10 YEARS OF GSM REVOLUTION IN NIGERIA

By NBF News
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Ten years of the debut of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in the country is worth celebrating. It is not in contention that the novel but revolutionary communication tool has improved lives, impacted the economy in diverse ways and greatly enhanced inter-personal and group communications both within and outside the country.

Equally important is the phenomenal growth the telecoms industry has recorded in its one decade of existence. Industry watchers have dubbed ours the fastest growing telecoms market in Africa and tenth in the world.

Introduced in August 2001, the first registered GSM operators, Econet, which later became Airtel, and MTN rolled out the first GSM services in the country having been granted licence by the nation's telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

It could be recalled that the mobile arm of NITEL, MTEL was also granted licence to roll out its GSM lines but unfortunately, it was unable to make any appreciable impact hence its uneventful outing and subsequent premature exit from the burgeoning GSM market.

In its absence, the fourth company, Globacom, that could not commence operation in 2001 due to certain hitches in the bidding process joined the fray in 2002 and became the second indigenous GSM operator in the industry and for now the only surviving national carrier. But not quite long ago, Etisalat, another GSM service provider joined the enviable big league of Africa's largest but competitive telecoms market.

Apart from these four GSM operators in the nation's telecoms industry, with a total subscriber base of over 90 million lines, there are other service providers that use the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), fixed wired and fixed wireless access.

The GSM revolution in the country has grown by leaps and bounds that its operators and regulators should roll out the drums and dance to their successes. They deserved a pat on the back for a job well done. From 18,724 telephone lines at independence, which translated to a tele-density of about 0.5 telephone lines per 1,000 people and 400,000 telephone lines and 25,000 odd analogue mobile lines for a population of 120 million before the advent of GSM in 2001, the Nigerian mobile subscriber base has grown from 75 million in 2010 to over 90 million subscribers now thus making it the highest in Africa. Out of the 90 million lines, GSM, which gives unlimited mobile access, accounts for about 83 million lines while the CDMA, which gives limited mobility access, accounts for the remainder.

The nation's tele-density now stands at about 65 percent of the population from almost zero point before the GSM emergence. The gains of the GSM revolution include over $18 billion private sector investments in the nation's telecom industry; direct foreign investment; over N300 billion contributed to the national purse through frequency spectrum sales and 4 percent contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as annual revenue mobile services; Internet access, job creation amongst others.

In spite of these positive impacts of GSM, there are still more things to be done to ensure quality and efficient service delivery. While the service providers smile to the banks having made huge profits, the same cannot be said of the subscribers ripped off by poor quality service, inappropriate billings and other shortcomings in the industry.

Call dropping, poor voice quality, excessive billings and charges for services not rendered are some of the ills that plague the industry that the NCC and the service providers must frontally address.

While the country needs at least 60,000 base stations for quality mobile telephony, the telecoms operators have only built 13,000 base stations in the country in the last ten years leaving a shortfall of 47,000 base stations.

We, therefore, call on the operators to increase their base stations and invest more on equipment that would enhance their service delivery and operational efficiency. At the same time, they should strive to make their services comparable to those obtainable in other lands. Ours should not be different.

The NCC and the service operators should work in concert to ensure that existing subscribers, who have not registered their Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) and intending subscribers partake in the on-going registration by the telecoms regulator.

This has become necessary in view of the rising criminality that GSM phones are deployed to in recent times including the upsurge in kidnapping, armed robbery and terrorism. In fact, such negative application of GSM phones is deplorable and can only be curtailed if the NCC and all the service providers insist on SIM registration at the point of purchase.

We also commend the service providers for their untiring commitment to social responsibility services in the country and urge them to increase the tempo in this vital component of good business relations. The NCC should streamline the deluge of sales promos in the industry so that consumers will not be short-changed through some bogus or 'kalukalu' promos. The Consumer Protection Society should wade into this to protect the telecom services subscribers.

We commend the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the NCC and the service providers for making the GSM revolution a success in Nigeria. Let there be remarkable improvement in the years ahead.