The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Eugene Juwah, has told the international community to expect a broadband boom in the Nigeria’s telecoms sector. He gave the promise during his presentation at the sub-Saharan Africa Regional Summit at the GSMA Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain. According to Juwah, the success attained with the voice services will be replicated in the Nigerian broadband market.
He feels sure that the telecom revolution phase of Nigeria’s development has passed and has to give way to the broadband revolution that will eventually impact positively in the lives of every Nigerian. He therefore told the audience to expect mobile broadband boom in Nigeria whose teledensity has grown from 400,000 telephone lines in 2001 to the 120 million subscribers (and still counting), representing a ratio of 0.04 percent and 86 percent teledensity in 1999 and 2012 respectively.
The NCC helmsman believes the commission would fast-track the growth of Nigeria to a knowledge economy and the contributions of broadband to GDP growth with a number of initiatives including the auction of 2.3 GHz spectrum license in February, a fully articulated broadband Industry Infrastructure framework, licensing of infrastructure companies, among others.
Most importantly, he assured that the government has initiatives that would assist potential investors with the necessary framework to set their investments on the right footing for the broadband market. Broadband availability will be achieved through well-articulated government policies, effective and independent regulation that attracts the necessary investments, among others.
Again drawing attention to the tremendous success achieved with the voice services, Juwah told the audience that Nigeria is ripe for broadband having concluded the sale of the 2.3GHz spectrum while looking forward to licensing companies that will provide infrastructure for a national broadband network on a non-discriminatory, open access and price regulated basis to all service providers. He also informed the audience that the NCC would license 2.5 and 2.6GHz bands before end of this financial year.
“We are creating enabling environment and incentives for the private sector to roll out broad band networks which will be a one off incentive for last mile to be achieved. We will replicate the success we made in voice in broadband plan as we proceed on the journey.
“We are also going to license more retail services and encourage the operators where possible to extend fibre to homes and businesses on their own. Government is committed to providing incentives to winners of infrastructure licenses”, he said
He observed, rightly, that for Nigeria to be part of 21st century knowledge economy there is need to leverage on the potentials of broadband. To realise Vision 20-2020, he said Nigeria must take advantage of broadband and become an e-economy. Broadband has the potential to stimulate business activities, providing support for other sectors of the economy as well as providing better living and governance.
With Nigeria’s internet penetration a mere 32.9 percent and broadband penetration at 6.1 percent, the NCC boss thinks it is time to galvanise the data segment of the ICT sector to the level where the voice segment has reached.
He reiterated his belief in the ‘open access model’ to adequately address the problem of broadband access because the establishment of the broadband networks in the metropolitan areas would aid in extending access to households and businesses.
The objective of this initiative, he said, is to stimulate a new national broadband network that is not only more widespread but also faster and more secure than what is available today. With the open access model to drive broadband penetration nationwide, he assured that the strategy will be operator-neutral, providing a network that is open to all players on equal terms.
Accordingly, it would offer efficient connectivity as well as ultra-high-speed broadband services that are available, affordable and sustainable. The open access model, therefore, is also envisaged to address the challenges of congested and unplanned settlements, the challenges around infrastructure sharing and other issues such as high cost of right of way for the service providers. The model will potentially help optimize the cost of broadband access across Nigeria and ensure that all operators, whether large or small, have equal access to broadband infrastructure.
The proposed industry structure offers infrastructure companies as entities that complement the existing industry players by focusing on the market gap and offering non-discriminatory open access wholesale bandwidth services to investors. Juwah explained that proposed structure allows existing players to operate on the basis of business-as-usual, with the option of leasing their inter-city and existing metropolitan fibre infrastructure.
He assured that the commission will continue to create an enabling environment for private sector participation and robust investment in the broadband ecosystem to fast-track its penetration. Like the GSM counterpart, Nigeria’s broadband market is obviously one of the top markets in the world with potential for good returns on investment and here opens a fresh investment chapter to further enhance telecoms sector contributions to the nation’s economy.
Okonta is an ICT entrepreneur writing from Lagos