Nigeria telecoms: Riding on the wings of investment, sound regulation
By Theresa Igata, Snr. Correspondent
The year 2020 for some has come to be known as the year of the pandemic with the apparent economic recession and headwinds occasioned by the global outbreak of the coronavirus and its attendant lockdowns. World economies have continued to struggle to stay afloat in some sectors but the same cannot be said of the telecoms sector in Nigeria.
For the Nigeria telecoms sector, the year 2020 was an eventful year with a lot of landmark achievements and regulatory initiatives by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the sector’s regulator.
The challenges witnessed in the year under review notwithstanding, the sector recorded significant growth. The impressive performance and growth, made possible through effective regulatory initiatives emplaced by the telecoms regulator, under the leadership the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta.
The policies, programmes and activities of the Commission have further positively impacted the upward trajectory of the digital ecosystem in the year under review.
A major development in the industry in 2020 was the reappointment of Prof. Danbatta for another five-year term as the EVC of the NCC, a presidential action that was resoundingly lauded by industry stakeholders, who described Danbatta “as a round peg in a round hole.”
Nigeria’s Telecoms sector remains the enabler of growth, with N2.272 trillion or 14.30 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution in Q2, 2020, according to official telecom industry data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Whereas, telecoms contribution as at December 2019 was 10.60%, investments continue to grow in leaps and bounds in 2020 to over $70 billion.
The second quarter contribution to the GDP which represents a leap from the 10.88 per cent in Q1, 2020 is attributed to the sound regulatory environment enthroned by the NCC.
While the entire ICT industry recorded 17.83 per cent growth in the same quarter, the 14.30 per cent contribution of the telecoms sub-sector was unprecedented, far and above the oil and gas, and other non-oil sectors.
According to NCC data statistics, in 2015, telecoms contribution to GDP stood at 8.50 per cent and has grown significantly quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year to reach the current milestone of 14.30 per cent.
The sector witnessed an increase in Active mobile voice subscribers from 184 million in December, 2019 to 208 million by October, 2020 representing an additional 24million active mobile lines accessed by Nigerians across mobile networks.
Connectivity increased in the country from 126 million in December, 2019 while Internet subscriptions rose impressively to 152.9 million as of October, 2020. In the same vein, broadband (i.e high-speed Internet) penetration maintained an upward swing to 45.93% in October, 2020, up from 37.80% in 2019.
The increase in broadband penetration, Internet usage, number of subscribers to telephone services and several other initiatives by the NCC, especially in the areas of driving tech innovations, employment creation, promotion of digital inclusiveness has in the last five years helped boost the sector’s contribution to GDP.
These policy activities have also enhanced growth of digital-based activities across other sectors of the economy.
SMP to drive Digital Economy
The NCC in June, 2020 unveiled its new Strategic Management Plan (SMP) 2020-2024 as a pedestal to drive the implementation of the Federal Government’s digital economy vision.
The SMP, according to Prof. Danbatta, is the fulcrum that will aid the Commission in driving its telecom regulatory mandate in the fast-evolving telecoms industry, in the next five years. It will also serve as a roadmap for the future of the Nigerian telecoms sector, taking into consideration the current and emerging trends in the industry and the numerous expectations of the diverse stakeholders.
Continuous Drive of ICT innovations for growth
In the year under review, the NCC continued its commitment to investing millions of Naira to drive ICT innovations in the academia while also supporting innovative ideas among young Nigerian tech innovators.
Asides several ICT innovation challenge and Hackathon programmes such as the Covid-19 Virtual Hackathon initiated and implemented by the Commission, the NCC, instituted and endowed two additional Professorial Chairs to the tune of N40 million in two more Nigerian universities.
The two universities – the premier University of Ibadan, Oyo State and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State, are endowed with N20 million each over the next two years to embark of massive research to promote innovation to drive socio-economic development in the country. This brings to four the number of tertiary institutions of learning that have benefitted from the NCC’s innovation-driving initiative, having endowed professorial chairs in Bayero University Kano (BUK) and Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) in May, 2019.
Boosting FG’s revenue generation
The total remittances by the NCC into the Federal Government’s coffers from 2015 grew and reached over N362.34 billion (5 years) in 2020. The revenue was essentially generated from spectrum sales, operating surplus and sanctions.
The Commission also engaged in spectrum re-planning, re-farming to optimise the usage of the scarce resource while it continued to address the quality of service (QoS) delivery through effective monitoring of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and development of KPIs for Third Generation (3G) and Fourth Generation (4G) networks. All these are in a bid to ensure improved service delivery to telecom consumers.
Approval for the trial of e-SIM, and national roaming
In line with its commitment to always put Nigeria’s telecoms sector ahead of cutting-edge technologies that can revolutionise consumer experience, the NCC granted approval for two mobile network operators (MNOs), MTN Nigeria and 9Mobile, to carry out trial on the workability of embedded Subscriber Identification Modules (e-SIM) Service in Nigeria.
The trial, approved to run for a period of one year, will involve testing 5,000 e-SIMs by the two networks, subject to compliance with a number of regulatory conditions.
According to EVC NCC, Prof. Danbatta, the primary objective of the e-SIM trial is to assess the technical performance of the e-SIM on telecoms service providers’ network towards eventual rollout, if satisfactory. He said the e-SIMs is a technology that will eliminate the need for physical SIM card slots on mobile devices in the near future, adding that the trial is in line with the Commission’s forward-looking regulatory approach to ensure Nigeria’s telecoms ecosystem is in tandem with global best practices.
Similarly, the Commission also granted approval for MTN and 9mobile trial on national roaming service for a period of three months, commencing from October 14, 2020 to end by January 13, 2020. The two telcos are expected to configure their networks to begin testing and simulation for customer experience.
The trial approval will cover a few local governments, designated as the National Roaming geographic area, in Ondo State which primary objective is to encourage network resource sharing among operators.
It is will also lead to operational expenditure (OPEX) optimisation and capital expenditure (CAPEX) efficiencies leading to freeing up of resources to expand mobile network coverage to unserved and underserved communities across the country, which will lead to improved Quality of Service (QoS) delivery to subscribers.
Planned 5G technology deployment
Following the misinformation, miscommunication, misunderstanding and misconception that greeted the trial of 5G into the Nigerian Mobile Technology space in 2019, the NCC in 2020 began a deliberate regulatory measure by developing a Draft Consultation Document on the Deployment.
The NCC clearly stated that “For the avoidance of doubt, as with the previous technologies such as 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G, it will not commence 5G deployment without due consultation with all relevant stakeholders.”
Benefits of MNOs listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange
Facilitating the listing of MTN Nigeria and other operators such as Airtel in the country’s stock exchange market in terms of economic gains to Nigeria and Nigerians cannot be over emphasized, especially in the areas of boosting market capitalisation and yielding dividends to shareholders.
Market analysts report that MTN investors, alone, have raked in approximately N1 trillion in price appreciation and dividends since April 2020.
The listing of MTN was as a result of effective regulatory action taken during the mobile network operator’s fine settlement agreement in 2016, which compelled the telco to, among other things list on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). The listing was one of the outcomes of the NCC’s stringent regulatory posture, which served as tonic for other telcos such as Airtel to follow the same direction.
The liberalisation of the Nigerian telecoms sector which started 19 years ago has triggered tremendous growth as the sector continues to contribute substantially to the socio-economic transformation of the country in the areas of employment, productivity and economic growth as well as GDP, even as more investment is needed in the sector to fill some gaps in the deployment of broadband infrastructure.