By Chinenye Anuforo, [email protected]
The shifting of daily life online has been one of the most far-reaching consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. While it is not without its challenges, broad-based digitalisation has helped governments around the world to combat Covid-19, as well as created new growth opportunities for private companies.
In spite of the impressive role played by the telecoms sector to keep government and businesses running in the year of COVID-19 pandemic, in Nigeria the year ended with panic activated by the Federal Government over the linking of National Identity Number (NIN) with subscriber identity modules (SIMs) within two weeks.
The following week ushered in mad rush to the offices and registration centres of the National Identity management Commission (NIMC) across the country in breach of COVID-19 protocols of social distancing and wearing of face masks as angry subscribers rushed out in order not to be rudely disconnected from the network. That was the lowest point in the year that had seen phenomenal push in the nation’s quest for a functional digital ecosystem.
That notwithstanding, the telecoms sector during the year under review, witnessed a significant push towards the digital driven by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
For instance, as the COVID-19 lockdown persisted, governments weren’t shut down as both the federal and state executive council meetings moved to the virtual space. Through Zoom, Google Meet and other apps, businesses continued to run in line with the new normal which encouraged people to work from home to halt community spread of the deadly virus.
It is significant that all these were made possible through the investment made by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) on the infrastructure on which the services ran.
NCC CEO, Prof Garba Danbatta got a second term of another five years, a development which the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said was a reflection of government’s acknowledgement of the need to encourage the culture of continuity and recognition of hard work.
According to official telecom industry data, the telecoms contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increased to over 14.30 per cent during the second quarter (Q2) 2020. In financial value, the 14.30 per cent, translates to N2.272 trillion. It was 10.60 per cent by December last year just as the sector’s foreign direct investment (FDI) moved beyond $70 billion.
Active mobile voice subscribers increased from 184 million in December, 2019 to 208 million by October, 2020. This represents an additional 24 million active mobile lines accessed by Nigerians across mobile networks from December, 2019 to October, 2020.
Accordingly, teledensity (the total number of telephone lines per hundred people in an area) increased from 96.76per cent in December, 2019 to 108.94 per cent by October, 2020.
There was increased connectivity from 126 million in December, 2019, internet subscriptions rose impressively to 152.9 million in October. In the same vein, broadband (i.e. high-speed Internet) penetration maintained an upward swing to 45.93 per cent, up from 37.80 per cent in 2019.
The Commission was able to resolve over 98per cent of the total consumer complaints received from telecoms consumers via the NCC Toll-Free Number 622, NCC Consumer Portal, social media platforms and written complaints. Subscriptions by telecoms consumers to the NCC’s Don-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 service reached over 30 million in 2020. It was 22 million in 2019.
Earlier in the year, the regulator unveiled the New Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024 which it hoped will provide the compass to drive the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) and the National Broadband Plan (NBP) 2020 – 2025 of the Federal Government. The SMP, according to Danbatta, will aid the NCC in driving its telecom regulatory mandate in the fast evolving telecoms industry, in the next five years. It will also serve as a roadmap for the future of the telecoms sector, taking into consideration the current and emerging trends in the industry and the numerous expectations of the stakeholders.
In terms of revenue generation, the Commission remitted N344.71 billion to Federal Government Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) from spectrum fees and operating surplus during the year. It also embarked on spectrum auctions, re-planning, re-farming to optimsie the usage of the scarce resource while it continued to address the quality of service (QoS) delivery through effective monitoring of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and development of KPIs for 3G and 4G, all in a bid to ensure improved service delivery to telecom consumers.
The Commission granted approval for two mobile network operators (MNOs), MTN Nigeria and 9mobile, to carry out trial on the workability of embedded or e-SIM service. The trial, approved to run for a period of one year, will involve testing 5,000 e-SIMs by the two networks, subject to compliance with a number of regulatory conditions. Prof. Danbatta said the primary objective of the e-SIM trial is to assess the technical performance of the e-SIM on telecoms service providers’ network towards eventual rollout, if satisfactory. He said the e-SIMs is a technology that will eliminate the need for physical SIM card slots on mobile devices in the near future, adding that the trial is in line with the Commission’s forward-looking regulatory approach to ensure Nigeria’s telecoms ecosystem is in tandem with global best practices.
MTN and 9mobile also got approval to trial national roaming service for a period of three months, commencing from August 1, 2020, and to end by October 31, 2020. The two telcos are expected to configure their networks to begin test and simulation for customer experience. The trial approval covers a few local governments, designated as the National Roaming geographic area, in Ondo State. Basically, roaming service will enable a mobile subscriber to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services when travelling outside a particular network geographical area by utilising the network coverage of other networks with roaming arrangements to access service. NCC said the primary objective of the National Roaming Service trial is to encourage network resource sharing among operators. It is will also lead to operational expenditure (OPEX) optimisation and capital expenditure (CAPEX) efficiencies leading to freeing up of resources to expand mobile network coverage to unserved and underserved communities across the country, which will lead to improved Quality of Service (QoS) delivery to subscribers.