Telecoms Stakeholders’ Expectations in 2019

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With the attainment of 30 per cent broadband target in December 2018, industry stakeholders foresee business growth, deeper penetration of 4G in 2019, that will enhance Nigeria’s preparation for  5G rollout in 2020, writes Emma Okonji

Having attained and surpassed the 30 per cent broadband target by December 2018, elated industry stakeholders are of the view that the achievement, which hitherto appeared to be a very tall order, will open access to increased online activities, and further drive 4G rollout in 2019, and also help Nigeria to actualise its 5G rollout plan by 2020. They, however, warned that Nigeria must not rest on its oars, having surpassed the 30 per cent broadband penetration target, but should strive more to boost online activities and promote government online presence in 2019, to enable more Nigerians participate in online  businesses that will further promote e-Commerce in Nigeria.

 

4G forecast in 2019

Having migrated from 2G to 3G and recently to 4G, industry stakeholders have called on the telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to promote 4G penetration across networks and ensure that the solutions and devices that will drive 4G rollout are available, accessible and affordable.

President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, who expressed his dissatisfaction over the slow pace of 4G rollout in 2018, said out of the established 45,000 Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) across the county in 2018, only 7,000 of that number were 4G enabled. He therefore called for more rollout of 4G BTS otherwise known as Base Stations across the country in 2019. According to him, the focus this 2019 should be on 4G rollout and sufficient content and capacity generation around 4G networks.

“It is a good thing that Nigeria is beginning to make preparations towards 5G rollout by 2020, but the emphasis in 2019 should be on 4G rollout. NCC should concentrate on 4G rollout in 2019, increase capacity in 4G rollout and populate it before driving campaign for 5G rollout by 2020,” Teniola said.

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said government must first conclude the migration plan of 2G, 3G and 4G in 2019, before intensifying campaign for 5G rollout by 2020.

 “Nigeria should embrace 5G rollout in such a way that it will not affect the achievements already recorded in 2G, 3G and 4G rollout,” Adebayo said.

Digital Economy

Addressing the global drive on digital economy, Adebayo said Nigeria must rise to the challenge and ensure that the country is fully digitised before the end of 2019, especially now that the country has reached 30.9 per cent broadband penetration. According to him, for Nigeria to be fully digitise in 2019, government must raise broadband penetration to 50 per cent at the end of 2019 and further raise it to 80 per cent by 2020, when we will be expecting 5G rollout.

“If Nigeria is able to further increase broadband penetration to 50 per cent by the end of this year, it will then be a yardstick to achieve 5G rollout by 2020, and also make Nigeria a fully digitised economy where economic growth would be driven by technology advancement,” Adebayo said.

IoT, AI as Solution

For Nigeria to make meaningful development in 2019, industry stakeholders have advised that the country must embrace the technology of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to Adebayo, Nigeria must take advantage of the benefits of IoT and AI to boost economic development in 2019. The technologies of IoT and AI are hinged on broadband availability and affordability,  hence the attainment of 30 per cent broadband penetration is highly commendable.

Artificial intelligence is a technology that is already impacting how users interact with, and are affected by the Internet. In the near future, its impact is likely to only continue to grow. AI has the potential to vastly change the way that humans interact, not only with the digital world, but also with each other, through their work and through other socio-economic institutions.

As many people expect that advances in AI and machine learning will fundamentally reshape the future of the internet and society around it, industry stakeholders are saying Nigeria must embrace AI to fully advance its technology aspiration in 2019.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers (UIDs) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro electromechanical systems (MEMS), micro services and the internet. The convergence has helped tear down the silos between operational technology and information technology, enabling unstructured machine-generated data to be analysed for insights to drive improvements.

Considering the regulation of IoT and AI technologies, which many believed would stifle technology growth, Adebayo warned that telecoms industry regulator must not attempt to regulate any technology, but should rather canvass for the application and usage of the right technology by operators in 2019.

Right of Way charges

Considering Right of Way (RoW) charges on telecoms operators by state governments and federal government agencies, industry stakeholders have called for the complete removal of RoW charges in 2019. Adebayo, who spoke the minds of industry stakeholders, said RoW charges slowed down telecoms expansion in 2018, and must be completely eliminated in 2019, to enable telecoms industry perform at its optima, especially in the area of network expansion to rural, underserved and unserved communities in 2019.

Adebayo said telecoms operators witnessed ugly situations where they had need for network expansion and were ready to expand but could not as a result of the endless wait for approval of RoW from state governments to commence expansion projects. He said state governments must think differently and allow speedy development of telecoms network expansion in their states in order to allow Nigerians enjoy the full benefits of telecoms services being offered by telecoms operators.

He expressed disappointment over the current situation, where most state governments have refused to implement the harmonised RoW charges of N145 per metre to lay fibre cable, and are still bent at collecting the old rate, which ranges between N4,000 and N8,000 per metre to lay fibre cable for network expansion.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, had in July last year, announced that the federal government and the 36 states of the federation as well as the federal capital territory administration, agreed on harmonised RoW charges across the country.

Danbatta said the agreement was sealed at the National Economic Council meeting chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo with state governors in attendance.

Adebayo said despite the harmonised  RoW charges, most state governments were yet to implement the new rate, a situation, he warned, would be inimical to telecoms growth in 2019.

FinTech and Big Data

Pleased with the incursion of FinTech players in financial services delivery in 2018, Teniola has called for more collaboration between FinTech players and financial institutions across the country. Teniola, who commended the creativity and innovativeness of FinTech players in developing several financial solutions that are currently driving online financial activities, said such gesture should be extended to 2019, where he expects more collaborative efforts from both the FinTech players and the banks. He said such collaboration would further help to bridge financial inclusion gab in the county and fast-track the process of cashless economy in Nigeria.

“I expect FinTech to create an ecosystem for local content development in 2019, and ensure the implementation of the  local content draft guidelines by government agencies like the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and the Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT).

In the area of big data and data generation, Teniola said government must generate sufficient data in 2019 and make them available for the purpose of research.

Business  concerns in 2019

Worried that businesses may likely face some challenges in the 2019 election year, for fear of insufficient liquidity flow, the Managing Director of BCX Nigeria, Mr. Ayo Adegboye, a technology solution company, has said from past experience, businesses, including technology driven businesses, were always affected in every general election year.

“The truth is that during election year, it is not only the businesses that feel the heat, the customers also feel the heat  because the ripple effect will definitely extend to the customers and the entire business chain is affected. But as a technology company, providing technology solutions to companies, we are fully prepared to mitigate the adverse effect that the 2019 election year will bring to businesses, through the development of the right technology solutions for businesses,” Adegboye said.

According to him, the biggest challenge businesses had in 2018 was the issue with foreign exchange, but explained that companies were able to overcome the challenge.

“In 2019, we have better plans to reach out to more customers, while still maintaining our existing customers. We plan to improve on our service offerings in  and we are beginning to look at how we can make good investments on behalf of our customers in such a way that they will have economy of scale in their businesses throughout 2019,” Adegboye added.