17 January 2013

Nigeria: Revolutionising the ICT Sector in 2013

With creativity and strategy, Nigeria's information and communications technology industry can withstand its challenges and further boost its achievements and prospects in 2013.

Summary of Relevant Aspects Although Nigeria has recorded tremendous growth in the telecommunications market over the last decade and counting, harnessing the nation's communications industry has become imperative for its further growth.

While celebrating the breakthrough of the industry, plans should be put in place towards ensuring that the sector gravitates to another level from what is currently obtainable.

Having emerged as one of the fastest-growing telecoms market in the world with the largest number of connected and active mobile lines in sub-Saharan Africa, which is placed at over 100 million by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), some challenges have continued to mar the sector, and almost making rubbish of its gains.

The Federal Ministry of Communications Technology, in a recent statement, identified the increase in rural telephone penetration,

development of incubation centre, new right of way guidelines, launch of student PC ownership scheme among others as its achievement in the ICT industry in 2012.

The ministry, which was created by President Goodluck Jonathan some 14 months ago to fast-track the development of the information and communications technology (ICT) in the country, however failed to identify its shortcomings.

Stakeholders in the ICT sector have however, continued to call for drastic resolution in tackling various impediments which conspicuously hindered the further growth of the sector.

According to them, optimising and complementing existing policies to enable subscribers get value for their money as well as growing the emerging market to place Nigeria as a foremost leader in global technology market remain some of the common challenges faced by the sector in 2012.

Telecoms Sector and Service Quality Though a lot of promises was made by the government and regulators in the industry to pursue network stability, coupled with the fine on GSM mobile operators and the ban of promos and lotteries, no doubt, Nigeria is still stuck on the ladder in terms of general development in ICT.

The decay in network quality, incessant drop call rate, poor access to service quality, clarity, quality with capacity coverage, broadband penetration, infrastructure decay to name but a few, have remained daily problems faced by the sector.

Recently, an industry player identified the network challenge to shoddy network rollout, poor planning and maintenance as well as subscriber growth rate to the reason behind the decaying service quality.

On that note, the Chairman of Association of Licensed Operators of Nigeria, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, stated that to increase ICT penetration in the country in 2013, the government should provide basic

infrastructure such as power for telecoms operations. According to him, the persisting pain of unreliable power supply which continued to interrupt the country industrialisation somewhat compels operators to focus on how to generate their own power, apart from building networks.

He also called on infrastructures of telecom operations to be classified as part of national asset and should be accorded first line protection by the government.

He said: "For the government to increase the lots of telecoms operators in the country, they must take responsibility for all issues relating to our operating environment which affects quality of services; issues of power, issues of security of equipment / facility

and personnel as well as issues of multiple taxation among other things: until these issues are eliminated, operators will continue to embark on endless struggle to improve quality of services.

Adebayo further said that there was the need for positive movement, and effort by the service providers and the government, which will translate to improved service offerings in the new year 2013.

The President, National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers, Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo, lamented the fact that despite the ban on all promos and lottery, the issue of poor quality of service still persisted.

He said: "The frequency of drop calls have been the bane of telecoms services in the country. These failures combined to reduce customers' satisfaction during the holidays making them unable to receive value for their money."

"The whole scenario was very frustrating; operators must sit up and address the issues raised so far as regards network and service quality or be prepared to face the angry subscribers."

The immediate past President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu, had recently called for the licence revocation of erring operators who have failed to redress the issues of service quality faced by its subscribers.

Omo-Ettu advised the commission to measure the performance level of the telecoms operators and apply sanctions where necessary. According to him, if somebody is not doing well, I don't see why the regulator should not revoke the licence of the operator.

Mobile subscribers also condemned the laxity of the telecoms regulator and the mobile operators on the poor service quality during the past months.

While calling on the Nigerian Communications Commission to prevail on the GSM operators to ensure better service quality, most of the subscribers, who spoke to THISDAY, stated that the operators must bemade to provide better service quality and reduced tariffs in the new year.

According to a trader, Mrs. Labake, who resides in Ikotun, most traders use dual SIM lines, because of the worsening network.

She said: "It has become very frustrating and annoying, because at the particular time one needs to make an important call, all the networks go to sleep. Our networks have become totally unreliable and bad. Thus, it is easier to switch to network B, when I want to make an important business call and network A is misbehaving; that way, I won't have to lose my business and I won't be frustrated.

Another trader, Mr. Peter Bassey, who made a case for subscribers called on the operators to at least reduce the tariffs, so that the bane of mobile subscribers would be less.

Stating that the services were particularly poor during the Yuletide season, Peter said: "Poor quality of service in Nigeria is not a new thing, it has being on for some time now, and this was limiting business growth in the country.

According to him, operators must be somewhat aware that they are not delivering in the right measure they should. They should be sensible enough to reduce the tariffs until whenever they are able to fix the network problems.

Broadband Penetration

On a positive note, Nigeria recorded some basic landmark development with the successful landing of high capacity international submarine cables: Glo1 and Main One, the West Africa Cable System (WACS) and the NIGCOMSAT-1R in the past two years.

It is however, basic to ensure that the demand of small medium enterprises, large corporations, educational institutions, and government establishment of broadband is met.

However, with the landing of the cables, the cost of bandwidth is still very high while broadband experience is minimal.

The President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, stated that a major way to fast-track broadband penetration was to stimulate demand for broadband access by promoting the deployment of applications that were relevant to Nigerian users and add values to their life.

According to him, such applications may include ones that make commerce available online (e-Commerce), ones that make Government services available online (e-Government), ones that make health services delivery available online (e-Health), ones that make learning available online (e-Learning) and so on.

"Government should take a lead by making Government services available online," he said. Meanwhile, an ICT analyst from the University of Jos, Mr. Cletus Ogagbe, stated that while the telecommunications regulator appears to be making frantic efforts towards ensuring that the Nigeria ICT industry is developed to global standard by boosting broadband penetration it has become imperative to increase productivity in education, agriculture, as well as increase access of every Nigerian to health services with ICT.

Ogagbe said: "Suffice it to say that the year 2012 was the awakening period to the reality that the country can actually advance her economy with broadband availability. Hence the regulators and government agencies began to make some moves."

Stating that a lot has being said on plans for broadband penetration by both the NCC and the Ministry of Communications Technology, in the last year, Ogabge stated that the bottom line was for the promises and strategies to be translated into actions in 2013.

He stated that concrete actions were expected from the government regarding investment in broadband as done by developed countries who have achieved success with broadband.

"As private operators are committing huge funds into bringing fibre optic cables, it is also imperative for the government to provide incentives which would encourage them to take the service to the rural, which are less profitable for them. But most importantly is the need for the government to come up with a national broadband policy," he added.

Software Development

Nigerians core competence is software knowledge industry and not heavy technology industry, the President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria, Dr. Chris Uwaje, said. Speaking to THISDAY recently, Uwaje advised the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, to make software strategy, policy and legislation the highest priority in 2013.

According to him, this would help create an estimated three million jobs and drive economic growth.

Uwaje stated that Nigeria was going through a lot of crisis in multiple areas such as e-Government, national database, digital education, digital litigation process, digital transportation, digital urban planning and residency data and National Identity Information System, and argued that the crisis can only be resolved by software.

He said: "If Nigeria does not accelerate her engagement to promote and develop Indigenous software, our information crisis will multiply into what I had described many years back in my book "e-Knowledge - time is Running Out" as 'Information Overload'".

The Chairman, Publicity and Events Committee, Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), Mr. Jide Awe, who spoke on the road map for the ICT industry in 2013, said young people represented the future of Nigeria and the future of IT.

As such, he urged ICT stakeholders to organise meaningful youth innovation activities, career development programmes, empowerment/entrepreneurship programmes, competitions and awards to recognise and support promising young achievers in the IT industry.

This, he said, would boost interest in the IT profession and entrepreneurship among the youths in 2012.

"In 2013, promotion of software development, youth innovation and entrepreneurship, local content development, ICT-enabled job creation and e-government should be the highest priority. Creativity is also required in providing support and access to capital to ICT businesses in a considerable and widespread manner," he said.

On his part, Ogres said: "Funding programmes have to be channelled to the identified fields and adopted to the needs of the ICT sectors like small and micro companies in need of flexible, project-based financing schemes.

"Support schemes for business interaction need to offer attractive ways to connect researchers to creative companies as well to improve the understanding of different mindsets in ICT and creative industries.

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