The Chief Executive Officer, Spectranet 4GLTE, Mr. Ajay Awasthi, spoke with technology journalists on the need for government to address the high cost of providing broadband services. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
What is the role of 4G enabled mobile devices in enhancing broadband connectivity and national development?
From our research we discovered that people needed mobile phones for connectivity and that if more of the mobile phones are made available for people, especially the 4G enabled mobile phones, it will increase productivity. We have also realised that mobile phones can enhance mass productivity and also increase GDP of a country, and that is what is currently going on in India, where Reliance offered to provide 4G enabled mobile devices for customers, which brought about huge growth in 4G LTE broadband connectivity in that country.
Spectranet is willing to assist Nigeria grow 4G LTE subscribers and achieve the federal government’s 30 per cent broadband penetration target by 2018.
Since the rollout of Spectranet services in the country, how many cities has it covered?
We got the Spectranet licence in Nigeria in 2009 for 4GLTE, but we rolled out the service in 2011 and currently we are in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, and Port Harcourt.
Our vision is to become Nigeria’s premium internet service provider and we are working hard towards achieving that.
How will you compare ICT growth in the country with the global digital economy growth?
ICT growth in countries of the world is coming up fast, and one thing that is common among countries that are driving ICT growth, it is the broadband connectivity that is propelling eCommerce and online shopping.
In China, $752 billion of trade is being transacted on the online shopping platform and this has greatly changed the market structure, thereby increasing eCommerce growth and providing opportunities for upcoming entrepreneurs to explore the eCommerce business. I see that happening in Nigeria also if the country embraces high speed broadband connectivity. So online shopping is globally transforming the way businesses are done, and this is largely driven by high speed broadband connectivity, which Spectranet offers as a service. With the presence of Jumia, Konga, Yudala and others that are driving eCommerce and online shopping in Nigeria, I see the country making high profits from online shopping business. Nigeria therefore needs high speed broadband connectivity to be successful. High speed broadband will boost productivity because most people will be working from home and from different locations, provided they are connected. Access to education will be enhanced and it will help bridge the digital divide.
In Nigeria several people are not connected to the internet and they need high speed broadband connectivity to connect to the world and to do more businesses. Spectranet is willing to assist more Nigerians get connected to the internet, and provide affordable high quality service for Nigerians, using the 4GLTE technology. Nigeria needs affordable broadband connectivity, but what is more critical is the speed of broadband connectivity to enable people have access to video and download heavy and varieties of contents.
How will Nigeria benefit from Internet of Things Technology (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology?
Nigerians need more of the broadband connectivity to do great stuff with IoTs and AI among others. Nigeria also needs high speed broadband connectivity to enhance FinTech operations and further boost connectivity.
What is your priority for customer satisfaction, bearing in mind that the Nigerian business environment is a tough one?
Every organisation must put customers at the centre of their business and that is exactly what Spectranet is doing for our loyal customers. We will like to raise the bar on superior customer service, and a lot of work is being done at the background to achieve this. Customers need consistent experience and we are out to offer that service for them. Again, there is need for employees to be happy and this could boost customer experience.
What are your plans to boost customer experience in 2018?
We have good plans for our customers this 2018 and to achieve our plans, we have rolled out four pronged strategy for 2018, which we tagged ‘Project Rainbow’. They include: Superior customer service; Arms-length distribution; Best-in-class customer experience; and better engagement of employees, Spectranet already has over 200,000 customer base in Nigeria, with plans to double the number in the next one year, in order to give more Nigerians the opportunity to explore the eCommerce and online shopping business that are currently driving global economies.
So our ‘Project Rainbow is going to address customers’ needs for 2018, and we are working hard to achieve them.
How is Spectranet dealing with internal communications to drive brand visibility?
Internal communication is the key to brand visibility and Spectranet holds this to a high esteem to train its employees and make them happy. So there is need for training and re-training of staff, especially those staff that interface with customers. One of the critical thing we have adopted, is coming together as a family every morning to refresh our memories on learning strategies and we do invite facilitators to address the staff on work ethics and professionalism. Issues like marketing communications and what 4GLTE is all about and its benefits are part of the routine morning discussion at Spectranet.
In the Indian market where you came from, there are lots of market consolidation among operators, which has helped the Indian economy to a large extent. Do you see such consolidation happening in Nigeria soon?
You are right to say that market consolidation is high in Indian market, and this is probably the reason why India has the largest number of mobile broadband customers in the world today. In less than six months, India was able to change the business landscape in the country, and it currently has close to 200 million high speed mobile broadband customers. Nigeria can also achieve this feat, if there is availability of 4GLTE services as well as 4GLTE mobile devices for all citizens. In India for instance, when Reliance started the rollout of its services, less than 50 per cent of the mobile phone shipments used to be smartphones and about 30 per cent used to be 4GLTE phones, but that has changed currently as over 95 per cent of phone shipments in India is now 4GLTE phones. This shows the extent to which India and other developed countries of the world are fast embracing 4GLTE broadband internet services. That development was triggered by Reliance because it started selling its own customised 4GLTE mobile devices, with the launch of its 4GLTE services. So today, 85 per cent of 4GLTE subscribers in India are on Reliance Network and this could be achieved in Nigeria, provided we have enough 4GLTE technology, which I think the Nigerian government should be promoting now. Unless the 4GLTE handsets are available in Nigeria, the 4GLTE rollout will not be successful. Somebody needs to take the initiative to roll out massive 4GLTE devices that will boost 4GLTE services in the country.
Spectranet plays in a market where competition is high. How do you intend to expand your customer base under a stiff market competition?
Currently Spectranet has close to 200,000 customers in Nigeria and we hope to double that figure in the next one year. I am happy to share with you that our 4GLTE customers, on a monthly basis, used more than 30 GB of data and our 3G customer, on the average, used about 1.5GB in a month. So what this means is that we have created a world-class infrastructure in the 4GLTE space that can accommodate more customers, and we are able to provide better experience to our customers and that is part of our expansion plan, apart from planning to extend coverage beyond the present locations in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and Port Harcourt.
Nigerians are clamouring for further reduction in the cost of broadband services offered by operators. What is your take on this?
Reduction in the cost of broadband services is good but we must be careful not to overstretch ourselves in order to reduce cost and then compromise on the quality of service. The quality of service, which is high speed broadband connectivity must be maintained in order to achieve better customer satisfaction. But the best way to address the issue of reduction in the cost of broadband services, is for the regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission to revisit the issue of data floor price and set a fixed data floor price for the industry.
Until that happens, in becomes extremely difficult for operators to make profit while reducing cost of broadband services.
The cost of providing broadband services is high in Nigeria and the cost keeps increasing and it is likely to increase by another 10 per cent in the coming months. So the federal government and the NCC must rise to their responsibilities to address the issue of high cost of providing broadband services in the country.
For instance, out of the over 100 licensed Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country, only few are currently existing and providing broadband services because others have been adversely affected by the high cost of providing broadband services in the country.
What are your investment plans on data services for 2018?
As a data service provider, our plan this year is to invest massively in customer experience and that is why we are rolling out our ‘project rainbow’ in 2018 that is focused largely on customer experience and satisfaction. Data is key and as operator that meant well for the industry, we also want some level of returns on our investment and government has a role to play by helping operators to sustain the business by addressing the issue of data floor price.
How will you describe the data market in Nigeria, what are the challenges and how was Spectranet able to break even in spite of market challenges?
Business has been tough and there have been lots of challenges that tend to slow business growth, but in all of those challenges, we are able to survive doing data business in Nigeria. Like I said earlier, the NCC, in the past, licenced over 100 ISPs, but today we are only three that are active in the country. Others have gone down because of the harsh business environment. In the kind of market that we operate, the regulator controls the market price and we the operators, can only drop prices, if the regulator crashes prices, but the regulator must be mindful in crashing prices, in order to ensure that the operators remain in business. So two-third of our cost is beyond our control. But in spite of the challenges, we plan to double our customer base from 200,000 to 400,000 in the next one year.
What has been your experience with tower infrastructure companies?
ISPs work with tower companies to have 99.9 per cent reliability in their service, but in most cases we do not have such reliability index from them, and when the tower is shut down, it affects our service efficiency for customers. This in itself is a challenge that the regulator has to look into. Each site must have 99.9 per cent uptime to enable efficient service for customers.
How will Spectranet achieve full customer experience, as outlined in your ‘project rainbow’, when broadband capacities are not evenly distributed in the country?
Yes it is a challenge that broadband capacities are not evenly distributed in the country, but one thing that is key, is that customer demand for broadband is on the increase and we as ISPs, must find ways of meriting customers satisfaction and experience. This is the more reason we decided that Spectranet must provide full customer experience and satisfaction, against all odds. In the last two years, customers’ data consumption was about 20Gb but today, that has increased by more than 100 per cent and we must find ways to address that increase in demand for broadband. We will continue to invest in broadband to ensure that customer experience is not compromised. We are problems solver and we will continue to meet and surpass the needs and demands of customers.