The quality of telecommunication services in the country has continued to take a serious beating from the vandalism and theft of operators’ equipment as well as slowness in new investments, OZIOMA UBABUKOH writes
The country is currently witnessing a fresh wave of poor service delivery from telecommunications service providers due to unending vandalism and theft of equipment as well as vital installations, this is according to Punch report.
Such vandalism and theft, according to findings, include ongoing and silent destruction of base stations across the country, governments’ shutdown of base stations across the states, diesel and battery theft at sites, and fibre optic cable cuts during road construction.
“The development has also limited many telecommunications operators from completely implementing outlined network expansion initiatives in the country,” a source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said,
According to him, this is even amid the rising cost of doing business in an industry that is heavily dependent on foreign exchange and capital.
He said, “There are growing concerns among operators that wanton vandalism of network equipment is further impacting negatively on our ability to deliver top-notch services to the growing subscriber base.
“We can see a fresh wave of poor services being delivered to subscribers in the coming days if telecoms equipment are not fully protected.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Nigeria, Segun Ogunsanya, shared a similar view, saying, “Nigerian operators spend between $3bn and $4bn (about N1.2tn) as capex (capital expenditure) annually on network expansion initiatives.
“If vandalism of telecoms equipment and installations continue 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.”
The total number of telephone lines currently connected on mobile networks in Nigeria increased from 188.8 million in the last quarter of 2014 to 216 million in May 2016, going by the latest industry data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission.
According to the NCC data, additional 3.3 million lines were connected in January this year alone on all the networks, including the Global System for Mobile communications, the Code Division Multiple Access and fixed networks.
There are more than 26,000 kilometres of fibre optic cables laid across the country by two of the networks, MTN and Glo. More than 25,000 base transceiver stations have been installed across the country.
MTN, the nation’s largest mobile operator with about 65 million subscribers, said that Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic sect, had destroyed 120 of its sites between 2013 and 2014.
At least 80 sites were destroyed during the last quarter of 2014, according to the company.
In 2013, the NCC noted that the industry had recorded about 1,200 fibre cuts in few months.
The immediate past National President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Lanre Ajayi, said that vandalism of telecommunications equipment had become a regular occurrence as all telecoms operators in the country had stories to tell in that regard.
Ajayi stated, “This particular challenge is estimated to be costing the industry billions of naira annually and constituting serious hindrances to better quality of service from the operators.
“It costs over N24,750,000 to install a single base station together with its tower, special antennas and two generators to power the station.”
Industry observers 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.
The bill, if passed into law, will criminalise any act of vandalism of telecoms equipment, since they will be classified as critical national infrastructure.
A former General Manager, Corporate Affairs, MTN Nigeria, Funmi Onajide, said that President Muhammadu Buhari, just before his inauguration, “was urged to declare telecoms infrastructure as critical national infrastructure and accord such special protection in the interest of the nation.”
Onajide said, “Aside the CNI bill, government can also assist in addressing multiple taxation and indiscriminate closure of operators’ facilities by unauthorised persons and bodies under different guises.
“As you know, government is key to providing an enabling business environment for businesses to thrive on a consistent basis, and this has to always be on the front burner as the socio-economic development of Nigeria is tied to it.”
“The Information and Communications Technology industry is a critical enabler of socio-economic growth in Nigeria and government’s support cannot be overstated.”
While the nation waits upon the Federal Government to find a solution to vandalism and theft of telecommunications equipment and installations, the immediate past Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, has urged operators in the sector to increase their respective investments if the country is to overcome the persistent drop in the quality of service.
Johnson stated this against the backdrop of lingering complaints over poor service quality from the telcos in the country.
She said that the about 25,000 Base Transceiver Stations currently being operated by the telecommunications companies were inadequate to cater for the need of over 160 million subscribers in the country, stressing that though there had been clamour for the increase in the number of the BTS to about 60,000, that was still relatively small.
“The country needs far above 60,000 BTS to solve the perennial issue of poor quality of service,” Johnson said.
According to her, even Britain with just about 60 million population and about 250 square metres of land, has about 60,000 BTS delivering services to subscribers in the country, not to talk of Nigeria with an increasing subscriber base.
The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, also stressed that the country had too few base stations given the size of its population.
“At the end of 2011, there were approximately 20,000 base stations in Nigeria, serving a population of more than 150 million people,” he said.
Adebayo also called on operators to increase this number to around 75,000 “in order to meet the quality of service mandates laid down by the regulator.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of IHS, one of the leading tower services companies in the country, Issam Darwish, Nigeria requires at least 50,000 base stations nationwide in order to guarantee efficient telephone services.
The IHS boss said, “More than 50,000 base stations are the only solution to guaranting efficiency of mobile telephone services in Nigeria.”
“More than $12.5bn is required to build more base stations across the country.”