Operators need $100b to bridge ICT sector’s infrastructure gap in 2019

A MTN mast developed for rural connectivity

To take mobile money service to 90m users
For a robust telecommunications sector in 2019 and beyond, two things will be crucial, service providers need over $100 billion to bridge the various infrastructure gaps in the industry and President Muhammadu Buhari, would need to declare telecommunications as critical national economic and security infrastructure and accord the sector and infrastructure the needed protection in that regard.

The duo of the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola and his counterpart at the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, disclosed this in an interview with The Guardian on Monday.

Teniola said the industry will work with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to bridge the gap and tackle the perennial Quality of Service (QoS) issue, which has plagued the sector for long.

He said players will focus on building an Open Access fiber network via the InfraCos to increase coverage of the current fiber networks’ reach.

Teniola said the industry will need support to build more towers and ensure increase in Base Stations (BTS) from 45,000 to 70,000, with a predominance of 4G BTS(es) from 7,000 (actual) to at least 12,000 (fcst) in 2019 in ensuring an improved Broadband Consumer Experience as referenced in the Nigerian Broadband Plan (NBP) 2013. Nigeria met the broadband target, attaining 30.9 per cent.

The ATCON boss said the industry will work to 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.

“There will be more fiber to the tower presence in support of truly high-speed 4G networks interconnected to the under-sea cables and Tier 3 data centers,” he stated.

In 2019, Teniola said it has become important that the draft Guidelines for Local Content is subjected to industry stakeholder forum input and implemented to grow the industry in a manner that supports and protects local participation in this dynamic industry.

Teniola predicted another year of challenges, some consolidations, an MTN IPO listing on NSE and an industry adopting improved analytics (BIG Data) and some aspects of AI and IOT deployments, albeit, at a Proof of Concept (PoC) level.

On his part, Adebayo said one of the major tasks before the industry in 2019 would be to increase mobile money penetration in Nigeria.

In its first five years, mobile money was only able to attract just one per cent penetration in Nigeria. Unlike in Ghana and Kenya where penetrations have reached 40 per cent and 60 per cent respectively, only about two million of Nigeria’s estimated 198 million populations.

The implication of this is that despite the innovation that comes with it, Nigerians are yet to tap from the huge benefit it carries.

But Adebayo believed that this year would mark a remarkable shift in penetration. He noted that as the country move towards been a fully digital economy, the sector will continue to be the driver of critical infrastructures required to achieve the needed digital inclusion across the country.

The ALTON president revealed that the sector look forward to deepening financial inclusion in the country, “as our member participate in the Payment Service Bank, which is very critical towards financial inclusion for many Nigerians without access to financial services. We are very committed in our promise to providing mobile money services to additional 90 million.”

The ALTON Chairman said the industry is delighted to note that the 30 per cent broadband penetration planned for 2018 has been achieved and surpassed and we will aim for above 50 per cent penetration in 2019.

“For the industry In order for the industry to thrive, we are seeking for the President to declare Telecommunications as critical national economic and security infrastructure and accord our sector and infrastructure the needed protection in that regard,” he stated.

On the performance of the industry in 2018, Teniola observed that the sector survived an absolute barrage of headwinds and challenges that would have derailed it and not led to the achievements recorded by the sector by NCC and NBS data.

According to him, despite these negative trends, the industry has battled together to ensure that all networks have been kept running 24 by 7, 365 days in 2018.

“Two events strike a cord in this context, the 9mobile saga and MTN’s face off with CBN and AGF. In both cases, NCC has been very supportive in the resolution of situations that could have created a reversal in the fortunes of this industry.

“Lesser events, that really catch our minds and we are grateful again to NCC is the licensing of the remaining five Infracos during 2018 and the subsequent intervention of NCC to ensure some form of resolution with state governors as per Rights of Ways (RoW),” he stated.

Other areas the sector needs further support to achieve an enabling environment, according to Teniola is the reduction in the number of taxes and regulations that are deterring further investments in certain areas of the country and also reducing the attractiveness of the industry to would-be investors, especially, where capital intensive infrastructure is very much needed.

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