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Businesses, subscribers suffer as internet challenges persist

By Adeyemi Adepetun and Shuaib Husseini
25 January 2020   |   4:41 am
Frustrations of subscribers, businesses, banks, and government agencies over slow Internet services failed to abate as at close of the week yesterday

Bad Weather Affecting Completion Of Repairs
• Nigeria’s Internet Speed Falls, Ranks 115 Globally

Frustrations of subscribers, businesses, banks, and government agencies over slow Internet services failed to abate as at close of the week yesterday, as the service offerings remained epileptic.
Checks across all verticals showed that Internet services in the last 48 hours have been the most challenging of the last week.

The Guardian checks showed that subscribers have been unable to upload and download contents seamlessly in the last one week. Subscribers complained of spending hours before being able to send even a few paragraphs email across the networks.
Subscribers who wanted to surf the Internet also had challenges in getting that done. Financial transactions via electronic payments platforms were impacted seriously.   
Investigations showed that even at the banking halls, services were disrupted due to the “snail’s” speed Internet access. This forced some of the banks to extend service hours in the banking halls beyond the usual closing time.
Financial activities via the Point of Sales (PoS) terminals, especially at supermarkets were rejected. The Automated Teller Machines (ATM) also failed to dispense cash. The ATMs asked the users to contact their financial service providers.
Online bookings of both land and air transportations were also affected, as customers could not make their bookings as fast it used to be.
Though, the current issue is going into two weeks, however, prior to this time, Internet speed has not been very fantastic in Nigeria.
As at December, according to Speedtest Global Index, out of 140 countries surveyed, Nigeria ranked 115 with a download speed of 15.32Mbps and an upload speed of 7.85Mbps.
These speeds are against global download speed of 32.01Mbps and 12.02Mbps. Nigeria fell by seven steps in the month to rank behind Morocco (54) 33.57Mbps, South Africa (60) 31.36Mbps, Tunisia (73) 25.54Mbps, and Senegal (84) 23.22Mbps.
South Korea topped the table with 103.18Mbps, UAE is second with 79.21Mbps, and USA is 36 with 41Mbps.
The Nigerian challenge actually started when it was reported that there were cuts to some submarine cable system on the high sea in Europe, especially the West African Cable System (WACS), which practically serves this market and some West African countries.
The WACS, which belongs to MTN, and other consortiums, is an ultra-high capacity fibre optic submarine cable, which links Europe, West Africa, and South Africa. It connects 14 countries over two continents.
The cable consists of four fibre pairs and is 14,530 km in length, linking from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape of South Africa to London in the United Kingdom. The total cost for the cable system, which has 500 Gbit/s bandwidth capacity is $650 million.
These undersea cables carry telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean and sea transfer about 99 per cent of international data on the continent.
Subscribers affected were majorly MTN users, who had had serious difficulty surfing the Internet.
MTN is the largest operator in Nigeria with 38 per cent market share, and about 68 million customers. The South African-owned telecommunications firm has connected about 53 million people in the country to the Internet.
The challenge, The Guardian reliably gathered, became worse for users of the network, especially Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) because some Tier ll operators, which solely rely on bandwidth capacity from Tier l operators like MTN, could not serve their customers adequately.
A subscriber by the name, Segun Adekunle, told The Guardian that it took him about three hours to send a three-paragraph email to a client on Thursday.
Chinedu Ibim, who works with an audit firm in Gbagada, Lagos lamented that the firm could not complete a scheduled online audit due to epileptic service from the service providers.
A visit to JustRite supermarket at Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa, yesterday, showed that there were issues with PoS transactions as the terminals showed no signal. This resulted in huge customer delays and congestion within the supermarket.
At the University of Lagos (Unilag), lecturers and students complained of difficulties connecting to the Internet and accessing Internet services all through Thursday.

A 200-level of student of the Department of Geography, Akintunde Samuel, described the experience of having to search for Internet access to complete his registration as “harrowing.”  

“I have never experienced this; I have been queuing at this cybercafé since morning (9:00am on Thursday) and this is 2:00pm and there is no hope that I will be attended to in the one hour, because the queue is long and the operator has been taking the router all about to find Internet connection.”

A postgraduate student, Uchechi Ubaka, said she lost the opportunity to participate in a computer-based aptitude test for a job because of the near-Internet blackout experienced on Thursday and most parts of yesterday.

“I couldn’t even log in, even when I did, my time ran out, because the Internet connectivity was very slow. I called the service providers and they said it was a general problem and it would soon be resolved. But my aptitude test has a time limit,” she lamented. 

Speaking with The Guardian, Senior Manager, External Relations in MTN, Funso Aina, said if it is about the WACS cable system, “I can tell you that the matter has been resolved. That some banks are having issues may not necessarily have a link with the system. Some of the banks have been having issues long before the submarine cable challenge came up. But, from MTN end, we have resolved the matter. You also need to know that the cable in question is an international one. So, those challenges may not be from MTN.”
Responding to The Guardian mail on the hitches, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, explained that the Internet routes traffic is on a best-effort basis and, due to this methodology, the restoration of the affected routes would take time to be registered as being available some hours well after the fixing has been done.
Teniola said in the recent outage, alternative routes were also impacted at the same time due to circumstances beyond control.

He revealed that bad weather conditions have delayed further repairs on an alternative route through Europe to London. “This also occurred at the same time as a marine subsea cut along the West-to-Central Africa coastal.”
Teniola stressed that the digital transformation of any country is hinged on the foundation of a secure, affordable, accessible and available digital infrastructure.
On whether the absence of technology would render people inactive, the ATCON boss said: “Unfortunately not! Technology is at the stage of Industry Revolution 4.0. This is the era of IoT, AI, ML, Robotics, Autonomous Cars, Big Data, low latency apps, and VR/AR by 2030. The bedrock is the Internet Protocol (IP) version 6.0. Life is evolving!”

The country has been experiencing a near Internet blackout since Wednesday night with a huge impact on major African countries including Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

Service providers blame the disruption of Internet services to major damage to the international undersea cables. Bloomberg had announced damage to the WACS and SAT3/WACS cable systems, which connects many African countries to Europe and other parts of the world on Wednesday.

According to Bloomberg, Internet services in at least 12 African countries, including Nigeria would slow down after undersea connection cables were damaged.