GSM telephony expansion without efficient service - National Mirror

By The Citizen
Click for Full Image Size

It is gratifying to note that in spite of the huge challenges confronting the nation, the Nigerian State has been rated globally as one of the fastest growing telecommunications markets; sharing in the phenomenal growth of telephony subscription worldwide projected to hit nine billion by 2018. Leading the group of African countries in the telecoms subscription upsurge, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya added about 20 million new subscriptions in the second quarter of 2013; thus ranking the African continent in the Ericson's Mobility report released in Stockholm, Sweden in September last year as number three, next to Asia Pacific and China, which had 1.28 and 1.17 billion subscriptions, respectively.

With a teledensity of 85.3 percent, current statistics published by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on subscriber data in the nation's telecoms industry confirmed that the country's active telephone lines shared between MTN Nigeria, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat is put at 121.8 million, with total connected lines at 156.1 million at the end of October 2013; even as the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and fixed wired and wireless lines operators shared 2.56 million and 382, 678 subscriptions, respectively. An interesting aberration in this development, according to Ericson's Head of Strategic Marketing and Intelligence, Mr. Patrick Cerwall, is that a huge disparity exists between the number of subscriptions or connected lines and actual subscribers. This is because many subscribers have several subscriptions owing largely to hiccups of the networks at different times. There is also the need to lower cost and maximise coverage necessitating the use of optimised subscriptions for different types of calls ranging from subscriptions for mobile personal computers, tablets, and iPods to mobile phones.

There is no doubt that a large market exists in Nigeria for telecoms investors; and that the industry has contributed to boosting the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 2011, for instance, GSM business had contributed about 8.2 percent to the GDP, exceeding manufacturing, banking and solid mineral put together, with a subscription base of 90 million, a geometric rise from 400,000 active lines in 2001. Today, with a subscription base of 180 million and a teledensity of 85.3 percent, the potentials of the telecoms industry in the country know no bounds; but at whose expense?

While it is heartwarming that Nigeria is rated as a major player in the global GSM trend of increased telecoms subscriptions predicted to hit nine billion by 2018, much higher than the world's population currently put at 7 billion, and that the potential for huge profit to operators subsists, which accounts for the growing expansion of the industry, a major source of concern is that effective regulation of the telecoms industry has taken the back seat, while unbridled exploitation of subscribers by service providers is the vogue.

It is unarguable that the much touted expansion of telecoms business in Nigeria is at the expense of the GSM subscribers, who are denied value for their money with the connivance of regulatory authorities and service providers. Drop calls, fraudulent promos and unwarranted intrusion of subscribers' calls due to epileptic and poor networks, among others, have trailed the activities of the telecoms operators. Yet, indiscriminate installation of masts and base transceiver stations with all its attendant hazards have gone on unchecked by the NCC. Instead of getting down to work to address the problem with a view to giving subscribers value for money, the authorities and the operators often end up trading accusations over poor service to end users. While the operators complain of huge cost of diesel for powering their base transceiver stations owing to poor electricity service, regulatory authorities allege that service providers unduly overload their networks, which makes it virtually impossible to achieve functional efficiency.

All that the NCC did was to slam a fee on the operators for poor service, which ended up, not in the pocket of the subscribers who are at the receiving end of the poor service, but in the NCC coffers. The situation was so bad last year that the Senate had to intervene. But the intervention equally ended up with the lawmakers' mere castigation of the operators. Nothing concrete has been forthcoming to allay the fears and halt the fleecing of subscribers. We demand the effective intervention of the National Assembly (NASS) once again. NASS should put adequate pressure on the NCC to enforce its regulations and put the operators on their toes.