Chinenye Anuforo

2019 was yet another vibrant year for the technology industry, although, according to Gartner, worldwide growth is only expected to reach 0.4 per cent.

Nigeria is included in the perceived growth as the telecommunications sector faired well in the year under review. For instance, telecoms contribution to GDP for the first quarter and second quarter of 2019 stood at 10.11 per cent and 11.39 per cent, respectively.

These contrast with 9.19 per cent and 10.43 per cent contribution in the first and second quarters of 2018, respectively. General ICT contribution to GDP increased from about 10 per cent last year to 13.8 per cent currently.

However, the above recorded growth could not have been possible without the regulatory role of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in 2019.

The NCC carried out a number of regulatory activities towards ensuring increased access to telecoms services, ensuring increased consumer education and protection, boosting security of life and property, sanitising the industry while also supporting other initiatives that are aimed at boosting innovation in the telecoms sector and continuously galvanising the country’s overall economic growth.

Below are some activities that shaped the sector.

Promoting ICT innovations

In keeping with its ongoing tradition of driving technology innovations through funding relevant researches in tertiary institutions, the NCC, in May 2019, announced a N40 million endowment fund for Bayero University, Kano, and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. The fund will be utilised by the institutions for innovation, research and development in the digital space, with an ongoing commitment to expand the list of benefiting institutions. Also, in June 2019, the commission demonstrated its determination to facilitate research and innovation in the telecom industry in Nigeria by presenting N65 million to 11 universities in Nigeria for innovation, research and development to deliver research result and prototypes that are implementable, commercially viable and capable of engendering innovation in different sectors of the economy.

Also, the NCC has been playing a pivotal role in promoting investment opportunities and innovation within the digital ecosystem for economic growth by exposing young small and medium enterprise (SME) owners in the ICT industry to global investment opportunities. This is done annually through sponsoring young Nigerian innovators to such global forums as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecoms World principally to provide them with the platform to exhibit relevant, home-grown technology innovations and solutions to the global investment community. This year’s edition of the ITU forum has been scheduled to hold in Budapest, Hungary, in September, 2019 and in the same manner the NCC is sponsoring a number of young innovators to the conference for the same purpose. It has also held several stakeholder fora with academia across the country towards ensuring proper linkages among the government, Industry Plater and academic towards developing tech innovation in the country.

Advancing broadband penetration 

As part of its efforts in advancing broadband penetration, which topped its eight-point agenda, the commission has succeeded in issuing six InfraCos licenses to drive the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the nation’s six geo-political zones and Lagos. The licensees are Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East; MainOne Limited for Lagos; and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East. The remaining license for the North Central zone is being processed, according to the NCC. This year, increased regulatory work is already underway to seek Federal Government’s approval of the counterpart funding to be disbursed to the InfraCo to facilitate their deployment. The funding will, however, be given to them upon attainment of deployment milestones, according to the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta. The InfraCos, based on the Open Access Model (OAM) initiative of the commission, will ensure there is, at least, one fibre access point for digital services across the 774 local government councils in the country. Increased commitment was given to this by the NCC.

In this regard also and with respect to spectrum that will support broadband deployment, the commission, this year, approved the 5G trial on 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz to MTN, developed guidelines on the use of Television White Space (TVWS) to facilitate broadband penetration to underserved and unserved areas; opened up of 60 GHz band for unlicensed applications and broadband services; approved the use of 18 and 23 GHz microwave frequency bands for point to multi-point deployments.

Also, the commission has licensed some portions of 5.4 GHz bands, replanted the 800 MHz band for LTE, assigned 2×10 MHz Spectrum to Glomobile for trial in the 700 MHz; approval of Globacom trial on the 2×10 MHz assigned to it.  It expired in February, 2019 and the company has been offered right of first refusal on the slot. The NCC has also reegularized 2×10 MHz Spectrum in the 700 MHz band previously assigned to MTN by NBC for the frequency to be used for the purpose of providing LTE services.

Another regulatory efforts carried out this year in this regard was the creation of Space Services Unit within the department to enable us regulate satellite and space services in facilitating broadband penetration; regularisation of the activities of all satellite operators including Space station operators as well as Earth Station operators; as well as issuance of Landing permits to Space Stations beaming signals over Nigerian territory.

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Promoting next-gen 5G revolution in Nigeria

The commission, in November, provided the regulatory platforms for telecoms operators to begin trial of 5G in the country. By the experiment, the NCC became the first telecoms regulator to begin the technology revolution journey in the whole of West Africa. Already, MTN Nigeria has conducted trial of 5G in Abuja, Calabar and Lagos under the supervision of the commission. The 5G technology trial in Nigeria is sequel to a workshop in the last quarter of 2018, in collaboration with the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) to discuss the prospects and challenges of Next-Generation Networks (NGN) such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Big Data, among others, in the nation’s telecoms industry.

Danbatta, during the workshop, said it was “to provide an avenue for regulators, operators, investors as well as other stakeholders to examine and constructively exchange ideas on the main demand areas for next generation of services, spectrum licensing reforms and the requirements for 5G and other emerging technologies that are to revolutionise the telecom system and users.”

The workshop, thus, formed the precursor to the country’s preparedness of the Commission for the impending deployment of 5G services due to commence globally by 2020.

With the trial of 5G ongoing, preparatory to the actual commercial launch starting from 2020, industry stakeholders have commended the Commission for its proactive regulatory role in advancing the country’s technology revolution through 5G, which is going to positively impact all sectors of the economy. No doubt, 5G that will offer better download speed and latency use of more applications (IoT-enabled services), needs robust broadband infrastructure to ride on and the NCC, through the InfraCo initiative is enabling this.

Improving quality of service on networks

As part of its move to improve quality of service by promoting the availability of reliable, interoperable, rapidly restorable critical ICT infrastructure that are supportive of all required services, the NCC, in the course of the year, reviewed 2G key performance indicators (KPIs) and development and definition of 3G/4G QoS KPIs for collocation service providers as well as Internet Service providers (ISP).

During the year, the NCC also developed the New National Numbering Plan. Based on recent developments in the global telecommunications industry such as machine to machine (M2M) communications, the Internet of Things (IoT), over-the-top (OTT) and others, as earlier stated, and other services made possible by fourth-generation networks and the futuristic 5G/6G technologies, the NCC has considered it imperative for the numbering plan in the country to be reviewed. The development of the new NNP, therefore, will help to provide numbers that will satisfy the needs of the projected 500 million Nigerians to be connected and about 1 billion globally-interconnected machines and devices by 2050; promote efficiency in the allocation of this scarce national resource; promote competition among service providers; eliminate the risk of running short of all categories of numbers; facilitate the introduction and development of new and innovative services and above all, encourage growth of the telecommunications sector and the attendant job creation and contribution to National Gross Domestic Product (GDP), among others.

The commission ensured type Approval of End User Devices to certify that Quality of Service/ and Quality of Experience (QoE) experienced by the user is not negatively impacted. This is to prevent counterfeit devices in the Nigerian Market through Equipment Authorization. The commission has also continued to monitoring point interconnection performance among operators and ensure resolution of interconnect disrupted among operators to prevent serious impact on quality of service received by the consumers. The NCC also ensured Quality of Service Performance Monitoring through continuous monitoring of service delivery by the operators to ensure compliance.

The commission also intensified collaboration with necessary stakeholders and government agencies at Federal and state levels towards resolving critical industry challenges affecting faster deployment of telecoms infrastructure in the country. These include right of way issue, multiple taxation and regulations, vandalism, indiscriminate closure of base stations, fibre cuts, among other.

Boost in consumer education, empowerment protection 

In line with the number 6 of the 8-Point agenda of the NCC, which addresses protection and empowerment of telecom consumers and in sync with its PIE Mandate (Protection, Information and Education of the consumer), the NCC carried out a number of consumer-centric activities during the year.

From January to October, 2019 the commission received a total of 19,841 complaints from consumers out of which 17,851 were successfully resolved to the satisfaction of telecom consumers. The number of complaints resolved represents approximately 90% of the total complaints received through the various channels of lodging complaints.  It also ensured continuous monitoring of the customer care centre of the service providers in the 36 states of the Federation to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of centres to the benefits of telecom consumers.  It also leveraged its various Consumer Education Outreach Programmes to educate a total of 35,124 telecom consumers on various issues such as how to avoid data depletion, importance of SIM registration, what to do during SIM replacement, need to protect telecom infrastructure, call masking, EMF, how to mitigate effects of cybercrimes etc. This was achieved through the Consumer Townhall Meetings, Consumer Outreach Programmes, Telecom Consumer Parliament and Trade Fairs & Exhibitions.

With regards to unsolicited text messages, based on frequent complaints received from consumers, the Commission developed the DND 2442 Short Code to stop unsolicited text messages and calls. As at October 2019, a total of 22,356, 919 consumers have activated DND Service. Of this figure, 21,913,565  (98%) are full DND subscriptions while only 443,354 (1.9%) are partial DND.