This Day (Lagos)

3 January 2013

Nigeria: Events That Shaped Telecoms, It Industry in 2012

Emma Okonji compiled several activities that played out in transforming the information and communications technology (ICT) industry in 2012 that just ended a couple of days ago

NCC Fined Telecoms Operators over Poor Service Quality

Telecoms regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), on May 11, 2012 imposed a combined fine of N1.17 billion on the four GSM operators for failing the key performance indicators (KPIs) test carried out on their networks for the months of March and April, 2012. The Commission gave them up till May 25 to pay the fine and warned that operators would pay a penalty of N2.5 million daily as long as the contravention persists.

Despite the daily fine of N2.5million, contested the fine and vehemently refused to pay, until after one month, when they reluctantly paid, on one condition that the regulator must understand and address their challenges in offering telecoms services.

The four GSM operators affected by the N1.17 billion fine were MTN, Airtel, Globacom and Etisalat.

Director, Public Relations for NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said the operators had no choice but to pay the fine.

Telecoms operators had approached NCC to drop the option of fine but the regulator refused accepting such request and insisted that they pay the fine. It took them close to two months before the fine was eventually paid.

Executive Commissioner of NCC, Bashir Gwandu, Sacked

Executive Commissioner in charge of Engineering and Technology Standards, at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Bashir Gwandu, was sacked by the Federal Government for insubordination to the NCC.

The sack letter, which was signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, took effect from November 9, 2012.

According to the letter, he was sacked for a proven case of gross insubordination to the current leadership of NCC, where he worked.

The board of NCC and the Ministry of Communications Technology investigated the allegations brought against NCC's leadership by Gwandu and found that they were false and unfounded and also discovered an overwhelmingly grounds of insubordination against the leadership of NCC by Gwandu.

Gwandu had alleged that NCC sold the 450 MHz frequency band allegedly belonging to the police, to OpenSkys Limited, and the NCC also discovered that Gwandu was leaking official secret to the press in an attempt to blackmail the NCC.

NCC Placed Indefinite Ban on Telecoms Promos, Lotteries

NCC on Monday November 8, placed and indefinite ban on all telecoms promotions and lotteries.

According to the Director, Public Affairs for NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, the decision became necessary, following increased congestion across networks that was traced to incessant promos and lotteries.

Ojobo said the ban covered all proposed and approved promotions and lotteries on which the commission had given approval further to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into with the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC).

"This ban is with immediate effect and shall continue to remain in force until such a time as may be determined by the commission," Ojobo said.

The operators affected by the ban were Globacom, MTN, Airtel, Etisalat, Intercellular, Visafone, and Multilinks.

Senate Seeks Public Input on Alleged Sale of Frequency

Senate Committee Chairman on Communications, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, is seeking public inputs on the alleged sale of the 450 MHz frequency band allegedly belonging to the police by NCC.

Nnaji who made the appeal in Enugu last year during the Exporter Enlightenment Forum 2012 organised by the Nigerian Export-Import Bank, said relevant information from the public could help the committee get to the roots of the controversial sale.

According to him, the committee would commence sitting immediately after its break, and the committee had since directed the Executive Vice-Chairman of NCC, the Inspector-General of Police and the Managing Director of OpenSkys Limited, to appear before it to state their involvements in the purported frequency sale.

Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, while reacting to the allegation, told THISDAY that frequency allocation at the commission was strictly carried out on due process and that the commission had maintained that stand since its inception.

NCC Plans Delisting Operators over Spectrum Licence

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said it would carry out a general spectrum audit in 2013, to ascertain those that have put their spectrum licence into use and those that have not.

The decision to embark on the exercise was sequel to the outcome of an investigation carried out by the NCC, which revealed that most licensed spectrum operators in the telecoms industry, were yet to roll out services on the spectrum band that was given to them several years back.

Last year, Nigeria ran short of spectrum licences, especially the 2.3 GHz and 2.5GHz spectrum bands and the NCC was looking for ways to get more spectrums for operators who were in need of them, yet some operators who had earlier been licensed, were unable to put their licensed spectrum into use for various reasons, thus preventing other operators who have the capacity to rollout services from doing so.

Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, who told THISDAY in Lagos of the plans of the commission, said after the investigation, any operator that was yet to put its spectrum licence into use would be relieved of the licence.

FG Begins $15m Software Incubation Centres in Lagos, Calabar

The Federal Government, last year, revealed fresh plans to commence the implementation of two incubation centres in Lagos and Calabar.

The initial seed capital for the project was estimated at $15 million. Government is expected to kick start it with $3 million, while the remaining $12 million will be sourced from private sector investment.

Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, said in Lagos, that government would fund the project in the first five years and allow the private sector to drive the initiative by investing in it.

The software incubation centres would be ICT hubs where people with ideas on software development would be trained for a period of 36 months maximum, and equip them to develop applications that would address basic needs of Nigerians and the world.

The purpose is to enable Nigerian software developers to create businesses for different industries.

Giving details of the incubation centres, Project Manager, Mrs. Helen Anatogu, said the project would soon be launched.

Limited Spectrum, Key Barrier to Long-term Mobile Growth'

Accenture's Network Strategy Lead for UK and Ireland, Mr. Christian Rouffaert, said that Nigeria and other African countries have great potentials for broadband growth.

According to him, "mobile data subscribers in African countries on average, doubled every single year between 2002 and 2007, and the trend is expected to continue for the next decade."

Rouffaert, who was in Nigeria last year for a broadband forum in Lagos organised by BusinessDay Conferences, in collaboration with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), told THISDAY of the growing potentials in mobile data technology for Nigeria, but warned that limited spectrum availability remained a key barrier to sustaining the long term growth.

He said African countries had currently allocated considerably less spectrum to mobile services than developing countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia, and called for concerted efforts on the part of governments in Nigeria and across African countries to increase spectrum allocation for mobile data.

United Nations Endorses Nigeria's Software Strategy

The United Nations (UN), last year, recognised and commended the contributions of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), for pushing Nigeria's software strategy at the global level.

The recognition came through the UN's Information Economy Report 2012 that was released in November 2012.

That was the first time Nigeria Software Strategic Initiative received a commendation from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Documentation.

In a letter to ISPON President, Chris Uwaje, the Chief ICT Officer at the Science Technology and ICT Branch of UNCTAD, Mr. Torbjor Fredriksson, said: "Dear Chris, I have the pleasure of sending you herewith a copy of the Information Economy Report 2012: The Software Industry and Developing Countries. I would also like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for your contribution, which is acknowledged in the Report, I hope you will find the publication interesting and relevant."

Secretary-General, United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, in his remark in the report, said: "In recent years, we have seen dramatically improved access to mobile telephones, the internet and broadband connectivity throughout the developing world. These trends are gradually helping to dismantle barriers towards the goal of an 'information society for all', agreed by world leaders at the World Summit on Information Society."

Telecoms' Interconnect Indebtedness Hits N20bn

Interconnect rates between telecommunication operators reached N20 billion since the inception of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001.

It was revealed in Lagos on last year at a regulatory forum on interconnection indebtedness in the telecommunications industry organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the industry regulatory body.

According to the revelation, 60 per cent of the amount was in dispute, as some operators blamed it on poor billing system among some telecoms operators.

According to NCC, the forum became necessary in order to address the issue, which it said, was becoming unhealthy for the industry.

Some of the telecoms operators present at the forum, blamed the challenge on the disparity on interconnect rates between the GSM operators and the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators. While the CDMA operators were calling for a uniform interconnect rates, the GSM operators blamed the issue on Interconnect Clearing Houses for their inability to pay settlement bills on time on one hand, and the weak financial status of smaller operators to pay interconnect rates to the clearing houses on the other hand.

Main One Challenges FG on Specific Broadband Policies

The Main One Cable Company, last year, called on the Federal Government to come up with specific policies that will further drive broadband penetration in the country.

General Counsel to Main One, Kazeem Oladepo, who made the call during an interview with THISDAY in Lagos, spoke extensively on several ways in which government could achieve broadband penetration. He said government must be ready to push certain policies that would be tailored towards achieving broadband penetration in the country.

According to him, "Government needs to play its role in investing and protecting existing broadband investments. It needs to put in place specific broadband policies to address some of the critical demand and supply issues, and the regulator should then play its role in implementing and enforcing such policies."

Minister Inaugurates Committee on Software Development

The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, last year in Lagos, inaugurated a 15 man steering committee on Technology Innovation Programme (TIP) that would drive the process of selecting and mentoring young software developers for the country.

Shortly after the inauguration, the minister launched the official website, www.techlaunchpad.com.ng for the selection process.

Speaking at the inauguration, Johnson said the essence was to mentor young software developers that would in turn develop software programmes for the financial and the oil and gas sectors, with plans to extend it to other sectors like the telecommunications and the health sectors, among others.

According to her, the ministry had in the last ten months, been tinkering with the private sector on the programme, and that the ministry would continue to launch more of such programmes for the development of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) because of the importance of IC to nation building.

NSE Demonstrates Possibility of Online Voting

The Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), last year, successfully demonstrated that Nigeria could hold its general elections online real-time, just as it was done at the US election in 2012.

The engineers in December last year, successfully conducted its yearly general elections online real-time through an e-voting system that was developed locally by Nigerian Engineers at Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT).

The elections were monitored by participants and voters online from their internet enabled laptops and smartphones.

Before voting commenced, data of the members were captured electronically and biometric information taken, and at the venue of the election, the data was accessed electronically and accreditation carried out smoothly.

NIGCOMSAT provided mobile internet via Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) for connectivity to broadcast events online real-time on the NigComSat-1R satellite.

Participants and contestants who monitored the procedures online real-time, were satisfied with the new voting system, and commended NIGCOMSAT for their ingenuity.

Telecoms Operators Risk More Sanctions

As mobile network challenges continued to bite hard on telecoms subscribers across all networks in 2012, there were clear indications that telecoms operating companies would face another round of sanctions, if the threats from the Minister of Communications Technology and NCC were reliable.

The Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, had last year, told Bloomberg that the Federal Government may levy more fines against telecommunications companies if their service did not improved by the time service quality checks were carried out by December 2012.

Director Public Affairs for NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo had also told THISDAY in an interview that another round of KPIs test would be carried out in December 2012 to further ascertain the quality of service being offered by telecoms operating companies.

According to Ojobo, the decision to carry out another round of test, was reached between the NCC and the operating companies in June last year, shortly after the NCC fined MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and Etisalat, a combined fee of N1.17 billion as penalty for poor service quality in the KPIs test carried out for the months of March and April 2012.

StarTimes Launches DVB-T2 Technology Ahead of Digital Migration

In a bid to meet up with the June 17, 2015 date for the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, StarTimes, a Digital Terrestrial Technology (DTT) service provider in Africa, launched the latest digital technology, DVB-T2 technology in Nigeria and other Africa countries.

The other African countries include Kenya, Uganda, Mozambic, and Tanzania. StarTimes had in 2010, commenced streaming digital contents with the Nigerian Television Network (NTA) with the DVB-T technology, but decided to upgrade to DVB-T2 technology, which provides wider range of channels, and sharper image with high resolution, for better customer experience.

Nigeria had signed agreement with the International Telecoms Union (ITU) to transit from analogue to digital broadcasting by June 17, 2015. With two years to the switch on date, StarTimes is making efforts to ensure that its customers remained connected and enjoy best of digital terrestrial television contents that it would be offering its customers.

US had its digital switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting in 2009, and since then other countries have followed, with Nigeria making preparations to join the world in digital broadcasting by June 2015.

Etisalat Identifies Huddles to Rural Voice Telephony

Etisalat, last year, made bold to highlight the actual reasons for the slow adoption of rural telephone penetration by telecoms operating companies, despite efforts made by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to reverse the trend.

NCC had through its Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), provided incentives to telecoms operating companies, to enable them rollout telecoms services in rural communities, but it appeared such incentives were not motivational enough, as rural voice telephony penetration still remained low in 2012, in spite of the over 107 million telecoms subscribers recorded across networks. The high subscriber number recorded, amidst weak rural telephone penetration, was a pointer to the fact that telecoms operating companies were over-concentrated in urban communities in 2012, where the bulk of revenue is, at the detriment of rural dwellers who also have the right to telecommunications services.

Head of Turnkey Rollout of the Engineering and Deployment Department at Etisalat, Mr. Valentine Amadi, who shared his views with THISDAY, identified government tax on traffic generated in rural communities, as a major concern to telecoms operators, since the volume of traffic generated in rural communities, remained abysmally low, compared to what was generated in urban communities and cities in 2012.

Lagos Govt Pledges Commitment to IT Secured City

The Lagos State Government, last year, said it would continue to show commitment in the affairs of the state, in the area of Information Technology (IT) security.

Commissioner for Science & Technology, Mr. Adebiyi Fatai Mabadeje, stated this while declaring open a training programme for agencies that had to do with security and emergency situation at the Lagos State Security and Command Centre, Alausa, Ikeja.

Mabadeje said the high level of security provided by the state had led to the growth of the state economy and increase investment attraction from different parts of the world.

The commissioner however appealed to parents to educate their children to refrain from making fake calls that were not security or emergency related. He said the call centre operators were doing their best to answer as many calls as possible.

He said the 767 and 112 emergency numbers were working and the training programme was organised to train relevant agencies of the state government on how to respond better to situation as it arises.

ISPON Berates SAHCOL on Local Software

The Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), last year reacted to a statement credited to Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL), claiming that locally developed software packages lacked the standard to meet aviation demands.

ISPON President, Chris Uwaje told THISDAY that it was shocking and embarrassing for Mr. Adejare Adekitan, a staff and head of ICT at SAHCOL to make a statement, which he described as derogatory and targeted at ISPON to undermine the integrity of indigenous software.

Adejare had emphasised the continued patronage of foreign software as against indigenous software. He said local software lacked certain standards, hence corporate bodies in Nigeria, SAHCOL inclusive, preferred foreign software to local software.

'CDMA Merger Deserves More Capital Investment'

Last year's $200 million merger deal between some core investors and three Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators, was commended, but with some reservations.

The core investors, last year, bought into Multi-Links and MTS and concluded discussions to invest $90 million cash liquidity and $110million worth of asserts into Starcomms in order to merge the three CDMA operators into a single large operator, with a new name Capcom.

Commending the core investors for the planned investment, President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, told THISDAY that although $90 million cash was huge sum of money, the three CDMA operators needed more than that for total overhauling to enable the new company compete favourably with the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) operators.

According to him, "CDMA business thrives in other parts of the world, but with the exception to the Nigerian market because of the peculiar nature of the Nigerian telecoms environment, where telecoms operators have to invest in infrastructure rollout by themselves, before thinking of expanding their networks." He said for any telecoms operator to survive the Nigerian market, such operator must be ready to get huge funding for investment, which he said was lacking on the part of licensed CDMA operators in Nigeria, since their inception.

MTN, Afrinolly Set Aside N15.6m for Shortfilm Competition

MTN, in partnership with Afrinolly, Blackberry, iRep, Goethe Institute and Google, last year, set aside $100, 000 (N15.6 million) as winning prize for various categories of a Short Film Competition that was based on mobile applications.

Tagged 'Afrinolly Shortfilm Competition', the initiative was a video-based competition targeted at developing film-makers and documentary/animation content creators.

Candidates were expected to submit a sub-15minutes film that can be easily assessed on mobile devices. The competition ran for three months and submissions were made online, through a website known as www.afrinollyshortfilmcompetition.com

Announcing the digital competition in Lagos last year, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FansConnectOnline Limited, Mr. Chike Maduegbuna, who developed Afrinolly, said "With this competition, we aim at showcasing African talent online, and providing a platform to foster the creation of new online content produced by Africans."

NITTDA Predicts Increased Growth in ICT Sector

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), last year, predicted increased growth in the Information Technology (IT) sector in Nigeria and other countries.

The agency said the growth would push the outsourcing market presently standing at $500 billion to between $1.65 and $1.8 trillion by 2020.

Director-General of NITDA, Prof. Cleopas Angaye, who gave the prediction in Calabar at a software competition conference organised by the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), said: "The Nigerian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is growing by 30 per cent, and its growth rate is second only to China."

According to him, the success in the Nigerian ICT sector, which took Internet penetration to over 45 million users, was as a result of the efforts of the agency in partnership with the private sector.

Angaye said Information Technology (IT) development agencies have a critical role to play in developing the sector of the economy that has high potential of job creation and revenue generation which would eventually contribute significantly to the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Wini Group Partners MobileIron to Boost Mobile Money

Wini Group, a foremost USA based IT Security Company with strong focus on Nigeria and the rest of Africa, last year, partnered MobileIron, the 2012 Gartner rated Leader in Mobility to bring mobile security to Nigeria.

Available as a highly-scalable cloud solution, MobileIron was purpose-built to secure and manage mobile applications, documents and devices.

According to Wini Group, in the era of mobile commuting, mobile security had become a strong need for companies whose data resides on mobile devices because employees now have access to corporate solutions and company data via smart phones, thereby increasing the risk of exposure to the companies.

Vice-Chairman of Wini Group, Mr. Tim Akano, who disclosed the partnership deal, expressed his excitement about the potentials that existed in the partnership with MobileIron. He described it as one of the best things that could happen to Nigeria.

Courier Companies Raise Fear over Sharp Practices

Up-coming courier companies, last year, raised concerns over difficulties they encountered in the course of doing their legitimate business.

According to them, despite the huge potentials that abound in courier business, the small operators were faced with myriads of challenges, chief among were skewed regulatory practices characterised by bureaucratic bottlenecks. They have complained of increased rate of illegal courier operators in the system, multiple taxations imposed on them by the three tiers of government, dumping of mails, dilapidating infrastructure, among other sharp practices.

Speaking on the challenges of the industry, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Bowill Errands Limited, Mr. Siyanbola Oladapo, said the small courier operators suffered a great deal in the hands of big courier companies and the government.

The big companies can have access to billions of naira in loan but the indigenous courier companies cannot enjoy such privileges. People prefer to patronise the multinational courier companies operating in Nigeria because of the wrong mentality we have in Nigeria that the multinationals are better than the indigenous ones, he said.

FUT Mina, OAU Emerge Top Winners of Software Competition

Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna and the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife emerged top winners of the 2012 Software Competition organised for students of tertiary institutions by the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON).

Announcing the result at the Tinapa Business Resort, in Calabar, Cross River State, venue of ISPON's annual conference, the judges, said the students were examined through their entries, which they submitted for the competition.

Students from the Federal University of Technology, Minna, won the grand prize of the 2012 ISPON software competition, while students of Team 1 and Team II from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, emerged second and third positions respectively.

The winners were selected based on the quality of solution presented, its relevance to the Nigerian society, and capacity to solve local problems for the ordinary in society, as well as the extent of work and creativity demonstrated in the solution.

The team members from FUT, Minna that won the grand prize, were Olofu Mark and Temitope Oguntade.

Operators Blame Govt for High Cost of Bandwidth

Telecommunications and submarine cable operators have blamed the federal government for the continuous high cost of bandwidth in the country, in spite of the huge broadband capacities from MainOne, Glo 1, and the MTN West African Cable System.

According to them, submarine cable operators have done so well in bringing broadband capacity to the country through their subsea cable projects, but lamented the situation where the broadband capacities were being underutilised, because of government's inability to build a national backbone infrastructure that will take the broadband capacities to the hinterland for last-mile connectivity.

The presence of submarine cables at the shores of Nigeria has helped in reducing the wholesale price of internet bandwidth, but this is yet to reflect on the retail price, a situation that has made the cost of bandwidth extremely high for the consumers, the operators said.

Director, Regulatory Affairs for Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Tobechukwu Okigbo, who expressed his displeasure over the matter at the software competition in Tinapa Business Resort in Calabar, organised by the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) last year, told THISDAY that government must address the situation, by fully supporting telecommunications operators in taking broadband capacities from the shores of the country, to address the need of the people in the hinterland, instead of allowing the operators to do it themselves.

FG Urged to Domesticate Indigenous Software

The Federal Government was advised last year to consider the domestication of locally developed software, and make it a priority for local use in the country.

Co-chairman of the Presidential Committee on broadband penetration, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, who gave the advice, told THISDAY that government must domesticate software production in the low and high end levels in the country, if the she must remain relevant in software development and global competitiveness.

"An information economy can only be built on a solid and dependable Information and Communications Technology (ICT) platform that is largely driven by well-developed and domesticated software," Ndukwe said.

According to him, software development remained an important component of ICT value chain that we need to own and domesticate. "Today in Nigeria, there is an obvious scarcity of locally written software especially in the high end category," he added.

Sharing some of the suggestions from a US based software company- Thoughtworks, on how to improve the state of the local software industry in Nigeria, Ndukwe said the suggestion was that government should play an active role in the supply and demand sides of local software production, and that Nigeria should not be shy of instituting any protectionist initiative that will help energise the industry. "That Nigeria being a large country should consider implementing for example, "coded-in-continent" regulations, for software consumed by government and regulated industries."

FG Launches PC Ownership Scheme

The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Communications Technology, last year, launched the students Personal Computer (PC) ownership scheme, aimed at driving PC penetration in the country.

Performing the launch ceremony in Abuja recently, with the theme: "Promoting Increases Access and Utilisation of ICTs in education," the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson said the launch was a joint venture between the Ministry of Communications Technology and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Johnson decried a situation of low PC penetration in Nigeria which ranked the lowest in Africa. She noted that the affordability and availability of the devices, and the slow pace with which ICTs were being adopted for teaching and learning in secondary and tertiary institutions, were partly responsible for the low PC penetration in the country.

Windows 8 unveiled in Nigeria at Open Door Event

Microsoft Nigeria, last year, unveiled Windows 8 to its customers and partners in Nigeria at its Open Door event following the global launch of the product last October.

The Microsoft's Open Door events serve to address the demand for space in which African technology professionals are able to experience the latest-generation technologies first-hand, exchange ideas, build skills, and network with their local IT community and Microsoft technology experts.

Windows 8 was the main product exhibited at this year's Open Door Event targeted at IT professionals, developer and partners.

Speaking at the press conference to announce the launch, Country Manager, Microsoft Anglophone West Africa, Mr. Emmanuel Onyeje, stated that with the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft is unveiling a reimagined Windows to the world.

Onyeje said: "To enrich the reinvented Windows experience, local consumers and businesses will be able to experience all that Windows 8 has to offer; as well-known manufacturers have released a wide-range of notebooks, tablets, all-in-ones, touch-enabled ultrabooks, and convertibles, all designed for Windows 8."

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