators, the quartet of MTN Nigeria, Globacom, Airtel, and 9Mobile leaves much to be desired.

To make matters worse, operators are currently mulling increase in voice tariff, which they tied to increasing harsh business environment.

Checks by The Guardian confirmed the barrage of complaints by subscribers, who experienced increased dropped calls, aborted and undelivered short message services (SMS), and countless failed calls. Equally, Internet services remained a challenge; just as much as uploading and downloading activities, all of which make 4G services nothing to write home about, despite promises from Smile, nTel, Swift, and others, which claimed superiority.

Subscribers are also groaning under what they described as frustrating porting experiences. Besides, The Guardian gathered that about 40 per cent of subscribers data are not been rolled over by the operators, which further compounds users woes. The Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, had two years ago in Lagos, directed operators to roll-over unfinished data.

While subscribers piled up complaints over these lingering failures, watchers of the unfolding development in the telecommunications industry wondered why, despite repeated sanctions by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the sector’s regulator, poor services are rising in the industry, 17 years after the telecoms revolution in the country. This is even as operators insist they have continued to make almost yearly investments on network roll outs and facilities upgrades nationwide.

Speaking with The Guardian, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, wondered how long Nigerians would continue to suffer, despite spending between N2 trillion and N3 trillion on telecoms services, especially on airtime annually.

Aluko noted that the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) set by the NCC do not reflect their performance and challenges of the industry, “I think something drastic needs to be done. There is serious rip-off in the sector; how will I send a text, money will be removed and the message will not get to destination? Or how do you explain dialling a number, the number is not connecting and your money is removed. The situation is disheartening!”

Narrating her experience in Abuja, a Globacom subscriber, Toyin Adebisi, complained that she had been experiencing drop calls and undelivered SMS in the last one month, and wondered if the NCC still monitors operations of the operators.

According to her, drop calls; uncompleted calls; illegal credit deductions, and the menace of unsolicited SMS remain the order of the day with the networks.

Another subscriber, Chukwuka Maria, a business woman, an ‘MTN loyal customer’ also complained of drop calls and connection failures. She lamented that her clients now find it difficult to reach her for business transactions; “on a more serious note, sometime last year, I almost lost a business worth N3.5 million because they claimed I could not be reached, whereas my phone had the 4G network signal bars on. It is really annoying.”

A postgraduate student of the Federal University of Technology (FUTY), Yola, Emmanuel Gbenga, admitted that all the service providers have issues.”Using my Glo line for calls here is really stressful and data speed can be very slow at times. MTN is fair sometimes, but not dependable. For some days now, I have to tried a number more than once before it goes through. Maybe we can say that network is unstable or what is really happening?” he queried.

A Media Consultant, Ogunmoroti Funsho, said MTN call network had offered pockets of failure, but the rate of failure is minimal for data.

Meanwhile, another customer, Damilola Sunday, said MTN data had been terrible. “We don’t get the data value of our money but voice services are okay for calls. There was one day that a call was on and the person couldn’t hear me. The person called back because the network was fluctuating. It has happened many times like that,” he noted.

Sunday added that Glo data in terms of volume is larger but it is only good at night. “I live in Ikorodu, but work at Ketu. The only time I have good network in Ikorodu is at night. The speed in the Ketu area is okay during the day though. I think this network issue also has to do with location,” he added.

While some subscribers belonged to all the four networks due to the multi-SIMs services, others that either belonged to one or two of the networks lamented that they are being denied access to port.

A Globacom subscriber in Lagos, who spoke with The Guardian and had actually planned to port from the network to another, alleged that Glo has refused to allow the transaction to sail through.

One of the subscribers, Joseph Onyekwere, said he had wanted to port from Globacom to 9Mobile, but “that process was frustrated from Globacom. The 9Mobile officials tried severally for about four attempts, it wasn’t successful, till this moment. I think the regulator should look into matter. The process appears not seamless anymore.”

Consumers generally also complained of data roll over challenges due to service fluctuations and poor customer response to issues.

Speaking with The Guardian, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigeria (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, said the issue of poor QoS has become an embarrassment to the industry. He said both voice and data services are currently at the lowest ebb, stressing that the mood in town is not palatable at all.

“It is very unfortunate that we are still experiencing such. Even, the NCC is handicapped on this matter. All the operators are guilty,” he stated.

Ogunbanjo decried that despite activating the DND code 2442, “I still get unsolicited SMS from 9Mobile. I plan to approach the court soon.”

Proffering a lasting solution, the NATCOMs boss urged NCC to call a stakeholders meeting, where the issues will be tackled thoroughly with a matching order to the operators that will be backed by sanctions, which they (telcos) will agree to.

Ogunbanjo wants NCC to monitor equipment installed by operators to be sure they are genuine and up to date, “the regulator will also need to ensure that operators actually installed radio equipment on their BTS for improved 4G experience.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said poor telecommunication services will persist as long as social problems such as wilful damage to telecommunications infrastructure, and epileptic power supply persist in the country.
He added that the operating environment is not conducive enough to maintain uninterrupted services.

Adebayo urged the Federal and states governments to synergise and come to the aid of operators in solving the issues of multiple taxes and regulations affecting the growth of the industry.

He argued that no business would thrive in an environment where resources that could have been used in network upgrade are being diverted for repairs of damaged infrastructure in violence-prone areas.

Adebayo revealed that ALTON, the industry body for all telecommunications companies in Nigeria, is proposing a cost-based tariff for voice calls, saying the new model would reflect the cost of doing business in the country.

Adebayo, who spoke against the backdrop of moves by operators to raise tariff; noted that current rates do not consider the multiplicity of taxes and levies in the telecom industry.

He said: “We are asking that tariff should be cost-based and for that to happen, we need to understand what are the costs that are being incurred due to multiple taxation and consequently, and relate that to the tariff that will be charged in those areas. That is actually what the conversation is about.

“We are going to be approaching the NCC with all the cost information, and we are going to be requesting through the established protocols for a cost-based tariff. We will not be right to say it is an increase in tariff but tariff that will reflect the cost of service provision.

“There is a base price, a minimum bottom price – that has been determined by the NCC, and that is based on general cost of service provision and operating expenditure and recurring cost. It certainly doesn’t consider issues of taxation and levies.”

However, the NCC has blamed poor telecom services being experienced by customers on poor power supply by electricity distribution companies in Nigeria.

Manager, Technical Department, NCC, Musa Diabu, said this in Okene, Kogi State, when the Commission held a sensitisation programme on the need for citizens to collectively protect telecom infrastructure in the country rather than leaving them to security personnel only.

He lamented the incessant theft of telecom facilities across Nigeria, stressing that vandalism of telecom infrastructure has become the bane of quality of service.