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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nigeria @ 47: ICT grapples for stability

Features of the week:

On Monday, October 1, Nigeria turned 47. REMMY NWEKE reports that some progress were made in the last one year, but challenges persist, including the raging poor Quality of Service (QoS).

Preamble:

In the last one year, Nigeria as a nation has undergone lots of restructuring in the polity especially within the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).

With the last quarter of 2006 heralding the era of Blackberry entrance into the market, it was a season for some members of the stakeholders to get judgement on the case with the Lagos State government over regulations of telecommunications led by the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).

The case, which was decided in favour of ALTON was on whether or not the Lagos State government should regulate telecommunications, which is contained in the exclusive list of the Federal Government (FG). This means that it’s only the federal government that can adjudicate on any telecom issue, mostly pertaining to regulations.

Then came the time for election by the umbrella of telecom companies in the country, known as the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), which saw the emergence of the Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem-led executive after the gruesome murder of its former president, Chief Alaba Joseph of Mobitel.

Mubadala and co …

A unique license was granted Mubadala Development Company (MDC) of the United Arab Emirate (UAE) by the telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), followed by the agitation by Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) operators for concession over their bid to get free Third Generation (3G) licenses and frequencies.

The regulator, insisted that any operator interested in getting the 3G license must adhere strictly to its initial directive, however, did not grant this plea for free 3G.

And like the ‘Mber wind that comes every last quarter of the year, the communications sub-sector began to yield to cracks of deteriorating quality of service (QoS) which subsisted till date.

The sense in the uniqueness of Mubadala license was that it contained both the GSM and 3G and was facilitated as part of international diplomatic cooperation between Nigeria and UAE.

As matter of fact, reports have it that the erstwhile president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, invited Mubadala through the UAE authorities and in order to prove how serious he was on the collaboration, the license was given to Mubadala with no much ado, although they were made to pay for it accordingly.

Additionally, the management of Zenith International Bank Plc led by Jim Ovia bought over former Cellcom as well as another new license in his kitty and is being touted to deployment services under Visa Telecom.

The first quarter ended with mass exodus from the Misfires Wireless by its management team, which was regarded as a big blow to the telco still fighting the battle of its life after the attempt to kill its former chief executive, Mr. Raymond Aggrey.

New Leadership:

New leadership emerged at various stakeholders meeting in finding a lasting solution to the hosting and registration of domain names in the country, especially in boosting its country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) under the aegis of Nigerian Internet Registration Association (NiRA) led by the chief executive of Amsco Telecom Limited, Mr. Ndukwe Kalu, precisely in May 2007.

Barely five months after, NiRA management prides itself as having registered over 3,000 from less than 1,000, just as the group targets 1 million by 2009.

And as if the first quarter would not pass the Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN) by, the group got a new leadership headed by the immediate past vice president, Chief Jimson Olufuye, who emerged President unopposed.

In June this year, Prof. Charles Uwadia took over mantle of leadership at the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) from the chief executive, Condata Systems Limited, Dr. Chris Nwannenna at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and international conference of the society cum election, held in Imo Concorde Hotel Owerri, capital of Imo State.

Also a group of over 26 companies, mainly Internet Service Providers (ISPs) pooled resources into what is known as NaijaWiFi Consortium and planned to take services via the Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) to 42 cities and towns before the year runs off, even as NCC has granted the Consortium license.

Self-assessment:

Champion Infotel went to town to ask some pertinent questions regarding the ICT sector and the nation’s independence.

Our questions revolved around the last one year - what do you make out of Nigerian ICT industry; has your expectation be met since the last independence celebration and the way forward? While respondents included the chief executive, PiNet Informatics Limited, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, chairman, ALTON, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo and President, Information Technology (Industry) Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Chief Jimson Olufuye.

ALTON chairman, Mr. Adebayo, noted that the sector has faced a number of challenges in the areas of customer satisfaction and quality of service.

“We have also been tasked on the demand for high quality and uninterrupted service: However industry operators and players have lived up to these challenges and have moved the sector forward,” he declared.

Mr. Adebayo added that the expectation has been met by industry operators are on top of issues that were as threats to stability and network development.

On the way forward, he advocated for government active involvement, saying that it must provide better support for the industry, while addressing energy and security. “Government must ensure that multiple taxation on operators is completely eliminated,” he said.

Telecom infrastructure, Mr. Adebayo said, should be classified as national infrastructure and government should ensure adequate protection for telecom and ICT infrastructure generally in the interest of national development.

For Mr. Ajayi, the telecommunications sector of the ICT industry has continued to witness phenomenal growth with more investors entering the industry and number of telephone users continuously rising.

He regretted, however, that the same level of growth was not witnessed in the core IT sub-sector of the industry.

“We have not seen remarkable increase in the number of software companies or any spectacular investment in software industry,” he said, adding that the Internet penetration has been growing at a snail speed.

“Internet access is largely limited to the cities while the rural areas are still in information darkness. The broadband statistics is dismal. By extension, Nigerians are not able to fully enjoy the bounties broadband offers which include eLearning, eHealth, video streaming, music download, to name a few,” he asserted.

Mr. Ajayi, who also is the President, Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), noted that there is an urgent need to get broadband Internet into Nigerian homes, so as to avoid the country lagging behind the rest of the world in this area.

NIG president equally smiled on the new initiatives of NCC such as the State Accelerated Broadband Initiative (SABI) “to address this challenge,” stressing that its most desirable that Nigeria accelerate any initiative and policy that could quicken the deployment of broadband within the reach of Nigerians.

NCC, NITDA yet to converge:

And for ITAN president, Chief Olufuye, there are fundamental issues beguiling IT and these issues are still with us. Some of these issues, he said, comprised of the mismatch of policies and expectations at the both Executive and Legislative arms of the government.

For example, he pointed out that in the Executive, there is clear desire to streamline IT development viz–a-viz technology convergence yet there is disjointed focus on the key agencies.

He noted that these key IT sector agencies are NCC and the National IT Development Agency (NITDA), saying that they should be operating pari-pasu with same strategic focus and complimentary implementation strategies, which are currently lacking.

“NCC is in the ministry of Information and Communications, while NITDA is in Science & Technology,” he lamented, emphasising the need for the creation of a unified Ministry of Information Technology.

This, he said, would solve the issue of divergent policy implementation in the sector.

Absence of Science & Tech Committees:

With regard to the Legislature, Olufuye who is the chief executive of Kontemporary Komputers, said there is no serious attention paid to IT going by the absence of IT Committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“If we truly agree that IT will power us into the Vision 2020 then policies and expectations must match,” he said.

He cited an instance with the snail speed approach with which NITDA has been operating, decrying the passing of NiTDA bill in May this year, over six years after its establishment.

Conclusion:

So far, the current state of QoS has forced NCC to had earlier quashed all promotional activities in the industry pending when the telcos improve their networks. Of course, Globacom, accidentally breached this directive given on July 6 thereby attracting the wrath of NCC with a fine of N5m, which has since been cleared and confirmed by the commission.

Just as NCC is not relenting and has already outlined a compensatory package for the subscribers beginning this week with N50 per subscriber to N175, depending on the level of threshold of congestion a given subscriber may have assumed to have suffered.

As Nigerians look forward to having improved telecommunications infrastructure, better service, experts have projected that more inroads would be achieved with focus on Value Added Service (VAS) and the next level of competition, that is, if by December 31, the nation has made great marks on its broadband diffusion. After all, 2007 was declared the year of broadband in Nigeria.

Till then, God bless Nigeria.

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