8 April 2004

Nigeria: Between Bandwidth, Poor Internet Service

Lagos — HAVE you ever one day stopped to ask yourself or the cyber café managers why some Internet users enter cafes and come out stressed?

A lot could be attributed to such shadow experiments either by the Internet Service Provider (ISPs) or the café medium, depending on the level of users' economic empowerment.

For instance, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) sector, has continued to decry the epileptic power supply by the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) which has forced some stakeholders to tag NEPA as the "unseen sabotour" to their infrastructure decay; built and installed by either individual or corporate organizations.

Lack of national infrastructure is another thorn in the flesh of stakeholders as far as poor Internet service provision is concerned.

Experts were also worried on the compelling problems which include poor telephone services to lack of E1 lines and the top on the shelf is bandwidth allocation and availability.

They cited an instance of poor telephone usage by most home users nowadays via dial-up connection, because at times in a day the connection to the Internet could not be achieved due to faulty telephone lines.

Managing Director of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) firm, Nigeria On-Line Limited, Mr. Laleye Alao, attributed most problems between ISPs and their clientele either individual or corporate to poor telephone services, because "if my client, may be, cyber café operator, could reach me and I could not respond in terms of connection, definitely there is problem".

This was the reason adduced by some ISPs which introduce dedicated Internet access to those who could pay, which usually is on the high side and therefore is not affordable to all who wish to have a good service delivery on their systems.

Non-availability of E1 lines from national operators, such as the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), was identified as one headache that almost crippled the nation's telecommunication industry as operators who applied for the E1 lines were not given as at when due.

E1 lines are usually technical lines issued by major operators and accommodate about 30 sub-lines which could be deployed by any industry operator for purposes of interconnection depending on the value of their licenses.

Champion Infotel discovered that a key issue in engendering the level of Internet service delivery is bandwidth deployed by an individual or corporate for Internet access offered by the ISPs.

In computing, bandwidth, according to HelpwithPCs.com, refers to the capacity of a communications line or channel to transmit or receive information. It could also refer to how much traffic a web hosting company have and will allow each month for data transfer, when in this context bandwidth is measured in bits, kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes.

A bit technically is usually the smallest unit of information that could be used in a computer. Eight bits is equated to a byte with computing information worth 1024 bytes, thus making a kilobyte in measuring of information and a million bytes is measured as megabytes, while a billion bytes is known as gigabytes.

Like in any business setting, bandwidth therefore is seen as the 'hot cake' to market when it comes to offering and receiving good Internet service; the bigger the capacity of bandwidth an operator as ISP or cyber café cum small scale enterprises have medium, the better for them, which means more customers on their network or business centres.

According to Mr. Chris Stern of CS Designs, bandwidth means a lot to different people including webmasters, whose job entails ensuring that the website of a given company is updated regularly or daily as the case may be, notwithstanding if the web-hosting firm has problem or not.

He described bandwidth as the resource a site uses on the computer whose server the company website is housed on. Noting that each time a file like a page, image or animation and so on is loaded from a site, it is using a certain amount of resources or bandwidth from the computer it is on. He likened bandwidth to electricity refrigerator uses to run.

Mr. Stern emphasized that nowadays, ISPs deploy servers that set a limit to the amount of bandwidth a site may use each month and after that limit is reached, the site would be closed and the webmaster sent a large bill that must be paid before they could open their site again.

On the other hand, the term 'bandwidth' is used merely by electrical engineers to refer to the frequency range of an analog signal. And often, according to The IT Store, especially in the Internet community, the term is used loosely to refer to channel capacity, or the bit rate of a link.

Internet Guide, also described bandwidth as the amount of data that could be transferred to your computer while connected to the Internet for a given time. The higher your bandwidth while connected to the Internet, the quicker web pages will load and download.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Koochi Communications Limited, Mr. Julian Madubuko, did not agree less and said that was why his firm conducted due diligence before entering the nation's Internet provision market.

He decried the level of Internet investment in the country and called for a change of heart on the part of the investors so as to develop the market. He attributed this to one of the reasons behind poor internet service delivery in the country, saying it 'is a financial one".

According to him, lack of investment and investors are the bane of the nation's development of robust internet and telecommunications infrastructure. Noting that the governmental and financial sectors of the economy are yet to embrace the Internet to attract investors' so as to push development in this area.

Citing an instance of the Western hemisphere, he said that during the dotcom days, trillions of dollars were raised in Western Europe and North America fueling companies, which had an insatiable demand for internet services to invest in the region.

"This spurred on the telcos and their investors to spend huge amounts to build infrastructure to support this demand" he said, adding that beyond the cyber café environment in Nigeria "we are not innovative enough to create new and other avenues to provide Internet services and encourage usage, which means that investment opportunity are not moving beyond the point it was two years ago".

He called for extension of this mark beyond its entry point which is the cyber café.

To bring about an improved Internet service delivery, Mr. Madubuko also said, these are in two folds, based on content and self service to drive growth and usage possibilities among the communities, the size that investors would appreciate to stick their fund.

These communities, he stressed, would continually require more and more bandwidth which the telecommunication companies and financiers would not resist by providing the avenue to raise the sums required to build the infrastructure to satisfy their demand for bandwidth.

In a nutshell, bandwidth is a technical term for a technical subject which word originated from radio technology, and stands between Internet user and the amount of information that could be used at a particular time.

This equally was attributed to the reasons in some offices, cyber cafes and even homes, some information such as pictures and graphics take longer time to download, yet some never come up, depending on the link(s).

Although, some of these offices pay between N15,000 and N35,000 while single users pay between N5,000 and N7,000 per month for Internet access to ISPs who also pay to those who they are marketing for handsomely.

As Nigerians await when the regulatory authority, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the stakeholders under the aegis of the Internet Service Providers Association of Nigeria (ISPAN) and Association of Cyber-café and Telephone Operators of Nigeria (ATCON), would come up to make the Nigerian Internet community smile, users are simply being milked, for the sake of keeping date with Information Age embodied in the Internet.

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