Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Telecom leads in ICT sector

Cover of the week:

As the nation marks its 48th independence anniversary, REMMY NWEKE, looks at some of the events that heralded the season since last year.

In the last one year, Nigeria under the leadership of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who could be said to have inherited a vibrant Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, given the achievement the nation made in the last six years under his predecessor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

With the present state of things in the sector, as the nation celebrates 48 years of independence, especially in the communication sub-sector, Nigeria is still receiving accolades from both local and international technocrats based on the soaring achievements.

Till date Nigeria is on record as at June 30, 2008, to have had over 54 million connected active mobile lines while as at March 2008, NCC said there were about 60.9 million phone subscribers in the country.

Portable numbering plan:

An issue of concern within the year under review was the planned adoption of portable numbering plan. Commenting on this, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, had said that the proposed introduction of portable national numbering apart from enthroning convergence in the polity would boost market evolution.

Speaking at the four-day workshop organised by NCC in collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Lagos, Dr. Ndukwe, who was represented at the occasion by the former Communications Minister and NCC commissioner, Chief Olawale Ige, noted that Nigeria as a leading country on the continent in terms of mobile communications, has continued to record success, even as it has surpassed South Africa in terms of mobile subscriber base.

He described the proposed portable numbering plan as a cornerstone for market evolution and growth. The EVC also noted that introduction of numbering is a critical component towards provision of communications services that would impact on how operators conduct business, and services are rolled out as well as how subscribers would behave in the near future.

Strengthening NCC’s regulation:
Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had identified areas it could strengthen the telecommunications regulatory in the country, so as to improve the Quality of Service (QoS).

Giving this indication, Senate Committee chairman on Communications, Senator Sylvester Ndubuisi Anyanwu, disclosed this at a recent one-day public hearing on Quality of Service in Abuja, and said that his committee had advanced plans to introduce new laws into the regulation of the sector that would tackle complaints against poor telecommunications services by various operators. He stressed that this would be done via strengthening the powers of the telecom regulator to facilitate the application of stiff sanctions against any defecting operator.

As said by him, part of the proposed laws would be to make it mandatory for operators to refund subscribers on established cases of call drops and call terminations or in any clearly established situations of poor service delivery.

NCC vs GSM operators:
Notable was the dragging of the regulator to the law court by two major telecom operators over a directive to pay compensation for poor Quality of Service (QoS).

A federal high court while holding in March 2008 in Lagos, ruled that mobile operators; MTN Nigeria and Celtel Nigeria (now Zain) must compensate subscribers for poor quality of service, by crediting them with N175 each, in accordance with a directive from the Nigerian telecommunications regulator, NCC.

The regulator had in September last year issued a directive to three Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) operators, namely Glo Mobile, MTN and Zain, to reimburse subscribers for services that were below average quality, claiming that it was inundated with complaints from subscribers about poor and unacceptable level of services. But rather than complying, MTN and Celtel filed a suit to halt the directive.

Delivering judgment, the presiding judge at the Lagos Federal Court, D.D. Abutu, who initially stopped NCC from implementing the directive, pending the determination of the case slated to take effect on October 6, ruled in favour of NCC.

While NCC insisted that the two operators failed to achieve required Traffic Channel Congestion (TCH) levels, as measured by the commission’s Key Performance Indicator (KPI). It also directed the operators to pay all of their active subscribers through airtime credit, and that no time limitation shall be placed by the operator on the utilization of such airtime credit.

“All the active subscribers are to be credited between March 1, 2008, and April 15, 2008,” NCC spokesman, Mr. Dave Imoko said.

New entrants and rebranding fever:
One of the new entrants in the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Visafone Limited, claimed it recorded over 1 million subscriber marks within six months of its official commercial launch of services in 12 states and over 40 cities across the six geo-zones, on February 22, 2008.

Head, Corporate Communications, Visafone Limited, Mr. Toni Kan Onwordi, described it as “an unprecedented record in the history of Nigeria’s very vibrant and exciting telecoms sector.” He recalled that the record began on August 1, 2007 when the industry regulator, NCC, handed out a Unified Access License (UAL) to Visafone.

Also, Visafone is known to have acquired some other regional operators like the Cellcom among others.

According to Onwordi, Visafone coverage has grown within six months to 17 states in over 150 cities and now has attained 1 million subscribers which underscored the telco’s uncompromising decision to take its offerings beyond the cities and grow the network.

Equally remarkable was the pre-launch of Etisalat Nigeria’s 0809uchoose, with a promise to replicate what the operator did in Egypt, where it is on record that it achieved millions of subscribers in 12 months after a commercial unveiling.

The 0809uchoose option allows subscribers to reserve special numbers and also a five minutes free airtime for life.

While Celtel in a dramatic repositioning became Zain in August, alongside 14 other networks on the continent. The company said its plan is to become a strong number one brand in Nigeria, according the chief executive officer, Zain Nigeria, Mr. Adebayo Ligali. “We have to be the number 1 … Anything it would cost legitimately is what we would like to pursue,” he said.

He said that Zain as a group aims to be among 10 top telecom operators in the world in the next few years. Stressing that Zain has remained the fastest growing telecom operator among its peers for achieving from 5 million subscribers to 15.5 million. Insisting that Zain embodies peace, beautiful, joy and wonderful, explaining that the name was chosen out of 400 other names, even as the telco targets 110 million across its 22 networks globally.

Reltel was not left out of the rebranding fever, as it became ZOOMmobile, while it recently claiming it attained over 1 million subscribers. Even as Multi-Links has become Multi-Links-Telkom among others, dangling cars and free airtime on subscribers for receiving calls on the network.

Plot against EVC & Glo’s exploit
For some stakeholders the issue of purported plans to remove EVC Ndukwe before the end of his tenure at NCC was a highlight, even as the need to boost local content remain imperative, hence NCC among others are canvassing for broadband adaptation by all, especially in the 36 states of the federation. Obviously the issue of EVC removal did not receive any support from the stakeholders both at home and abroad.

Globacom in June commenced its international operation with a launch in Benin, just as the Ghana network may come live before the end of first quarter of next year. Notable is that Glo’s move heralds the first of its kind that a home grown operator taking its trade offshore.

Wake up call for CPN:
Invariably, the communications sub-sector has remained very active ahead of other within the sector like the core Information Technology (IT) sub-sector.

To this end, the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), repackaged its professional examinations to accommodate online educational component, according to its Registrar and Chief executive, Mr. Sikiru Shehu.

He said that the repackaging is to offer Nigerians, especially the youths more options in being part of the 21st century revolution based on Information Technology (IT) literacy. “CPN has repackaged its professional examinations to make the graduates employment ready,” he said, emphasizing that Nigeria cannot forego IT at this time of development in the country’s quest to be part of the 20 most successful economies by 2020.

Shehu also said that the repackaging provides the exam with the purpose that it would always have recognition at every stage the candidate may decide to stop. “From kindergarten to primary it is now compulsory for pupils to be taken on English Language, Maths and Computer Science,” he said, noting that CPN was not ignorant of lack of teachers at this level thereby encouraging heads of kindergarten and primary schools to approach CPN for collaboration.

He, however, said that a big challenge here is non-availability of teachers to teach computer studies, just as there is now a window for those who could not gain admission into the universities due to their inability to either pass the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exams or make their papers as well as those who could not scale through the post-JAMB entrance exams of various universities.

He listed the pre-professional levels to include Computer Literacy Certificate (CLC), Computer User/Proficiency Certificate (CUC) and Computer Affiliate Examination (CAE). Within the CUC level, he listed about 12 specialization candidates could take interest in consisting Computer Secretarial Practice, Computer Desktop Publishing, Computer Utilization, Computer Operation & Programming, Office Productivity Expert, Website Development Expert, CAD Expert, DeskTop Publishing (DTP) Expert, Programmers, system audit expert, PC Maintenance expert and network expert.

This is coming as the EVC of NCC, said that about 4000 teachers have benefited from training offered by the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) since inception.
The Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) in efforts to showcase its reach nationwide took its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and international conference to Ogun State, which was described as a flop according to reports.

While the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) held an Annual General Meeting (AGM) which culminated in re-election of Mr. Lanre Ajayi as its President in addition to persistent on the need to promote local content via its pet-project, Internet for Job (I4J) initiative.

Also, the Association of Telecom Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) began campaign to register Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) in the country, which currently is receiving industry attention under NCC.

Toure visits Nigeria:
The year under review saw the Secretary General of ITU, Dr Hamadoun Touré in Nigeria for a three-day official visit from Thursday, April 10 to Saturday April 12, 2008. Dr Touré met with top government officials in the country to draw attention to the Connect Africa Initiative of ITU.

This was the first time the Secretary-General of the ITU, the world telecommunications regulatory body, officially visited Nigeria since the establishment of the United Nations agency. Dr Touré met with President Umaru Yar’Adua, as well as other top government officials including the Minister of Information and Communications and the board and management of NCC in Abuja.

Equally, he met Chief Executive Officers of leading Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies at a dinner hosted in his honour in Lagos.

Touré also visited projects related to the ITU Connect Africa Initiative such as the Digital Bridge Institute, the Digital Awareness Projects of the NCC and some Universal Access Projects of the Nigerian civil society.

Noteworthy was that Toure’s visit coincided with the period Nigeria attained the position of the largest telecommunications market on the continent, overtaking South Africa in number of active connected lines, as at January 2008.

Power engineers must emulate telecom counterparts:
Given that power is one of the 7-point agenda of Yar’Adua, it was time for experts to look inwards, according to the Chief Executive Officer, Telecom Answers Associate, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu. He said the engineers in the power and energy sector should emulate their counterparts in the telecommunications sector.

Addressing members of the Abuja branch of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) recently as a guest speaker, at the opening of the Engineering Week and AGM, Omo-Ettu who dwelt on “Energy Crisis and Economic Development: the Nigerian Telecommunication Development as case study,” urged them to take up their rightful place in positioning the nation’s power sector by canvassing for genuine liberalization in that sector.

He noted that the power challenge in the country has graduated from being a mere problem to crisis and now has deteriorated to the level of emergency. “Nigerian engineers should admit responsibility for the power situation in the country and go to government with a comprehensive blueprint, asking to be given whatever they require to solve the problem,” he advised, warning however that they should not claim “knowledge of the energy sector” in isolation.

In addition, he revealed that a total of 210 Internet Service Providers (ISP) licensees were yet to take off in the country, about two years after they were granted licenses, citing the Internet Access to all Report of ISP Audit of 2006.

Omo-Ettu whose firm championed the study said that about 96 ISP licensees had their businesses short down prematurely due to poor public power supply.

He attributed the stunted growth of the telecom industry to the power crises, noting that Nigeria should have had more feasible Internet Service Providers (ISP) than what it has now.

Although the federal government announced the celebration of 48th year of Nigeria would be low-keyed, the commemoration, however, would afford the government of Yar’Adua the chance to restrategize in finding a lasting solution that would spur economic growth.

Precisely, what the aforementioned differences and difficulties facing stakeholders, mostly in ICT sector indicate is that apart from the telecom operators who invariably have become investors delight, other sub-sectors of the sector are not enjoying the same patronage from the international community and government, be it hardware or software, basically due to epileptic power delivery.

Therefore, it would be appropriate and wise if NSE alongside the government could join forces to liberate the nation from this mess and give more life to ICT growth and various industries generally.

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