Few weeks ago, some industry interest groups came up to set agenda for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. REMMY NWEKE examines what this portends for the industry.
In every clime, there is a time for everything and for the various interest groups in the nation’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, every first quarter seem right for agenda setting period for mainly the government to make the environment which includes the sector better in the coming months.
It was not out of the blues that the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and a non-governmental organisation, Joint Action Committee on ICT Awareness and Development (JACITAD) expressed their expectations as the year go by.
For ATCON, it is a year of identifying the emerging generation of young entrepreneurs worthy of recognition and mentorship, according to its president, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu.
He said that ATCON having identified these budding young entrepreneurs is to structure a programme to further offer them a developmental assistance, and would mobilize its members to provide necessary mentorship and training that will make them thrive in their endeavour to grow in business.
Omo-Ettu said plans are up to align this programme with existing ones with relevant stakeholder groups in the country, maintaining that ATCON is working on this along with other established programmes of creating awareness on investment opportunities in broadband infrastructure construction for its members.
“All in close collaboration with the regulator and also with the executive and legislative arms of Federal Government,” he assured, stressing that they hope to identify areas of difficulty and resolve same for the benefit of investments in the sector.
Omo-Ettu who disclosed this in Lagos while discussed ‘Harnessing the Potential of the Internet and Applications on Mobile Devices’ said that ATCON aligns with the vision of bringing young entrepreneurs together to meet the established players, and stimulating interaction between them.
“To instigating a more rapid spread of mobile web applications and services and a plethora of opportunities and benefits that exist for the entire eco-system,” he said.
The association, he also said, has started seeing the mobile phone, in particular, as a device for change, a tool for closing the digital divide, an ultimate closer of the gap between the rich and the poor, and between the rural and the urban. “I want to hope that delegates at this conference will see the need to include in the discussion agenda the role of legislation, regulation, and the link between government and the private sector. That interests us as an emerging market that is in a hurry to catch up,” he said.
Omo-Ettu pointed out that by building the rapidly expanding mobile system to generate more business makes good sense. “Yes, millions of SIM cards exist in the market and are supposed to be doing quite a lot beyond voice. Content creation is key and I am particularly concerned about how much of this can be locally targeted and locally produced,” he said, insisting that ATCON is not only concerned about some issues but is in a hurry about attaining set levels about them.
These issues, he enlisted to include attainment of more generic and stipulated levels of service and proliferation which will be brought about by a deeper understanding of problems as well as how to solve them.
In addition, ATCON president said, the cards are areas of increasing productivity among young people, growing competition that handles antitrust effectively, regulating independently and fairly, understanding and getting ready to manage the frequency spectrum optimally, and of course growing mobile systems for optimum application.
ATCON under the present exco, he said, wants to deliver its mandate by leveraging on the passion of the young and the wisdom of the old – and the expertise of all – towards building an industry that would not only command better economic attention but one that will add to the socio-economic growth that Nigeria so desperately needs.
“Mobile Network Operators in many markets are known to be making huge amounts of revenues and profits from voice and text. However as competition, penetration and innovation increases these will hit a plateau and the new area of profitability will be data usage,” he observed, stressing that this is happening already with some experts describing it as an explosion.
“I am told that at the weekends in South Africa, 60 per cent of Google searches are made on a mobile telephone. For Operators to take full advantage of this they need to have content and services for their consumers to use. This is why the entire ecosystem needs to work together to enhance the development of the mobile web and applications,” he said.
ATCON boss said that citing mobile advertising as a case in point, saying that this is single biggest opportunity to monetise the mobile web and applications.
“Mobile marketing has created a new medium for advertisers; an entirely new way for them to reach out to and connect to consumers. Indeed, some experts consider it to be the superior way of marketing their products,” he said.
On content provision, ATCON said that while telecommunications was a neatly defined word few years ago, so much has happened in terms of interdisciplinary shifts that when we now speak of a mobile sector.
“We do not speak only of telecoms – but also of other elements of its application in life, business, entertainment, and even governance. For example, many telcos will soon realise that providing a number is only the beginning, and that value added services will decide who is king. The announcement by NCC that number portability will take effect this year also adds credence to this thought,” he said.
A lot of viewed content, he said, is imported into Africa because it is so much cheaper to do so than to produce African content, noting that the end result of that could only be negative – loss of culture, language and people engaging content that isn’t directly relevant to them.
“In terms of the mobile web and applications this is a great opportunity to react early. People want local, relevant information – it is important this is produced, and there are a plethora of reasons why. That is why it is important to take this opportunity to boost the local mobile ecosystem so that companies can start producing content for the local market,” he said.
Omo-Ettu stated that this could be an opportunity to reach Nigerian mobile subscribers with Nigerian created information and services. Sports, News, Jobs, Education, Music, Film, Democracy, Finance, Social Development, Commerce – are all areas where content and services can and need to be produced.
Deliberating on capacity development, ATCON leadership said Nigerian youth may just be getting an opportunity which need necessarily not come from government and which already manifests itself embedded in prevailing mobile systems, noting that if capacity can be developed in this way, then the possibilities are endless but prevarication or worse still, inaction will be precarious. That is why this conference is most timely.
Through this forum we are able to reaffirm our vision and our commitments and pitch them against the reality of the pace of development in the industry and see how we measure up to where we are in relation to where we want to be. A lot has been done already but we still have much more to do. Now is definitely not the time for complacency.
If capacity development can be achieved then it is to the advantage of the country as a whole in relation to point on local content and services. To facilitate a thriving mobile ecosystem is an essential element of this. Having the resources of the internet at your fingertips at a reasonable cost is fantastic for all members of society, especially if a local industry has contributed significantly to the information they are consuming.
ATCON also urged the youth to embrace the so-called gap by exploring it for businesses, noting that there’s an obvious gap between elderly professionals and young industry entrepreneurs and enthusiasts.
“Unfortunately, the industry has lost many potential bright minds to other sectors with promises of immediate large salaries. Also, the few that have chosen to pursue telecoms have not had the chance to have access to mentors with immense experience who can guide them along specific career paths. However, the onus lies on young people to take responsibility by first realising that the strength of the future mobile industry in Nigeria rests on their shoulders – and they must reach out to get all the help they need,” he said.
The role of institutions in the development of the mobile web and applications is a key one and their active support would have a considerable multiplier effect on the speed of the expansion of the ecosystem. Just as ATCON said, the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC) and National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) come in here for special mentioning as their mandate has suddenly grown beyond what was written in the act setting them up long before mobile opportunities came into our lives.
For JACITAD, lead by Mr. Prince Osuagwu, the sector has entered into another year of promises, opportunities and new beginnings, there is no gain-saying the fact that in 2010 there were lots of promises, hopes and aspirations which partly were achieved, partly lost and some certainly unattended to.
He noted that for any economy to turn around its fortunes and join the league of nations in the new world order; ICT must not only play a major role but must also be taken very seriously.
Hence, JACITAD sees deployment, use and implementations of ICT solutions and policies, in view that there is need to contribute its quota on ICT policies and practices in order to make a meaningful difference in 2011.
Therefore, JACITAD suggested that in 2011, the government should focus on improving electricity. It’s on this premise that the group saw the obvious despite all the efforts and reforms by the government in the last couple of years little success has been recorded in the power sector. “A number of companies and industries are shrinking by the day, leaving in its stead loss
of foreign direct investments (FDI); high rate of unemployment; low industrial capacity utilisation and inability to explore new technologies which is not the case in developed economies,” the group said.
They advocated that the government should consider Broadband as Digital Right of the Citizen according to the prescriptions of the ITU, arguing that today, broadband has become the livewire of any economy.
“And in any society where broadband is scarce or the cost is high as it is in Nigeria, no matter other natural resources that may be available in that society, they will still be groping in the dark. But thank God that today, apart from other rich natural and human resources available in this country, two high capacity submarine broadband initiatives have been launched commercially in Nigeria,” he observed, stressing that government should cash-in on that to transform the economy.
To do that, JACITD urged President Goodluck Jonathan to emulate the United State President Barrack Obama by taking broadband penetration to the rural areas of the country and to every citizen. We wouldn’t mind if he makes it his effort of delivering democracy dividends.
Additionally, they advised the National Assembly to equip themselves sufficiently with the knowledge of ICT practices both Africa terrain and around the world. Reiterating their believe that any amount of money the lawmakers spend in doing this could never be a waste since it will aid them in ensuring smooth debates and easy passage of ICT-related policies and laws and spare the country the disgrace of rancorous and uninformed arguments witnessed in recent times on bills, policies and laws that are ICT-related.
For instance, JACITAD said that while other nations of the world are raving up activities with informed policies in place, Nigerian lawmakers are still on undecided on very important bills like anti-cyber crime bill, electronic evidence law, freedom of information bill and other similar bills.
They group further advised the Nigerian information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to walk the talk, noting that it was established primarily to stimulate growth in the IT sector and harmonise activities that will ensure continuous development of IT practices in Nigeria.
JACITAD emphasised that it’s common knowledge that NITDA was handicapped for a very long time owing to lack of funding, but having been given the force of law and attracted handsome funding for up to five years now, there is no excuse any more for NITDA in aggregating sectoral growth.
The issue of protecting and promoting indigenous software development, the group said, should be a paramount mission to this agency considering that it has a mandate to arrest the brain drain and recover the brain gain accruable to the IT sector of the economy, noting that at the recent World Summit of job demorgraphy in Beinjing, China, it was predicted by world economists that the software engineers and programmers of the future will not come from China, US or India, but from Nigeria and Pakistan.
The group said, NITDA should plug on this prediction, to advocate that ICT certification is made part of the qualification requirements for graduating computer students in our federal universities. This would help appropriate authorities review universities curricular to reflect institutions ready to churn out industry-ready and skilled ICT professionals, especially this year.
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