Recent reports showed that dropped calls, aborted short message service (SMS), and countless number of futile attempts to make calls appear to be on the rise even with huge investments by telecommunications companies to improve the quality of their services.
Just of recent, MTN said it would be investing a whopping N600 billion in network expansion in the next three years. The investment, according to the telecoms company, would enable it to accelerate its 4G network expansion, deepen population coverage and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiative. One would wonder why, after such huge investments, subscribers would still experience poor quality of service.
However, one of Nigeria’s major telecom companies, Airtel Nigeria, has disclosed that the increasing rate of vandalism, theft of telecoms facilities, including generating sets, diesel, among others have been the cause of poor telephony services.
The company said the increasing act of vandalism was impacting negatively on the quality of telecommunications services across the country, with the resultant effect being high rate of drop calls, higher calls termination, undelivered text messages, poorer networks connectivity and a host of others.
These challenges have been identified to be on the rise in the country, and as such hindering operators’ move to ensure smooth and seamless telecoms services.
For instance, Airtel alone recorded 1,022 cases of fibre cuts between July 2019 and February 11, 2020, a space of seven months. According to Airtel, 405 cases of fibre cuts were as a result of road rehabilitation activities by construction workers while 617 cases were due to vandalism.
Speaking during a media round-table briefing in Lagos, vice president, network operations, Airtel, Dr. Adedoyin Adeola, said Airtel remained committed to providing better quality of service to Nigerians while adding that dropped calls is something that needs to be tackled aggressively.
Adeola explained that a number of fundamental issues, including fibre cuts, network failure, bombed sites, vandalism, network congestion and delay in approval of building more sites are contributing to the increase in dropped calls.
His words, “Fibre cut is the major reason in the sense that if a site goes down, then there will be traffic by default in other sites as it is accumulating what it is not suppose to carry based on the capacity as regards the fibre. Subscribers are lost in the process and to fix these fibres involves huge cost and so with the current ongoing construction going on in 42 stations, there is always going to be a ripple effect of this on our network because these construction engineers want to get the work done before the rain starts.
“Also, some of our stations have been vandalised and we notice that after we have installed some facilities, some people who are professionals in pilfering gadgets like ours come to steal some parts of the generator or any other thing even after we had encassed the generators. in some cases, they de-rig some of our masts and go away”.
According to him, “there is urgent need for stakeholders in government to see how power supply can effectively be made available, distributed as well as improve on its quality in the long term. Also, there has to be security around critical fibre routes and special protection has to be given to telecom infrastructures by security agencies”.
Renewing calls for the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Bill to be passed quickly, the VP said, “a sector that contributes over 11 per cent to the GDP of a country needs proper protection and there is therefore need for the National Assembly to pass the CNI Bill amid rising cases of theft and vandalism of equipment owned by mobile operators especially in our own case.
We are currently engaging with the Federal and State governments for approval to have more sites so as to build more fibres via the Ease of Right of Way because technology is evolving and so there are more pipes or fibres that needs to be created in order to meet up with the demands by our consumers”.
Director of Corporate Communications & CSR, Airtel Nigeria, Emeka Opara, who also spoke with journalists, said the Federal Government must urgently deal with the menace of vandalism, insecurity and insurgency, otherwise the current spate of dropped calls being experienced by some telecommunications consumers would continue.
Oparah, therefore, pleaded that the Government should come to the aid of telecoms operators as these activities result in dropped calls, poor network quality, network congestion and poor user experience for telecommunications subscribers across the country.
He also urged the federal and state governments to hasten the approval process for right of way for fibre deployment as well as quicken the Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) approval process, noting that these actions would help solve the problem of network congestion and network failure.
Telecommunications expert, Kehinde Aluko had earlier said the increasing menace of vandalism has become a dent on the success of the sector. He stressed that this development has also limited many telecommunications operators from completely implementing outlined network expansion initiatives in the country, amid rising cost of doing business in an industry that is heavily dependent on foreign exchange and capital.
Daily Sun gathered that Nigerian operators spend between $3 billion and $4 billion as capital expenditure yearly on network expansion initiatives and if vandalism of telecoms equipment and installations continued unabated, Nigerian subscribers could experience higher frequency of dropped calls, incoherent transmission and undelivered text messages.
“Two per cent to three per cent of Nigeria’s telecoms sites are affected by random shutdown and destruction at any given point in time”.
Experts are of the view that the current situation has been exacerbated by the failure of the National Assembly to pass the Critical National Infrastructure Bill.
Consequently, there have been calls from several quarters on the need for the National Assembly to pass the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Bill amid rising cases of theft and vandalism of equipment owned by mobile operators. The bill, when passed into law, is expected to criminalise any act of vandalism against Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructures since they would then be classified as CNI.
Market analysts have however raised questions over the nation’s harsh business climate. According to them, government’s delay in passing the bill into law is counter-productive, as telecommunications has since become fundamental and a most reliable public infrastructure in the country.
At a forum in Lagos, telecom operators informed the audience that the biggest difficulty that they face remained the frequent cases of vandalism by criminals or people who feel they are entitled to take generators and diesel off Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) for their own personal use.
They noted that although, lots of investments have gone into securing BTS sites, these issues still persist.
To solve the problems of theft and vandalism, they insisted that communities must have a sense of ownership of the sites because the infrastructure enhance their lives and businesses.
Stakeholders are of the opinion that operators’ ability to build capacity and viable infrastructure to support broadband rollout is threatened by government’s undue interference, an attempt to re-regulate the industry in their various states, while undermining the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator that is empowered by the NCC Act of 2003.
On his part, Jide Awe, an ICT expert, said the call for CNI was necessary because telecom infrastructure was Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) in view of the society and economy’s acute dependence on telecom assets. Critical segments of the economy as well as the public will be unable to carry out their normal functions in the absence of access to telecom facilities. The declaration is indispensable h the nation’s desire and intention to become a knowledge economy. Telecom is the fundamental, underlying infrastructure enabling the delivery of online and digital enabled services changing the economy and society in significant ways. ICT supported by telecom infrastructure rolled out to support broadband services is essential for growth and development
He said, “in that light, telecom facilities should be considered and protected in the same manner as public power supply, transportation, financial services, public health, oil and gas, etc. The reality is that inadequate security of infrastructure keeps disrupting telecom services. The arbitrary closure of telecom sites by government agencies are a source of concern. Harassment of technical staff while installing or carrying out repairs on telecom equipment is also unfortunate. It is essential to deter such negative incidents. Fibre cuts, vandalism of telecom assets, community issues and hostility of authorities are not only major hindrances to achieving good service delivery but can result in huge losses and disincentives to investors.”
He added that, “Efforts need to be intensified with the National Assembly members to facilitate the passage of a telecoms bill, which seeks to make telecoms infrastructure a critical national infrastructure that must be protected by law. The enactment of an ICT Critical Infrastructure Act is expressly stated as being a core requirement of the NBP.
Government should also raise public awareness about the fact that telecom facilities are critical national infrastructure requiring public protection. There is a need to build a smart culture amongst the citizens and government authorities that appreciates the essence of telecom for digital transformation and does not view telecom strictly in terms of revenue generation.”
Speaking with Daily Sun, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said telecoms infrastructure should be seen as critical equipment just like the oil pipelines, as well as PHCN and NITEL (Nigerian Telecommunications Limited) facilities.
He said that the telecommunication industry supports many other economic sectors of the economy and is also the first layer of critical infrastructure for socio-economic development and security and so it is pertinent for telecoms facilities to have first-level protection om government.
Adebayo said: “Telecommunications development in Nigeria is playing an integral role in the country. Telecommunication services have greatly improved our quality of life as a people. From basic voice call to Internet services to numerous value-added features offered by our members. But despite the progress made, we are still facing a number of environmental problems in particular on the issues of interference with the smooth operations of telecom services.”
He said incidents of closure of ALTON members’ sites and other telecommunications infrastructure on the excuse of non-payment of arbitrarily imposed taxes and levies imposed by states and local government authorities in the guise of internally-generated revenue (IGR) is having adverse effects on quality of service.
“We hereby appeal to the President for a presidential declaration of telecom infrastructure as critical national security and economic infrastructure, as provided by the Cybercrime Law of 2015,” Adebayo said.