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THE CASE FOR TRIPLE PLAY IN NIGERIA

By NBF News
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The crash in the prices for the acquisition of direct-to-home (DTH) - or in recent times, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services was expected. Maybe what was not expected was the fact that the prices for the infrastructure would drop so low; and so soon. But in reality, the price crash has made subscribing to satellite TV services available to a greater percentage of the populace. Even though it may not be termed a necessity for now, the price crash has certainly ensured that it is no longer a luxurious item. The various operators of these services are virtually shoving them in our faces.

For as little as N7, 000 or N9, 000, depending on the package the intending subscriber wishes to subscribe to, one can subscribe to these services. Monthly costs range from N1, 000 to between N8, 000 and N9, 000, depending on the bouquet of channels the customer chooses on the various platforms.

As at May 2010, statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country's telecom regulatory authority, reflect that there are more than 79 million customers who subscribe to the various telecom networks in Nigeria. Given Nigeria's telecom growth, it is highly likely that the subscriber base would have crossed 80 million, as at December 2010. The services rendered by the telecom companies are far from being perfect, but the liberalization of the telecom sector has made mobile services easily accessible to a majority of the Nigerian citizens.

Though Nigeria may have recorded giant strides in the area of telephony, much progress has not been made in the area of internet. The internet is not readily available to a majority of the Nigerian citizenry, especially the rural areas. Even worse is the fact that the services rendered by a majority of internet service providers are very poor and falling below the expectation of the consumers. The prices are also regarded as being on the high side.

Nigerians who subscribe to DBS, telephony and internet would attest to the fact that the various bills take a huge chunk off their regular income; that is if the cost of acquiring the infrastructure does not put off the intending subscriber. He has to purchase a dish or modem for digital satellite, maybe a dongle USB modem for internet and a table set for telephone. At this juncture, various questions arise.

Firstly, can these services be run on a single platform to which the answer is a resounding yes! And would the services be offered at cheaper rates if offered on a single platform? The answer is much cheaper! The three services can be offered on a single platform, be it via satellite or via fibre optic cable, or a combination of both platforms, or via wireless (future will be using UHF). It is indeed the future of information and communications technology - voice, video and data, all under a uniform platform; called triple play.

When in 2006 the Nigerian Communications Commission auctioned four 3G (third generation) spectrum licences to Globacom, MTN, then Vmobile and Alheri Engineering, expectations were high that Nigeria's telecom landscape would receive a great boost. About five years after, not much has changed in Nigeria's telecom sector.

Yet, 3G is regarded as the next generation of mobile communications systems which enhances services such as multimedia, high speed mobile broadband, internet access with the ability to view video footage on one's mobile handset.

With a 3G phone and access to the 3G network one can make video calls, watch live TV, access the high speed internet, receive emails and download music tracks, as well as the usual voice call and messaging services found on a mobile phone, like person to person video, live streaming, downloadable video of entertainment, news, current affairs and sport content and video messaging.

So why is 3G, which indeed has the semblance of triple play capabilities, not being utilised by the telecom operators in Nigeria. The answer is that operators are yet to be assured of steady revenue stream for their investment in 3G services. Indeed, some have chosen to partner advanced communications providers such as Cisco to help develop services such as tele- presence.

So what are the chances of the successful deployment of triple play services in Nigeria? It will be solely dependent on two factors. The capability of the company involved in its deployment and the creation of a conducive atmosphere for companies intending to offer triple play to thrive.