Capacity Building Tops Agenda for Telecoms in 2021

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Emma Okonji writes that capacity building in the telecoms sector, which is expected to empower startups to develop specific solutions for identified challenges, tops agenda setting in 2021

In spite of the achievements of the Nigerian telecoms sector in 2020 and its uncommon resilience in sustaining Nigerian economy, industry stakeholders have come up with fresh agenda setting that will not only shape the sector in 2021, but will further strengthen the economy.

Top among the agenda setting is the need to beef up capacity building that will empower technology startups and also help Nigerians adapt better to the new normal occasioned by the effect of COVID-19, where attention has now been shifted online, compelling many Nigerians to work from home.

Capacity building

The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, is of the view that capacity building will be paramount for 2021, given the second wave of COVID-19, where many Nigerians have resorted to online transactions for all domestic, official and religious activities.

“We will build on our achievement in 2020 and a lot of lessons needed to be learnt from what happened in 2020, where working from home became the order of the day. So we will focus more on capacity building in 2021, to support more people who will be working from home. Online education and online meeting has become the order of the day, just as commerce has become more dependent on telecoms. For example, there will be increase in online shopping and all of these will scale up in 2021 in order to meet with the expected demand.

“In 2021, e-Commerce, e-Leaning will be driven by telecoms and lot of government services will be dependent on telecoms. So we need to address the challenges that will come from capacity building, network reliability, regulation as we introduce new technology,” he said.
Adebayo therefore, called on Nigerians to protect all telecoms facilities in their neighbourhood and at the same time, see telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure that they must protect always for efficient performance.

NIN-SIM integration
Giving insight on how best government could address the NIN-SIM integration plan without putting undue pressure on telecoms subscribers in 2021, Adebayo said: “Although 2020 ended with a bit of uncertainty, anxiety, and pressure on telecoms subscribers, as a result of the mandate from the federal government to disconnect telecoms subscribers that do not have their National Identification Number (NIN), linked with their Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards, we are however working closely with government, including the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to ensure that we achieve the new deadline of January 19, 2021 for those that have registered and have valid NIN, and February 19, 2021 for those that have not registered and have not obtained their valid NIN. So the idea to disconnect almost 161 million SIM cards, cutting across 4G, 3G, and 2G subscribers, Machine-to-Machine subscribers, could destroy the entire telecoms industry, if not properly handled.”

Currently, all Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have been licensed to carryout enrolment for NIN, in addition to other agents licensed to enrol Nigerians for NIN. We are supporting government to achieve this and we believe it could be achieved in order to have a credible national identity database, which the government has been struggling to achieve for several years now, Adebayo said.

Chairman of Mobile Software Solutions and former President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), Mr. Chris Uwaje, who blamed the federal government for the unprecedented crowd that besieged the offices of NIMC and other registration centres across the country on a daily basis just to enrol for their NIN, said Nigeria needed a standard Internet Protocol (IP) address system that will help decongest crowd at all centres during NIN enrolment.

“Nigeria needs to develop an indigenous biometric IP, and use it to generate temporary registration, where people’s information could be used for registration and within few minutes, the registration is done without the issuance of NIN on the spot, but the NIN could be issued after some weeks when the registration is completed online. “People can send their basic information to NIMC or any licensed agents, using their smartphones, without physically being present at enrolment centres. If this arrangement is put in place in 2021, people will not wait in any enrolment centre and there will be no stamped,” he said.

Telecoms financing

President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani, stressed the need telecoms financing in 2021 in order to support broadband infrastructure penetration across the country.
He also spoke on the need for improved service quality and deeper broadband penetration.
In the area of improved service quality, Nnamani said: “The outbreak of COVID-19 affected quality of service in 2020, because there was so much pressure on telecoms infrastructure, where all virtual meetings and communications, depended on telecoms network and facilities. There is urgent need to improve on the quality of service in 2021, in order to curtail the second wave of COVID-19.”

“We had a target of 30 per cent broadband penetration by December 2018, and we were able to reach and surpass it by December 2018. Since then, broadband penetration has increased the more and we reached 45.46 per cent penetration by October 2020, with another projection of 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025, which I think we will meet and surpassed, going by the infrastructure on ground,” Nnamani said.

He, however, explained that every projection for 2021 would depend on
the outcome of the first quarter of the year in 2021. “If in the first quarter we are able to control the pandemic, then we should expect rapid growth and development in th telecoms sector,” Nnamani said.

Digital transformation
Addressing Nigeria’s digital transformation vision for 2021, the immediate past President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola, said the top focus areas for Nigeria’ ICT to achieve digital transformation and financial inclusion in 2021, should be about ensuring the growth of the telecoms sector through the adoption of appropriate infrastructure funding models that take cognizance of the Forex challenges faced by a sector that is 100 per cent import dependent.

He also mentioned the introduction of regulatory measures that protects investments made to date in the telecoms sector, which is over $70 billion, in order to be able to attract more investments required to implement the Nigeria National Broadband Plan 2020-2025.

Teniola said government must immediately prioritise the introduction of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as core subjects in our educational curricula for all children under 15 years old, going forward in 2021.

He also talked about the need for the introduction and implementation of well thought out government policies that makes Nigeria a net beneficiary of the AFCFTA agreement by digitalising all government processes and engagement with Nigerian citizens, while raising the bar on cybersecurity awareness among all Nigerians in order to be able to feel safe using online services and the internet meaningfully.

NCC’s vision
The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, who gave insight about the vision of the commission in 2021, said NCC would come up with the second Strategic Business Plan (SBP) for the telecoms sector in 2021. According to him, “Already we have a draft Strategic Business Plan that has been worked upon by a committee set up by the NCC. The second Strategic Business Plan will consolidate on those areas that were not accomplished in the first Strategic Business Plan for last year. It will look at broadband penetration among others. The Second Strategic Business plan 2021-2025, will leverage on the National Broadband Plan; National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NADEPS); Strategic Management Plan (SMP) of the NCC. It is the responsibility of NCC to come out with implementable strategies. We are looking at deploying additional fibre in the next three years in order to achieve our digital transformation economy vision. The NCC in 2021, will pursue the digital transformation economy vision of the country, and ensure the vision is achieved.”

Service quality/infrastructure

The National Chairman, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers of Nigerian (NATCOMS), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, is of the view that Nigerian telecoms subscribers did not get the best of service quality in 2020, which he blamed on poor telecoms infrastructure in some parts of the country. Ogunbanjo therefore called for improved telecoms service in 2021, through improved telecoms infrastructure in the areas of increased telecoms masts, increased broadband penetration and increased rural telephony services.

Ogunbanjo cited a recent report, which puts British telecoms masts at over 70,000 while Nigeria which has more population than Britain, has less than 30, 000 masts. He said government must encourage telecoms operators in 2021 by removing certain tasks and levies that will enable telecoms operators to roll out more telecoms masts across the country.
In the area of infrastructure rollout, Ogunbanjo suggested that all licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) should be given bailout by government in 2021, to enable them roll out infrastructure across the country.

In the area of rural telephony, Ogunbanjo said more attention should be paid to rural telephony services in 2021 in order to enhance telecoms services in unserved and underserved communities in rural parts of the country. He said the Universal Service Provision Funds (USPF) that is mandated to finance rural telephony in the country, should release enough funds to telecoms operators in 2021, to further drive rural telephony.

“Development of rural telephony services will create jobs for rural dwellers and boost agriculture. Rural dwellers will be able to communicate with local and global markets on the availability of their farm produce, while having better access to market,” Ogunbanjo said.
He raised the alarm that banks have taken over the jobs of telecoms airtime vendors, by selling airtime directly to customers from their bank accounts. According to him Airtime vending should be done by registered airtime vendors alone and banks should face their core financial service offerings in 2021 in order to boost economic emancipation of Nigerians.

Collaboration

President of Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), Prof. Adesina Sodiya, stressed the need for collaboration between the telecoms industry and the academia in 2021. According to him, such collaboration would further deepen telecoms development in the country.
Giving insight as to how technology could be used to stop the spread of COVID-19, in 2021, Uwaje said government must explore the triangle connection between government, academia and the technology industry, which he said, would help bring government out of its current shell, where it is operating in silos to drive technology research that will proffer solution to COVId-19 pandemic.

“If Nigeria wants to get it right, just like other countries are doing, government needs to engage technocrats and invest in research that will bring solution to the pandemic. Government should begin to fund various researches for COVID-19 cure as well as fund communication and digital awareness to make Nigerians more conscious about the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

“Government should also collaborate with the media to shape the attitudinal behaviour of Nigerians, who still do not believe that the virus is still living with us. The media is a good channel to broadcast information on the health risks surrounding COVID-19 and the media should have access to infected persons and be allowed to broadcast images of affected persons in order to instill fear and discipline in Nigerians who do not still believe in the virus,” Uwaje said.
Industry experts called for government support and collaboration in 2021 in order to build on the achievements of the telecoms industry.