More telecoms subscribers’ woes loom

ICT

Unless the gap in infrastructure in the nation’s telecommunication sector is bridged, subscribers may suffer inadequate and poorer services this year.

The Guardian’s investigation showed that infrastructural gap in the sector remains one of the major challenges stalling the expansion of services to hinterlands and maintenance of those in the urban centres.

It was learnt that the operators would need about $100 billion in 2019 and the next two years for a massive turnaround of facilities and installation of new equipment in the industry.

The telecoms sector, which added 25 million new subscribers to the network last year, finished 2018 with 172 million active subscribers, but poor quality of service characterised by drop calls, depletion of credits, improper billing systems, slow data services, among others, has remained a hallmark of the industry.

Indeed, earlier in 2018, subscribers in the country registered over 13,880 complaints against the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) over poor services.

MTN, being the largest operator in terms of market share and subscription bases in Nigeria, got the highest complaints of 6,120 (44 per cent) against it. Airtel was second, with 3,143 (23 per cent) registered abuses against it. National operator, Globacom, came third with 2, 885 (21 per cent) of the complaints, while 9Mobile got 1,705 complaints, representing 12 per cent.

The report revealed that subscribers complained bitterly of over billing. Billing issues accounted for 7, 046 (51 per cent), followed by Value Added Service issues with 1, 897 (14 per cent); SMS issues, 1, 104 (8 per cent); and Call set-up challenges, 1, 189 (9 per cent).

The billing-related complaints include deductions from activation of unsolicited VAS and telecom promotions and products; over deduction (inaccurate charges); charges for unsuccessful calls and undelivered SMS; and charges for caller ring back tune not downloaded, among others.

The 1022 complaints against poor data services represented seven per cent; unsuccessful DND request got 298 complaints (two per cent); recharge card challenges recorded 454 complaints (three per cent); SIM-related issues got 429 complaints (three per cent); while sales promotion claims recorded 199 (one per cent) of all the complaints.

In 2018, the NCC revealed that about 195 access gaps still existed in Nigeria and were preventing about 40 million Nigerians from accessing the basic telephony services.

According to a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, these challenges may persist if the infrastructure is not upgraded and deployed adequately.

As it is, the industry is still short of some basic facilities, including Base Transceiver Stations (BTS); metropolitan fibre cables; spectrum; and efficient power system. Insecurity and vandalism are also threats to robust telecommunications services in Nigeria.

The Guardian checks showed that there are currently 37,000 BTS, yet for efficient service delivery, the industry actually needs about 70,000 towers. For stronger 4G signal, operators would need to increase the BTS from the current 7000 to about 12,000.

Though Nigeria attained 31.5 per cent broadband target against the 30 per cent set for 2018, there is still a shortfall of 82,000km of fibre network needed to achieve a nationwide broadband. Only 38,000 kilometers have been covered so far.

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, who revealed that about $70 billion has been invested in the sector, noted that nationwide deployment of broadband could only be effective when the shortfall in fibre network is met.

Erratic power supply remains another major challenge faced by operators. Most service providers run more than two power-generating sets at their BTS sites.

It was learnt that telecommunications towers in the country consume about 1.4 million litres of diesel to power BTS that make it possible for Nigerians to use GSM to make and receive calls daily. The Guardian also learnt that a co-located tower, which houses three to five base stations, uses 27KVA generator to supply power while a tower that houses a single base station uses 15KVA generator. A 27KVA generator consumes three litres of diesel per hour, depending on the age of such generator.

A tower operator, who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian that towers run on generators on an average of 18 hours a day.

“This means that the 20,000 co-located towers in the country, each of which uses 27KVA generator, consume some 1.2 million litres (about N264 million) of diesel a day, while towers that house single base station which are 5,000 in number, consume 200,000 litres of diesel a day, bringing the total consumption by generators deployed in towers around the country to 1.4m litres ( about N308 million) per day,” he stated.

On the challenge of electricity supply in the ICT sector, the Managing Director of Rack Centre, Ayotunde Coker, said for improved data centre operations, the country would need to generate over 45,000mw of power.

Coker, who noted that efficient power system is critical to making Nigeria work, said the data centre sub-sector of the economy needs as much as 45,000mw power capacity. Checks by The Guardian showed that the country is about 40,000mw short of that capacity, as output fluctuates around 4,500mw and 5,000mw capacity.

The President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said the industry would need to work and ensure that spectrum usage (TV White space, 700 MHz, 800 MHz, among others) is optimised to support bandwidth hungry wireless applications and in support of last mile access.

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