Addressing Service Quality in Telecoms Sector

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The recent increase in the deployment of Base Transceiver Stations from 30,000 to 53,460 and the fibre optic cables from 47,000km to 54,725km is a far cry from the set targets, writes Emma Okonji

Last week, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, gave an update on the deployment of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) as well as fibre optic deployment across the country.

According to him, the Nigerian telecoms sector has continued to experience growth in diverse areas like BTS and fibre optic deployment, including broadband penetration that has reached 45.07 per cent penetration as at November 2020, up from six per cent in 2015.

But industry analysts are of the view that the growth rates in the deployment of BTS and fibre optic cables were far cry from the existing targets. Analysts have therefore asked NCC to maintain a steady growth rate in order to surpass the targets.

Targets for fibre optic deployment and broadband penetration as enshrined in the 2020-2025 National Broadband Plan, are 120,000km and 70 per cent respectively, while analysts have projected that Nigeria would need up to 150,000 BTS, spread across the country, that would enable telecoms service providers, offer quality service to telecoms subscribers.

BTS/Fibre deployment

Nigerians have blamed the current challenges faced by telecoms subscribers on inadequate infrastructure rollout across networks. The challenges include poor call connectivity, poor call clarity and drop calls among other poor quality services rendered by telecoms operators.

But the telecoms industry regulator has said there has been improvement in service quality, especially with the recent growth rates in the deployment of telecoms infrastructure such as BTS, fibre optic cables and broadband.

The NCC last week, said the third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) BTS deployment in Nigeria has reached 53,460, up from its initial 30,000 in 2020, while fibre optic transmission cables expanded from 47,000km to 54,725km in the last five years.

Danbatta, who disclosed the information in Abuja recently, said the increase resulted in improved broadband/telecoms service delivery across networks.

He spoke further on NCC’s enabling laws, mandates of NCC, structure of NCC, implementation approach of its mandates and methodology, key focus and targets, scorecards, the new soon-to-be-unveiled Strategic Management Vision (SMP), NCC’s contributions to the economy, various regulatory frameworks aimed at improving service delivery.

“The BTS, fibre optic cables and other related infrastructure are central to the provision of improved service experience for Nigerians by their respective telecoms service providers,” he said, adding that the licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) are also expected to add 38,296km to optic fibre cables when they commence full operations.

Nigeria currently has 54,725km fibre optic coverage, with a target to deploy 120,000km across the country by 2025.

Broadband penetration

Broadband is a major telecoms infrastructure that determines service quality across network.

It is for this reason that industry stakeholders have been clamouring for access to ubiquitous and cheap broadband service in the country.

According to Danbatta, as at November, 2020, active internet subscription was 154.9 million and broadband penetration was 45.07 per cent, with a target of 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025. Although industry stakeholders are optimistic that Nigeria would reach and surpass the 70 per cent broadband penetration target by 2025, which also confirmed Danbatta’s projection on broadband penetration, they have however called on NCC to maintain the steady growth rate in broadband penetration, given its steady rise since 2015, in order to meet and surpass the 2025 target of 70 per cent broadband penetration.

Nigeria had in the previous National Broadband Plan (2013-2018), projected a target of 30 per cent broadband penetration by December 2018, but before the target date, Nigeria met the target and few months later, broadband penetration further grew to 33 per cent and since then, the telecoms sector has maintained a steady growth rate in broadband penetration, leading to additional broadband infrastructure rollout as well as other telecoms infrastructure rollout like fibre optic cables and BTS.

In recognition of the tremendous economic growth opportunities afforded by the deployment of broadband and its associated technologies, Danbatta said the commission has positioned itself in government’s drive for a digital Nigeria, as contained in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (2020 – 2025), the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020 – 2030) and the Strategic Management Plan (2020 – 2024) of the Commission.

“The commission will continue to put in its best in the discharge of its mandates, especially in facilitating the deployment of broadband, which is central to diversifying the Nigerian economy and national development,” Danbatta said.

Growth indices

Danbatta attributed the growth rate in telecoms infrastructure rollout to various initiatives undertaken by the NCC. The initiatives according to him, include the declaration of 2017 as Year of the Telecom Consumer; introduction of the 622 Toll Free Line for lodging and resolving consumer complaints; provision of the 112 Emergency number; Activation of 19 Emergency Communications Centre (ECCs).Other such consumer-centric regulatory measures intervention, according to Danbatta, include: Isuance of various directives to mobile network operators (MNOs) to protect the consumers from being short-changed; ensuring smooth transition of Etisalat to 9mobile; consumer outreach programmes; introduction and enforcement of mobile number portability (MNP) as well as Introduction of the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 to check cases of unsolicited text messages.

The NCC boss disclosed that the number of subscriptions to DND service has hit over 30 million as the service empowers Nigerians to be able to protect themselves from the menace of unsolicited text messages.

“It is our belief that the communications industry, under the leadership of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, will experience more quantum leaps and retain its current leadership role in the telecommunications space,” he said.

Key focus

Aside growth indices, Danbatta in his presentation linked the achievements in the telecoms sector to NCC’s 8 Point Agenda, which he said, remained the key focus and driver of telecoms infrastructure rollout that has given boost to service quality in recent times.

“In order to strategically coordinate and align resources and actions to better achieve the mandate of the commission and facilitate the emergence of a knowledge based economy in Nigeria, we developed a strategic vision plan (SVP) 2015 – 2020, premised on 8 pillars referred to as the 8-Point Agenda, which include: to facilitate broadband penetration; improve quality of service; optimize usage and benefit of spectrum; promote ICT innovation and investment opportunities; facilitate strategic collaboration; protect and empower consumers; promote fair competition and inclusive growth; and regulatory excellence and operational efficiency.

While listing the performance results of each of the 8 Point Agenda, Danbatta said in the area of broadband penetration, NCC was able to deploy Long Term Evolution (LTE) tehnology, and embarked on the re-planning of 800MHz CDMA, re-farming part of 1800MHz, and carried out administrative assignment of 700MHz and 2.6GHz, where it auctioned 14 Slots to MTN, Airtel and Open Sky.

In the area of Improve Quality of Service (QoS), Danbatta said NCC was able to acquire new QoS monitoring tools; Assessment of likely QoS impact on Adverts and Promotions; Reduced Access Gap Clusters from 217 to 114 enabling 15 million Nigerians to have access Communications; Developed and commenced monitoring of 3G, 4G on Key Performance Indices (KPIs), and maintained collaboration with government on Right of Way (RoW) issues.

In the area of optimize usage and benefit of spectrum, Danbatta said NCC was able to remit spectrum fees amounting to N144.312 billion to government from 2015 to date; development of licensing framework for emerging technologies; permission for MTN to utilize Visaphone spectrum for LTE; approval of National Roaming draft guidelines and trials; ensuring that 26GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz are unencumbered, in preparation for 5G rollout; and deployment of spectrum monitoring tools, like spectrum analysers, among others.

In the area of ICT innovation and investment opportunities, Danbatta said NCC was able to use the mandatory Corporate Code of Governance in the Telecom Industry, and raked in over $2 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) and over N800 billion in domestic investment between 2015 till date. He said telecoms contributions to GDP grew from 8.5 per cent in Q4 2015 to 14.3 per cent in Q2 2020.

In the area of strategic collaboration, Danbatta said NCC engaged with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) that resulted in reduced RoW charges for telecoms operators, as well as engaged in dispute resolution that resulted in the unsealing of 47 BTSs that were initially sealed in Ogun State. More 15 BTSs unsealed in Kogi State and N221 million RoW charges waved for MTN in Kano.

Major challenges

In spite of the achievements of its initiatives, NCC, also faced major challenges that affected telecoms services delivery, which include: multiple taxation and regulation; RoW issues; power supply; damage to telecommunications infrastructure like during road construction; vandalism and insecurity.

In addressing the challenges, the Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said NCC applied the relevant sections of the Quality of Service Regulations 2013, and that regular monitoring exercises were carried out to ensure operators stay within approved threshold.

“Multiple taxation and regulation have been major challenges bedeviling the industry. It has affected the deployment of infrastructure and the expansion of telecommunication services.

However, the Commission is engaging with relevant authorities to harmonize these taxes and regulations,” Danbatta said.

In the area of inadequate power supply, as one of its challenges, Danbatta said the improvement of power supply to the sites of telecommunications services providers will have the dual effect of reducing operating costs and improving service quality delivery.

He said the engagement of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, led to the adoption of a maximum of N145/m RoW fees in Kaduna, Katsina, Imo, Ekiti, Kwara and Plateau States.

“The high RoW charges across different states of the federation have negatively impacted the required expansion and rollout of fiber optic across the country. Harmonization of RoW charges will increase investment and expansion of critical transmission infrastructure,” Danbatta said.