Of CTOs and Technology Innovation 

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Chief Technology Officers  of telecos are the unseen hands that drive technology innovation and ensure that subscribers get the best of telecoms services across networks, writes Emma Okonji

 

 

Chief Technical Officers (CTO) of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are the technology savvy individuals that drive innovations in the telecoms sector. Their role as CTO is so tasking that they are hardly seen in the public glare and not even around their office areas. They are seen often either on the field at telecoms sites, fixing technical challenges or in their technical rooms, thinking and designing new innovations that will drive the operations of the telecoms industry.

They are typically very busy professionals who are preoccupied with figuring out how millions of customers on their network will continue to enjoy unhindered voice clarity, superfast internet connectivity and excellent quality of service at all times.

The CTO of 9mobile, a leading innovative and customer-centric telecoms operator, Mr. Stephane Beuvelet, is like any of his colleagues, hardworking, focused and tech savvy. Nonetheless he made himself available to this writer, to speak about the company and the role he plays as CTO.  He is passionate about delivering quality service to 9mobile customers, just like other CTOs.

The role of CTOs

Explaining his role as CTO, Beuvelet said: “In a nutshell, the job of the CTO is to ensure that the company’s technology strategy and evolution align with the business objectives, which primarily is to deliver best in class services to our esteemed customers. This involves, among other things, putting in place the right technology platforms, skilled and dedicated team, and competent leadership.

“At the heart of 9mobile’s strategy is customer satisfaction. We are a customer-centric organisation and that is why for us there’s no end to innovation; we continue to explore and adopt new technologies and we have succeeded in consistently delivering on the promise of best in class services to our subscribers. We fully plan to continue with this trend.”

Assessing advances in technology and the Nigerian telecoms industry, the CTO said technology remained  a key driver for innovation, growth and even disruption across multiple industries. According to him, “Revolutionary advances in information technology, Virtualisation and Native Cloud Technologies and other fields are reshaping the global economy.

Growth trajectory in telecoms 

Over the years, the Nigerian technology landscape has also recorded remarkable developments with an increase in the number of data-centric infrastructure rollouts such as LTE, WIFI hot spots, High Definition Voice and dedicated internet services. This has provided a platform for more robust communications services that have paved the way for a whole lot of new markets such as the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile payments/payment gateways, location-based tracking/advertising and an entire ecosystem of apps including the social media.

According to Beuvelet, “This growth in the technology landscape has been dramatic by virtually any measure, despite the prevailing challenges common to the Nigerian environment – power, security, vandalism, denial of right of way, among others. The coming years would no doubt bring about more technology advancements to the benefit of the country and subscribers.”

 

Bridging existing gaps

About the plans by CTOs to address the gaps in infrastructural expansion in the telecoms sector, Beuvelet said: “9mobile approach focuses on modernisation, expansion, and new technologies. Through modernisation, we are presently enhancing our existing network and technologies to provide greater efficiency and deliver better user experience. Legacy nodes and old technologies are undergoing replacement and transformation.

“9mobile continues to build on new technology to enhance the quality of service and customer experience. We recently rolled out 4G technology and we are live in the five major cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Kaduna. The 4G (LTE) technology offers greater throughput and lower latency, which brings about better data experience for 9mobile subscribers. There are plans to further expand the LTE in the covered cities and to launch LTE in more Nigerian cities.”

Even as the telco continues on its path of enhancing service quality, the technology chief pointed out the challenges it has had to surmount in achieving excellent service delivery to its teeming subscribers.

The challenges of CTOs

In the course of executing their jobs as CTOs and ensure that subscribers experience uninterrupted service delivery, CTOs are faced with various challenges, ranging from willful destruction of telecoms facilities through insurgencies, theft of telecoms facilities by social miscreants, to deliberate closure of telecoms sites by some federal and state government agencies. Such actions often lead to poor service quality delivery, which of course, pose serious challenges to technical expertise of CTOs.

“We have had to deal with vandalism and theft, fibre cuts during road construction work, illegal site shutdowns by state and local government authorities, high approval cost and delays in securing Right of Way permits for laying of optic fibre, use of network jammers by private individuals, erosion of revenues through Over the Top (OTT) activities. These challenges have, however, not stopped us, rather we have used them as a leverage to be more innovative in our approach to getting things done,” Beuvelet said.

Commitment of the regulator 

 

The telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), is also feeling the heat of CTOs, based on their challenges. But the regulator has continued to show commitment in driving the telecoms sector through the implementation of government policies that will enhance the growth of the telecoms sector.

Beuvelet is one of the CTOs that have commended the regulator for its efforts to address some of the challenges through engagements and the ongoing process of introducing National Roaming, Active Network and Spectrum sharing initiatives, which he said, would enable operators like 9mobile expand its coverage in a cost-effective manner.

“We have conducted several trials with other operators to prepare for the launch of these initiatives and 9mobile customers should expect even wider and better coverage when National Roaming and Active Network sharing commences,” he assured.

He went further to add that, “studies are also progressing on the adaptation of the 5G technology. In addition, the GU 900 technology is on our rollout roadmap for improved in-building data user experience.”

Dearth of skilled manpower 

Aside the challenges faced by CTOs of telecoms operating companies, the shortage of highly skilled local manpower also remains one of the major challenges that is slowing down the real potential of the telecoms industry as a major contributor to national economic growth and development. In confirmation of what 9mobile is doing to bridge this gap, Beuvelet said: “In 9mobile we strongly believe in empowering our people and this is one of our key drivers. We have contributed immensely to this growth through capacity development programmes for 9mobile employees to boost technical skills.

“At 9mobile, we believe in strengthening the foundation of the skill supply chain, which is our tertiary institutions. To this end, we have collaborated with Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Plymouth University in the UK for the establishment of a taught Master’s Programme in Telecommunications Engineering. Through it, 9mobile is innovatively developing local expertise with regards to telecommunications engineering skills.

“The programme is available to all eligible persons, and since inception in 2013, the school has recorded over  20 M.Sc. and two Ph.D graduates from the programme. In addition, 9mobile welcomes students on the programme for internship during the course duration, as part of the overall skills enhancement goals for the industry, and by extension for the Nigerian economy,” Beuvelet said.

He explained that the role of CTOs in technology innovation is key to telecoms development, despite the challenges they are faced with. CTOs are, howeve, of the view that their innovative efforts should be appreciated by subscribers since they are behind every successful call that is generated or received by the subscribers, as well as every successful browsing of the internet.