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5G and subscribers endless wait

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By Sonny Aragba-Akpore

Despite the hype around the 5G auctions in Nigeria ,first in December 2021 and later in December 2022,with three licenses issued so far by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC),potential subscribers may wait longer than necessary.
Although,the NCC had tacitly denied that it’s mission was informed by the desire to raise funds for the Federal Government to buoy a comatose economy and recurring budget deficits,it was rumored that the initial money raised in December 2021 auction whereby MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications paid $273.6m each,encouraged the government to quickly push NCC to organize another auction in 2022 to boost revenue for the government even when the NCC had assured that it would tarry another two years before initiating another bidding rounds.
We are made to believe that the regulator was stampeded if not bullied to carry out another immediately .
And strangely,due to lack of enthusiasm of bidders,only a sole bidder emerged as Airtel was the only company that expressed interest and insisted on paying the reserved price of $273.6m .
The NCC was boxed to a corner and in a face-saving statement,announced Airtel as winner.
All three licenses ,MTN,Mafab and Airtel raised $820.8m for the government.
But that is just the beginning of the matter as none of these licensees has actualised their licence mandate in this regard.
Although,MTN has shown good fate in launching its services,we are aware of certain bottlenecks militating against its desire to provide services.
One of these is Right of Way issues in parts of the country including Abuja where the Federal Capital Territory Administration is said to have imposed a huge bill on the operator to settle before it could link base stations to enable connectivity for 5G services.
Technically,if MTN could feel jolted by such bills,other players may even be intimidated thus creating a very long wait for services.
It stands to reason that while MTN and Airtel which have already established themselves in the country could be so discouraged by government policies in terms of Right of Way issues that were believed to have been settled since 2013 by the National Economic Council (NEC),the situation may even by more frustrating for new comer ,Mafab Communications.
All of these add up to while 5G is still far away.
Like I wrote here a few weeks ago,
“5G project in Nigeria has been laced with so many speeches so much that it could be likened to mere orchestra.
Even as write today,it’s not clear where the services are being received especially when as it appears,only MTN is trying to run a race two licensees began.
A third potential operator,Airtel,was added In December 2022.”
“MTN and a little known portfolio company or a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) Mafab Communications Limited won the two available lots in 2021.
The auction was done with so much fun fare that made Minister Isa Pantami to giggle with thumbs up as if Nigeria had won major prizes in global contests.
It’s also very clear now that 5G is not for rookies despite the wobbling policies in Nigeria where investors are afraid to take investment decisions.Who will blame them anyway when “ways and means rule ate more respected than any policy at all.
India started late simply because they wanted to get it right but not so in Nigeria.Both the government ,regulator and bidders jumped into the fray without a very good understanding or even knowledge about it.
Now here we are and very soon,another blame game will start while the expectant and enthusiastic subscribers wait if not endlessly for the the potential game changer for broadband connectivity,5G.”

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Let us take a look at the Indian example.
Indian government set in motion workable policies for its auction hence the delay in carrying out its process.
It concluded this in August 2022 raising $19billion paid by three companies including Bharthi Airtel.
The success of the Indian auction is not unconnected to the government putting in place rules for all that must be followed and above all,bidders were comforted to have fate in the system especially a stable economy unlike Nigeria where there are policy somersaults always hence the fear of investors.
Take a critical look at aviation industry for instance where many foreign operators are uncertain about continuing in business here.

India concluded its long-delayed 5G auction, raising almost $19 billion in what proved to be a much more competitive process than anticipated.

Analysts said the seminal 5G auction made spectrum available in an array of spectrum bands – 600MHz, 700MHz, 800MHz, 900MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.1GHz, 2.3GHz, 3.3GHz, and 26GHz – to the operators for the first time.

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As a way to achieving workable results, Indian operators began test runs of the new technology for nearly a year, with Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea (Vi) all suggesting they would look to launch 5G services in 2022 as soon as the auction was concluded.

For a long time, however, the extent to which the Indian operators would want to compete in the 5G auction was unclear, with the telcos complaining that the spectrum’s reserve prices were too high. At one point , Airtel had even threatened not to bid for spectrum at all if the price was not lowered.

Ultimately, however, the government agreed to reduce prices by only a small margin, but instead introduced various measures to make the operators participation more viable. This included giving the operators the option to pay for the spectrum in yearly instalments, surrender the spectrum back to the government after 10 years, and also completely removed spectrum usage charges.

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At last the operators bidded for the spectrum with relative intensity, purchasing 71% of the available spectrum.

“We will celebrate ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ [75th Year of Independence Day of India] with a pan India 5G rollout,” said Akash Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Jio. “whose company got the largest spectrum paying over $11 billion and is committed to offering world-class, affordable 5G and 5G-enabled services“
He further boasted that “we will provide services, platforms and solutions that will accelerate India’s digital revolution, especially in crucial sectors like Education, Healthcare, Agriculture, Manufacturing and e-Governance.”

Airtel was the second largest winner, spending $5.45 billion, focussing largely on the 3.3GHz and 26GHz bands. The company also bought spectrum in the 900MHz, 1.8GHz, and 2.1GHz bands and notably ignored the 700MHz band, which it still deemed to be too expensive.

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Cash-strapped Vi purchased $2.37 billion-worth of 3.3GHz and 26GHz spectrum for limited deployment in certain circles.

“We have successfully acquired mid-band 5G spectrum (3.3GHz band) in our 17 priority circles and mmWave 5G spectrum (26GHz band) in 16 circles, which will enable us to offer a superior 5G experience to our customers as well as strengthen our enterprise offerings and provide new opportunities for business growth in the emerging 5G era,” explained the company in a statement.

The final bidder in the auction was wireless newcomer Adani Group, backed by billionaire Gautam Adani.

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Adani Groups says the spectrum will be used to offer private network services to enterprise customers.

The conclusion of the Indian auction marks a major step for the Indian telecoms industry, one that the government hopes will become the backbone of its booming digital economy.

Elsewhere in Africa,not much uncertainty rules like Nigeria especially in terms of policies.

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South Africa,Kenya ,Uganda and Lesotho have since powered 5G networks based on robust policies in place.
The companies are invariably running their networks based on rules by governments in their countries with understandings of those rules like India.
The Nigerian situation is plagued by multiple regulations laced with multiple taxations and in the process,operators and investors are in a dilemma and worried about the future of their investments.

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NCC Commended as AfricaNXT 2023 Begins

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), at the opening of the AfricaNext show at the Landmark Event Centre in Lagos, Monday, attracted industry commendation for its efficient regulatory processes that have given verve to the realisation of full digital economy in the country.

Chief Executive Officer of CashToken Africa, Mr. Lai Labode, said the manner with which the Commission understands and supports the emergence of companies that have critical roles to play in actualising the dreams of the digital economy, promises that Nigeria will make the desired impact in the future of the country’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development.

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Labode said NCC’s approach to transform the telecom industry and contribute to the Federal Government’s digital economy agenda was reflected in the diligence, speed and smartness in processing recent applications including that of CashToken, which, he said, had led to a major collaboration with Mobile Network Operators.

Other participants also spoke about the demonstration of commitment to efficiency in NCC’s operations and attainment of excellence in regulatory oversight, a key item in the Commission’s extant Five-Point Agenda for transforming the telecom sector.

CashToken Africa, operated by CeLD, is a Nigerian company advocating performance-based customer rewards and nudging firms to reward their customers with life-transforming rewards.

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He spoke at CashToken Africa’s forum at the 2023 AfricaNXT conference focused on, “Socially Smart Business Models: Universal Cash Reward, Direct Sales Gamification and Wealth Redistribution.”

NCC is one of the sponsors and key agencies participating at AfricaNXT event and will take to the stands on Thursday, 9th February 2023, from 1.00pm-2.00pm, at the FutureNow Stage, with a theme that will focus on its mandates and efforts towards the realization of the digital economy agenda of the Federal Government.

 

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Signed:

Reuben Muoka

Director, Public Affairs

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February 7, 2023

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Digital banking and the hiccups within

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By Sonny Aragba-Akpore

Despite the beauty associated with the advent of digital banking ,the pitfalls are unbearable to victims.

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From about 1987,when banks introduced technology into their banking operations ,it was received with excitement by Nigerians who saw this as prayer answered.
Their reasons were practically understandable especially coming from the drudgery of “tally number “a common experience in the days of analogue banking when customers had to wait in long queues for cashiers to leaf through dust-caked ledgers to fish out account holders details and balances before they could be paid.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) were not readily available until 1989 when National Cash Register (NCR) West Africa Limited carried out a pilot phase for Societe General Bank,(now defunct ) which was the pioneer in ATM services.It was closely followed by First Bank Nigeria PLC in 1990.

Before then,customers were limited to banking halls dogged by long hours wait to pick their money.
Painful as the experiences were,life had to go on.

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Then the banks began the electronic banking (e-banking) processes to herald new experiences especially for ease of transactions through digital means.

Post Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) era was when Technology began to make meaningful inroads into the banking sector even when the conservatives had their own misgivings /reservations and held back,not accepting it immediately.

But Nigeria must creep away from the outskirts of globalization and the banks and financial institutions manifested this early enough.

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And the entry of Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001 changed many things as the platforms brought together what was unimaginable and added meaning to just everything available and the banking industry dived into technology acquisition with frenzy gripping it with every conceivable might.

At some point,it appeared,the banks were in a long distance race in competition to see who introduces what and how it runs.

Know Your Customers (KYCs) became easier through proper documentation including biometrics,fingerprints,photos of customers and later,the Bank Verification Number (BVN) leading to complete integration of the banking systems.

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From the comfort of the homes and offices,just everywhere there was telecommunications coverage,banking transactions are now possible ,easy and smooth.

Internet banking has become very popular as many banks create platforms for that purpose since the internet is now available no matter the speed.Smart devices and computers in the homes and offices are now very important tools for digital banking.

Shortly after,the more robust and flexible Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) was introduced thus creating more flexible ways to banking as the customers smile at every successful transaction.

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Where ever there is a network coverage by telecommunications operators and service providers,bank transactions are possible.
All a bank customer needs is the bank,s USSD code for his/ bank and pronto,transactions take place effortlessly.
With USSD,the banks and telecom companies have very strong bonds and handshakes at every point.
But that is where the beauty stops .
And as times go by ,banks and bank customers have become victims of smart alecs or better put,”yahoo boys “ or fraudsters some of whom allegedly collaborate with insiders to defraud unsuspecting customers.
Eight banks lost nearly N2billion to scammers in 2021.Who bears the burden of these losses and how do the victims recover their moneys without any form of insurance cover.
A survey carried out by Agusto&Co in 2022 revealed that 59 per cent of bank customers sampled indicated that they have fallen victims to fraud.
The survey revealed that 41 per cent of this figure said their accounts hadn’t been compromised, “however, the remaining had been victims through phishing emails, data breaches, unauthorised access to accounts through USSD, and others.”

The report tagged ‘2022 Consumer Digital Banking Satisfaction Index’ specifically called for investment in cyber security and awareness to avert bank customers falling victim to breaches in their accounts.

Data by the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) shows that fraud attempts via mobile channels saw a 330 percent increase year-on-year (YoY) between 2019 and 2020, while attempts via web and POS channels saw a 173 percent and 215 percent increase YoY. In those nine months, nine out of every ten attempts were successful, and there were 46,126 of such attacks.

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Only recently a Lagos State resident and former Zenith Bank employee, Chiamaka Agim lamented how over N4 million strangely disappeared from her Zenith Bank account.

The lady narrated her ordeal in a video uploaded on her Twitter page on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.

She stated that she was relaxing in her apartment on the evening of January 9, 2023, when she received three alerts for debits which added up to N4.039 million.

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She also said she opened the bank account that was cleared of all her savings while she was working at Zenith Bank.

She was quoted as saying “when I received the first alert around 8.25pm I actually thought it was a WhatsApp message. I checked it and was shocked to see that it was an alert of N3.715 million,” she said.

Fraud and unauthorised debit on customers accounts among Nigerian banks are seemingly on the surge but the frustrating aspect is the attitude of banks when responding to such incidents.

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Miss Agim ,s case is particularly pathetic as her case brings to the fore flaws in the system after she was debited N4.039 million in a single day without initiating any transaction.

“Unauthorized transactions were done last night at about 8:40pm on my Account and everything is gone, over 4 million naira debited. And @ZenithBank is not saying anything serious. This is my life savings. Please I need legal help,” she lamented on micro blogging site Twitter.

Curiously,she claimed that her debit limit was N200,000 and wondered “how they (the bank)authorised a N4m transaction.”

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If her debit limit is N200,000 as she claimed,at what point did the bank authorize payment without her consent?Analysts fear that there may have been insiders abuse in this regard as certain loopholes may have been noticed and taken into consideration before suspected fraudulent movements of the money took place.

In her efforts to recover her money she visited two Zenith Bank branches (at Herbert Macaulay and branch in Alagomeji, Yaba) in Lagos and wrote two separate letters of complaints.

It took public spirited intervention before respite came her way as it is revealed that the bank had responded positively to Miss Agim.

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Her case is one of several cases reported as many victims like hers have resigned to fate but unlike her,these Victims remain as the name implies “victims “.

There are many victims languishing and some took the option of suicide since life made no meaning to them after the losses due to no fault of theirs and many have no fallback conditions for redress the situation as the case may be.That is a bigger tragedy.

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Danbatta Bags Vanguard’s Regulator of the Year Award

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The Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, was at the weekend in Lagos, decorated with the 2022 Regulator of the Year Award at the prestigious 11th Edition of the Vanguard Personality of the Year Award where men and women who have distinguished themselves as achievers of excellence in their various fields of endeavours were honoured.

The award was conferred on Danbatta in recognition of the EVC’s effective regulatory achievements through cutting-edge initiatives, especially during his first five years in office during which Nigeria’s telecom sector has shown spectacular landmarks, at a glamorous ceremony at the Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos on Friday.

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According to Vanguard Newspaper Limited, the organizers of the event, his initiatives strengthened the role of the telecommunications sector as a major contributor to the growth of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as telecoms investment inflows from $36 billion in 2015 to over $70 billion.

Danbatta also spearheaded a campaign to improve Nigeria’s broadband penetration from the paltry five percent at the time of his appointment to about 30% in 2018. The EVC is currently among those leading the charge for the realisation of the new national broadband penetration target of 70 percent by 2025 since his reappointment in office in 2020.

While presenting the award, Chief Abiola Dosunmu, the Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos, said Danbatta was eminently qualified and deserving of the distinct recognition conferred upon him.

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Other eminent Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in professional excellence and service to humanity in the private and public sectors were conferred with various categories of awards at the event including the President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote who won the Personality of the Year Award.

Other awardees include the Kwara State Governor, Abdulraham Abdulrazaq and Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde who were present and decorated and the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, Mohammed Bello Koko who won the Public Sector Icon of the Year.

Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa was represented by the Deputy Governor of the State, Barrister Kingsley Burutu Otuaro while Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem.

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Distinguished guests at the event were the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the NCC, Prof. Adeolu Akande; the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management of the NCC, Adeleke Adewolu; some other members of the Board as well as Management and Staff of the Commission.

Signed
Reuben Muoka
Director, Public Affairs
29th January 2023

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