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How regulatory activities impacted telecoms sector growth in 2019

By Adeyemi Adepetun
25 December 2019   |   4:24 am
Though the telecoms sector staggered at the beginning of the year, owing to many challenges ranging from low broadband penetration, high cost of bandwidth, insufficient infrastructure, poor quality of service...

Though the telecoms sector staggered at the beginning of the year, owing to many challenges ranging from low broadband penetration, high cost of bandwidth, insufficient infrastructure, poor quality of service, vandalism to over-the-top incursions, which confronted it, however, amidst all these, the industry, through some regulatory interventions, fared better in the latter part of the year.

According to checks by The Guardian, in the first 10 months, the telecoms sector’s contribution to the GDP in the first and second quarter stood at 10.11 per cent and 11.39 per cent respectively. These are in contrast with 9.19 per cent and 10.43 per cent contribution in the same periods in 2018 respectively. General ICT contribution to GDP increased from about 10 per cent last year to 13.8 per cent currently.

Further analysis showed that as at October, active mobile voice subscribers stood at 180.3 million; Internet subscribers increased from 114.3 million to 123.5 million.

Broadband penetration increased from 32.34 per cent (indicating 61,732,130 Nigerians on 3G and 4G networks) to 37.87 per cent (indicating 72,289,389 on 3G and 4G networks)

With regards to the use of Mobile Number Portability (MNP), 110, 500 numbers were ported between January, 2019 – October, 2019 as against 71, 723 subscribers who ported their lines between the same 10-month period in 2018.

This is due to increased public education and awareness by NCC, as it intensified awareness on the availability and usage of Mobile Number Portability (MNP) across geo-political zones.

Subscriptions to DND 2442 to control unsolicited text messages also increased, with 22.3 million people activating the initiative. From January to October, 2019, a total of 18, 717 complaints were lodged through the NCC contact centre by the customers to the Commission with larger percentage satisfactorily solved.

NCC also increased the number of operational Emergency Commission Centre (ECC) being to 17 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital (FCT), Abuja.

Improving Quality of Service on Networks
Several complaints greeted service quality in the year, as drop calls, undelivered text messages, illegal airtime deductions reigned supreme. For instance, the Commission received 19,841 complaints from telecoms consumers across its various complaints channels, but it successfully resolved 17,851 cases.

Specifically, the Commission reviewed 2G Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and development and definition of 3G/4G QoS KPIs for collocation service providers as well as Internet Service providers (ISP).

The NCC also developed the New National Numbering Plan. Based on recent developments in the global telecommunications industry such as machine to machine (M2M) communications, the Internet of Things (IoT), OTT and other services made possible by fourth-generation networks and the futuristic 5G/6G technologies.

From the point of view of the commission, the development of the new NNP will help to provide numbers that will satisfy the needs of the projected 500 million Nigerians to be connected and about one billion globally-interconnected machines and devices by 2050; promote efficiency in the allocation of this scarce national resource; promote competition among service providers; eliminate the risk of running short of all categories of numbers; facilitate the introduction and development of new and innovative services and above all, encourage growth of the telecommunications sector and the attendant job creation and contribution to National Gross Domestic Product (GDP), among others.

The Commission also continued to monitor point interconnection performance among operators and ensure resolution of interconnect debt among operators to prevent serious impact on quality of service received by the consumers.

Prof. Umaru Danbatta also intensified collaboration with necessary stakeholders and government agencies at Federal and state levels towards resolving critical industry challenges affecting faster deployment of telecoms infrastructure in the country. These include right of way issue, multiple taxation and regulations, vandalism, indiscriminate closure of base stations, fibre cuts, among others.

Advancing broadband penetration
As part of its efforts in advancing broadband penetration, the Commission has issued licenses to six InfraCos to drive the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the nation’s six geo-political zones and Lagos. The licensees are include Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South Zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West Zone; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West Zone; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East Zone; MainOne Limited for Lagos Zone and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East Zone. The remaining licence for North Central Zone is being processed, according to the Commission.

NCC’s Director Public Affairs, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, had told The Guardian that the commission awaits Federal Government’s approval for a N65 billion counterpart funding to be disbursed to the InfraCo to facilitate their deployment. The funding will, however, be given to operators upon attainment of deployment milestones.

The InfraCos which is based on the Open Access Model (OAM) initiative of the Commission will ensure there is, at least, one fibre Access Point for digital services across the 774 local government councils in the country.

Leveraging TVWS for rural connectivity
Further to the strategic implementation of NCC’s 8-Point agenda, the Commission, earlier in 2019, partnered with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and other industry stakeholders to discuss the introduction of television white spaces (TVWS) in order to develop a framework for effective utilisation of TV spectrum to take services to the unserved and under-served communities in the country.

TVWS is the unused broadcast spectrum which can be deployed in the telecommunications sector to provide cost-effective broadband services to people in the rural, underserved and unserved areas of the country towards achieving universal access and universal service in line with the country’s digital agenda. The collaboration with the NBC was in line with the fifth pillar of the NCC’s 8-Poing Agenda focusing on facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership with necessary government agencies and stakeholders.

The initiative for the use of TVWS in Nigeria mid-wifed by the Ministry of Communications, following approval for the use of the TVWS technology by the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) will further help the Commission to deliver on its mandate of ensuring universal access to telecoms services in the rural, unserved and underserved areas. “Ensuring that all Nigerians are connected is our priority at the Commission. We are continuously in a quest to achieving rural connectivity goal and this quest has led us, as a Commission, into embarking on several initiatives to actualise this pervasive connectivity objective in Nigeria,” Danbatta stated at the stakeholders’ forum held in Abuja on TVWS.

Promoting next-gen 5G revolution in Nigeria
The Commission in November provided the regulatory platforms for telecoms operators to begin trail of 5G in the country. The mid-wifing of 5G technology trial in Nigeria this year by the Commission is sequel to workshop it organized in the last quarter of 2018, in collaboration with the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) to discuss the prospects and challenges of Next-Generation Networks (NGN) such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, among others, in the nation’s telecoms industry.

With the trial of 5G ongoing, preparatory to the actual commercial launch starting from 2020, industry stakeholders are of the opinion that such proactive regulatory role in advancing the country’s technology revolution through 5G, which is going to positively impact all sectors of the economy. No doubt, 5G which will offer better download speed and latency use of more applications (IoT-enabled services), needs robust broadband infrastructure to ride on and the NCC, through the InfraCo initiative is enabling this.

Promotion of ICT Innovations
In the area of innovations, especially through funding relevant researches in tertiary institutions, the Commission, in May 2019, announced N40 million endowment fund for Bayero University, Kano and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. The fund will be utilized by the institutions for innovation, research and development in the digital space with an ongoing commitment to expand the list of benefiting institutions. Also, in June 2019, the Commission also presented the sum of N65 million to 11 universities in Nigeria for innovation, research and development to deliver research result and prototypes that are implementable, commercially-viable and capable of engendering innovation in different sectors of the economy.

Data price and Minister’s directive
One of the major highpoint of the year was the directive handed the NCC by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, to ensure data prices in the country was reviewed downward within five days.

Though, the move was appreciated by the public, but stakeholders fumed at the directive on the basis that there should have been a stakeholders meeting on the issue. This is to ensure that the process of review is appreciated and not by fiat going by the Minister’s order.

But later at the ATCON-organized stakeholders meeting in Abuja, with the Pantanmi, he promised to work with all industry stakeholders, but informed them that the interest of the consuming public should be prioritised.