'MPAYMENTS, NIGERIAN NETWORK HAS TO BE COUNTER APPROVED BY NCC'
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Eugene Juwah, stormed the GSMA World Mobile Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, with full compliment of his team to network with international industry experts and professionals and gain insightful knowledge on new technologies and infrastructure on how to further grow the Nigerian telecommunications sector to global standards.
What is the giant of Africa's chief telecom regulator, taking back home from this congress? 'I'm a government official and I look at the objectives of the government. The current objective of the government is to transform Nigeria by bringing in a lot of foreign direct investments. One of the components that we believe will enhance this transformation is broadband device. Every 10 per cent increase in broadband generates one per cent increase in GDP. Of course, you cannot do broadband without looking at applications. There is a lot of new technologies here. We have been looking at killer applications for broadband.'
Neta Nwosu, who also was recently in Barcelona, chats with him on his goals, Nigeria's broadband challenges, current transition to mobile payments and regulatory issues.
With the kind of interesting innovations and other developments you have seen in the Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain; what are you taking back to Nigeria and how will it impact on our industry at home?
Basically, I'm a government official and I look at the objectives of the government. The current objective of the government is to transform Nigeria by bringing in a lot of foreign direct investments. One of the components that we believe will enhance this transformation is broadband device. Every 10 per cent increase in broadband generates one per cent increase in GDP, every one per cent increase in speed generates .53 per cent increase in GDP. So, we see that apart from improving the welfare of Nigerians, broadband is going to create a lot of jobs, which is what Nigeria needs for our teeming population and I have concentrated in looking at the broadband issue, from a policy issue, from an implementation issue and how we can adapt it to Nigeria and this is mainly my objective. Of course, you cannot do broadband without looking at applications. We have been looking at killer applications for broadband there is no use your building it and nobody uses it, so the development of killer applications and building of broadband infrastructure we have to go into that.
The previous day when the Chief Technical Officer of Facebook was making his presentation, he gave some statistics that revealed that about 90 per cent of people, who go on Facebook in Nigeria do so through the mobile phone. This is great news for the country. It could also be great news for the operators but is this not going to impact negatively on the large mass deployment that you are talking about? If the majority of people now have mobile phones; if people are also accessing their broadband already on the mobile phone, the large mass deployment, is it not going to impact negatively on it?
Well, broadband deployment, what you call penetration, is the number of percentage of people, using broadband. In Nigeria is very low. In fact it's 1.1 per cent while mobile voice in Nigeria is going towards 70 per cent, you see that it is abysmal but also, you see a lot of opportunities. The mobile broadband in Nigeria has been easy to deploy because it is an overlay on the mobile service, the 3G service. So, the majority of broadband we have now is through mobile devices; we have very little practical broadband on fixed networks and that is why 90 per cent of the people, who go on Facebook use the mobile broadband to do that, that is what we have.
But what you also have to know is that we cannot make appreciable progress in mobile broadband without fixing our fixed broadband; they have to go hand in hand. Actually, the reason mobile broadband in Nigeria is not working too well is because there is no fixed broadband, there is no fibre there to backup all these capacities back to their various switches and so on and so forth. However, the operators, because they are still making money in voice and because voice is still profitable to them, most of them are reluctant to invest heavily in fixed broadband. That is why government like NCC and SAT are saying let us look at the problems, the bottlenecks that have been distracting investment in fixed broadband and see what we can do and that's why NCC has decided to create an infrastructural sector that would be broadband-focused so that impact can be made both on the Internet access and fixed broadband.
Also building good fixed broadband will impact on the quality of service on mobile phones because now they can back up all their traffic, which is what they have been doing now using microwave. Microwaves are very thin loops; they are unreliable, when there is rain or there is dust, they are disturbed. That is why in Nigeria even the 3G mobile broadband is not reliable; you can use them, people use them for Facebook but at times it is not available.
So, NCC is making what is called a regulatory intervention into the provision of fixed broadband so that an infrastructural sector is created, which includes within itself, a sophisticated sharing of resources among operators. So, this is not a question of somebody coming to monopolise it and charge highly as it is evident right now and if we look at the end price that can be charged and we see that they are too high, NCC is prepared to put in government money to see that the prices come down so that access is available at acceptable cost to the populace and also creating jobs. This is really our objective.
Basically, I'm very broadband- focused, broadband infrastructure, broadband applications that will use this infrastructure and it is a win -win situation. Fixed broadband will aid mobile band so, nobody will complain that he is being cheated because if you can get broadband into our city, then, of course, mobile companies can lease capacity in order to back up. What you have now are the back bone, which don't actually go into the cities to touch the base stations that we have so, we want to distribute it more. It will help the capacity that we have at the shores, we have a lot of capacities, we have Main One, we have GLO 1, we have MTN coming, maybe we have another one coming. So, these capacities are not distributed inland; they are kind of wasting and the price of broad band is still very high because they are not properly distributed.
NCC is going through phases, you have gone through the first phase where you auctioned licences and drove investment. I think this second phase is a stage of consolidation where you make sure that the operators are doing what they are supposed to do because I have been in the industry. I also know that you dangled some carrot sticks, you try to pamper them because they are new babies and now they have arrived, there must be some strict measures also to make sure they do what they are supposed to do. Having been at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, having networked, are there some things you are taking away from here that could help the regulators stabilise the industry back home, both in terms of favouring the operators, helping them in their environment and also in terms of making sure that they are also doing what they are supposed to do for Nigerians?