Features of the week:
As the time for the introduction of the proposed Unified Licensing Regime in the country draws near, REMMY NWEKE, examines what digital convergence is all about and need for a converged regulator.
BARELY few days to the introduction of the proposed Unified Licensing Regime (ULR), the nation’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is also warming up for another set of revolution as government agencies are expected to digitally converge to give the industry and ULR specifically, the sense it deserves.
This to a very large extent refers to modern trend in businesses, and industries whereby transactions are harmonized in digital form for corporates to work together, produce new formats and types of content.
According to Ramesh Jain of www.digitalmerging.la, what is really happening in digital convergence which could be also called multi-media, is the convergence of Content, Communication and Computing (CCC), describing it as triple Cs.
He stressed that much effort, both in business as well as in technology, has usually been concerned with one C only, because, people who understand Content usually do not understand Communication or Computing that well and similar situation exists with people who understand communication or computing.
However, he said, it is the first time in history that the three are converging. Most of the time one hears about the convergence of Personal Computer (PC) and Television (TV) or of Communication and Computing.
It is important, therefore to consider all three Cs together to understand the implications or otherwise of convergence.
But for the Internet Society (ISOC) South Central Texas chapter, digital convergence evolves industries at minimum having content, and application development for film, video games, music, advertising and mass media. While the distribution channels evolve deployment of broadband wireless, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), on demand and more, even as hardware developers, Internet Service Providers, telecom operators and the entertainment industries among others will all benefit from the trend of convergence.
Presently, there are four government agencies overseeing various sub-sectors in the ICT circle, namely the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) regulates telecom, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), regulates the broadcasting industry, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) oversees core IT, while the satellite space aspect is managed by the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
This brings to four different government agencies managing various parts of ICTs.
Evolutions in the ICT sector accompanied with enormous potential of Internet Protocol (IP)-oriented networks on one hand and increased users’ demands for comprehensive and network – independent on the other hand, have led to a convergence of information and telecommunications infrastructure, therefore, propelling multiplied service power.
According to professors Gernady Yanovsky and Finn Arve Aagensen of Norwegian University of Science and Technology, this comprises the convergence of voice and data services in both public and private networks through the VoIP centers, Computer cum telephony integration, which means call centers and web-contact centers merging.
Other parts that make up convergence, they said, include the integration of fixed and mobile phone lines and services as well as multimedia communications, existing as voice, video, graphics and sound in a place.
This evolutions, they also posited, have led to the creation of Next Generation Networks (NGNs).
For the likes of telecommunications manufacturing giant, Siemens Communications, this provides the avenue for them to development, integrating customer’s communication and computer systems for a powerful new business tools through technologies such as Wide Area Networking (WAN), ethernet switching, web servers, frame relay and Automated Teller Machines (ATM) networks.
The firm pointed out that the integration of communication and computer systems is the key to business success at this era, because it would provide increased staff productivity and performance, reduction of operating costs and increased business efficiency, even as it could provide new revenue streams.
It was the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe in a paper he delivered at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) recently, on ‘Ringing the Digital Devolution in Nigeria in the era of technology convergence’ said that even licensing has transformed from mere individual licensing to issuance of class and general authorisation which is embedded in ULR.
He cited an instance that new technologies like VoIP, Wireless Fidelity (WiFi), and WiMax to name a few have blurred the distinction between services, it became clear that one of the strategies for NCC to take the nation to the next level would be the converged licensing option, which is imminent.
Examining the industry and proposed ULR and possible convergence of the sector regulatory organs, the Executive Director, eShekels Limited, a technology inclined research organisation, Mr. Fola Odufuwa, said that in the near future, convergence would come to bear in the nations ICT sector and with ULR, he predicted it would form key bases for converged regulation.
Although he expressed dismay over the possible convergence of the four federal government agencies as obtain currently, via NCC, NBC, NITDA and NASRDA, saying he has seen the convergence of two to three related sub-sector regulators but not four as the case seems in the country, today.
Regulatory convergence inevitable
“It is inevitable that there would be a convergence particularly two or three regulatory bodies if not all the four of them. That has to be, because, if you buy a Personal Computer (PC), you may be looking at NITDA, but when you open the PC, reboot it or want to do anything on it in the terms of communication whatever, then you would be looking at NCC.
And when you now want to talk about the content, you would be looking at NBC and whatever you are doing that involves satellite on the same PC you have to talk or look at NASRDA,” he explained.
Stressing that nowadays, you have phrases like ‘I would listen to my PC’, ‘I would watch my radio’ and even in Nigeria in some hotels, you can browse the Internet on your television set.
These, he noted are why technologies require the convergence of the regulatory bodies; with Internet Protocol Television (iPTV), video streaming, you now don’t know which is what anymore.
He gave an instance, wondering how do you count a television viewer; is it the one who have a television set box or the one who is watching it on his computer and the person who is listening to his radio via his computer through a radio website audio streaming.
In Nigeria, he noted, there are a number of radio stations in the east and west, that are transmitting through the Internet, and how do you count the person; when is he a radio listener? When he carries a traditional radio transistor in his palm or when he listens to it via the PC.
The real truth, as said by him, is that convergence of technologies requires that there should be a convergence of regulators, whether it is done now or later, but the quicker it is done the better for us.
As anticipated, convergence in the ICT sector will yield a good number of benefits for all stakeholders as postulated by Dr. Ndukwe to include what he described as a conflict free ICT environment to boost the economy and government position and invitation for investors, especially for Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs); to the regulator, operators and consumers as well.
For the duo of Steven Taylor and Larry Hettick in a joint paper entitled ‘Applications Convergence Basics’ said that the advantages of convergence are many and cited an instance of it bringing about reduction in business cost of implementation such as the costs for voice systems management when they shift to a Voice over IP (VoIP) based implementation.
Multi-site businesses, the convergence experts said could save on transmission and switching costs by converting to VoIP.
But while network cost savings are always welcome, applications convergence saves labor costs and improves customer service – offering an even bigger contribution to the bottom line.
In its simplest form, applications convergence happens when computer- based applications like word processing, e-mail, and customer relationship management converge with communications-system applications like telephone calls and voice mail.
This technology backgrounder will examine how applications convergence adds significant benefits beyond the cost savings created by network convergence.