‘Imperatives of stability, regulatory autonomy in telecoms sector’
Having celebrated 20 years of telecommunications revolution in the country, the local sector will require policy and regulatory stability to reach the next milestone, Chairman of MTN Nigeria, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, has said.
Ndukwe, at the 20th anniversary of the telecoms industry in Nigeria, organised by Compact Communications in Lagos, said the political and financial independence of the regulatory institution would also be critical in achieving more industry successes and contributing significantly to the economy.
The former Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) recalled that the high investment levels that had been attained in the sector was neither because Nigeria suddenly became one of the most desired investment destinations for ICT in Africa nor due to its large population.
He said Nigeria has always had a large population before 2000, “but the massive inflow of investment was largely because of the stable policy and regulatory regime that the industry enjoyed since 2000. This must, therefore, be maintained.”
Maintaining the political and financial independence of the regulatory institution, according to Ndukwe, are basic requirements of regulators, to be able to regulate the market fairly and earn the confidence of investors, consumers and other stakeholders.
“Nigeria must strive to maintain an operating environment that is conducive by avoiding actions that can constitute a disincentive for investment. The telecoms sector is highly capital intensive and, therefore, to continue to encourage timely network expansion, improve quality of service and ensure national coverage in Nigeria, emphasis must be on ensuring an attractive operating environment,” he said.
The former NCC EVC said there is also the need for efficient management of national spectrum resources, including timely release of available frequencies to support new technologies. He said spectrum is the oxygen that sustains the wireless ecosystem.
Ndukwe wants Nigeria to continue to place emphasis on growing broadband infrastructure and catalyzing adoption and usage of Internet and broadband services by the citizens.
Broadband, to the former EVC, is no doubt an accelerator of social and economic development in the modern world with its applications enabling and facilitating economic and social services.
“It should be the collective responsibility of policy makers, the regulators, governments at all levels and other stakeholders to catalyse a much higher penetration of Internet and broadband facilities. The expansion of fibre optic cable transmission infrastructure nationally and within urban, semi-urban and rural areas will be necessary in achieving this objective,” he stressed.
According to Ndukwe, a major source of excitement that points to the fact that Africa is on the threshold of major economic boom is the fact that Google and Facebook were in the news recently for undersea cable projects for Africa.
He said the potential increase in bandwidth capacity would boost data capacity and potentially reduce broadband prices substantially.
He said the progress recorded in the telecommunications sector within the last two decades had improved the nation’s ICT ranking in the world and had positively impacted nearly all sectors of the nation’s economy.
He added that Nigeria had also become Africa’s largest telecoms market in terms of connected lines. “The achievements in the industry can be substantially attributed to the foresight of the government in initiating and giving the sector regulator the free hand to implement a successful sector reform and deliver a regulatory environment that was fair, firm, transparent and predictable,” he added.
On the grounds of pervasive telecommunications services, Ndukwe said new government policies had been put in place, stressing that financial inclusion and mobile money were becoming a reality.
He said tech hubs, incubation centres, data centres and ICT Parks were springing up in different parts of the country while Fintech operations were proving to be the next line of focus and advantage in boosting the economy and creating new job opportunities.
According to him, these developments contribute to the components that form the structure of a formidable revolution associated with the sector, a revolution that has led to the democratization of telecommunications access in Nigeria and making the benefits and impact of ICTs available to the masses especially those at the bottom of the pyramid and the most traditionally disenfranchised groups.
On his part, the EVC NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said as a foremost telecommunications regulatory agency and consistent with its mandate as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003 and other guiding legislations, the NCC had always been at the forefront of leveraging latest technologies to put Nigeria on the global map of the digital economy.
Danbatta said the NCC had been working to ensure increased broadband penetration in line with Federal Government’s targets as contained in the Nigerian National Broadband Pan (NNBP), 2020-2025, launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2020.
According to him, some of the key targets of this national policy document are to ensure a 70 per cent broadband penetration to, at least, 90 per cent of the population, adding that it also seeks to achieve broadband speeds of 15Mbps and 25Mbps in rural and urban areas respectively over the next five years.
Danbatta said the Commission was also driving various initiatives aimed at ensuring deployment of Fifth Generation (5G) mobile technology in Nigeria. He said with the emergence of technologies such as 5G, which offers enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC) and Ultra-Low, Ultra-reliable Latency Communication (uRLC), there is already a platform that would bring succor to connectivity challenges if the requisite policy, frameworks and infrastructure were put in place.
The NCC EVC said the Commission recognised that emerging technologies such as 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud Computing; Quantum Computing Augmented/Virtual Reality, among others were already playing a critical role in improving remote communication over the Internet with great user experience globally.
“This explains why NCC has seen the need to promote the use of these emerging technology trends for great economic development in Nigeria,” he stated.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Zenith Bank, Ebenezer Onyeagwu, said the 5G network would be key to financial inclusion. He beckoned on the Federal Government to ensure it is deployed timely in the country.
Appreciating the efforts of the telecoms sector in the last 20 years, the Zenith Bank boss urged the stakeholders in the industry to do more, stressing that there will be heavier dependency on the telecoms sector going forward. He said the revolution of the telecoms sector was another re-civilisation of where the country has not been and where it will be soonest.
According to him, the transformation seen in the banking sector has been propelled largely by the telecoms sector.
“The revolution is just beginning. 5G offers more capabilities. The Telecom sector gave rise to Fintechs, reasons there are several of them coming up. But on that, Fintechs cannot come to the financial sector and not be regulated,” he stated.