Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nigerian operators shun fax services

Telecommunications operators in the country are shunning the promotion and offering of fax services to their subscribers, thus paving the way for the dearth of the once popular Value Added Service (VAS), ITRealms Online investigations revealed.

Fax machines have been around since 1842, when Alexander Bain invented a machine capable of receiving signals from a telegraph wire and translating same into images on paper. In 1850, a London inventor named F. C. Blakewell, received a patent for a similar machine, which he called a copying telegraph.

Fax service has its origin drawn from ‘Facsimile’ machine, a device that could send or receive pictures and text over telephone lines. Fax machines work by digitizing an image - dividing it into a grid of dots. Each dot is either on or off, depending on whether it is black or white.

Electronically, experts said that each dot symbolizes a bit that has a value of either 0 (off) or 1 (on). In this way, the fax machine translates a picture into a series of zeros and ones (called a bit map) that could be transmitted like normal computer data.

On the receiving side, a fax machine reads the incoming data, translates the zeros and ones black into dots, and reprints the picture.

But with the coming of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) into the nation’s polity, this service has been taken over by mobile phones as they are embedded with the facility to deliver fax, overtly with a modem.

Unfortunately, ITRealms Online investigations revealed that this service is not among promotional Value Added Services of most of the operators in the country, be it GSM or CDMA, thus encouraging its demise.

Explaining their positions, some of the operators claimed that they were either in the process of upgrading to accommodate fax utilities on the networks or on the verge of launching their modem very soon.

While some feigned ignorance over the offering of such and on how much they charge subscribers where the claim was that the network offers fax service, almost all of them were silent on that, but said that they simply offer fax service.

For instance, the Corporate Service Executive at MTN Nigeria, Mr. Wale Goodluck, told ITRealms Online that he would soon confirm the status of fax service offering on the network, although it is a fading technology.

“It’s just that fax is a dying technology,” he said, while the External Communications Manager, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Okeleke, equally promised to respond to our request later after making inquiry from the marketing department. “I am quite busy now,” he wrote, in a Short Messaging Service (SMS) to ITRealms Online.

The same applies to Etisalat as the public relations officer, Mr. Yinka Ijabiyi promised to get back.

Director, Marketing, at Globacom, Mr. Jagat Singh, said, “Yes, fax is possible, but the customer needs to buy a GSM fax modem from us. Take a fax connection from us with an up-front payment of N2,000, plus deposit. Usage rates are not per page, but in minutes and seconds.”

Although the customer care attendants at Glo shop at Victoria Island, were ignorant of the situation and simply retorted to our inquiry that ‘We’re not offering fax service.”

Zain’s Public Relations Manager for Nigeria, Mr. Emmanuel Otokhine told ITRealms Online, that his firm offers fax, but the customer has to buy the modem for about N15,000.

Visafone, Assistant General Manager, Marketing Strategies, Mr. Clifford Onyeike, informed ITRealms Online that, Visafone has its “fax modem ready for commercial launch.”

While the Head, Corporate Communications, Visafone, Mr. Toni Kan Onwudi, also agreed that Visafone has phones with fax facilities that come with a router – modem, so when a customer gets fax message, it could be printed out via the router.

David Babalola of Starcomms, a CDMA operator, told our correspondent that presently his firm is offering that service, but they were anticipating an upgrade of the network soon, so as to offer the service, optimally.

ITRealms Online recalls that during the monopoly era of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) in the 1980s, faxing of materials was an attractive Value Added Service thus lucrative as well.

But ITRealms Online investigations further revealed that though NITEL staff strike in recent years was not helpful, the trend has become worst as mobile operators are currently focusing on voice only service.

Attempt at any of the NITEL’s service centres scattered all over the country showed they were permanently closed for business, as one of the workers at hand at NITEL office, Mushin-Lagos, told ITRealms Online that “nothing is working here, even ordinary telephone for voice.”

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D


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