- Dealing with Perennial Poor Quality of Service
The issue of poor service quality reared up its ugly head for the first time in 2006, after the expiration of the five-year exclusivity period granted the first set of licensed telecoms operators that rolled out in 2001, and since then it has been a recurrent issue, writes Emma Okonji.
When Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria) first rolled out its telecommunication commercial services on August 8, 2001, followed by MTN Nigeria, a week after, the quality of service was awesome and without hitches.
The quality was maintained even after Globacom rolled out in 2003, and Nigerians were pleased with the service, which was mainly dominated by voice calls. At that time a caller will generate a call at one dial and will connect easily to the call recipient and discussions done in several minutes without each party experiencing drop calls. There was no network congestion then that would warrant drop calls and subscribers were happy with network operators. Within this period, subscriber number was not much, compared to what it is today. Total subscribers’ number was less than 5 million at that time, but today there are over 150 million connected lines.
But shortly after the expiration of the five-year exclusivity period, precisely in 2006, telecoms subscribers started experiencing poor service quality, ranging from drop calls, inability to recharge, call diversion, poor voice clarity, to inability to make successful calls.
The situation continued and degenerated as more subscribers were registered, and subscribers complained.
When Etisalat was eventually registered in 2008, and it rolled out its services in 2008, its network appeared better than that of existing operators, but Etisalat started suffering the same poor quality, few years after, when its subscribers’ number increased rapidly.
Telecoms experts have blamed network congestion on the inability of operators to expand their networks, commensurate with the number of subscribers they register on their networks, while others have blamed the situation on obsolete telecoms facilities that do not have the capacity to accommodate the expanded subscribers’ number.
Disturbed by the situation, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) came up with all manners of measures to address the issue, including sanctions, but the issue of poor service quality persisted across networks.
NCC’s Recent Measures
Worried by the degenerating quality of service (QoS) provided by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and other service providers, the NCC, recently came up with new measures to address the ugly trend, which appears endless.
As part of new measures to cushion the situation and ameliorate the recurrent inaccessibility to foreign exchange (forex) by operators, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, told the operators that the commission had written to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, and he was favourably disposed to addressing the forex needs of the operators.
Specifically, as a follow-up to the letter, the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management at NCC, Mr. Sunday Dare, had a meeting with CBN Governor and extracted a commitment from him on how he hoped to address the forex needs of the operators.
Danbatta, who spoke with the operators in Abuja during an interactive session on service quality delivery which NCC management had with operators, said since the NCC had declared 2017 as the year of the consumer, all hands should be on deck for telecom consumers to have a fresh lease to high quality of service. “The consumer has to be treated with dignity,” Danbatta added, saying the “8-point agenda drives this point home.”
The NCC, he explained, has put measures in place to check and monitor QoS on various networks “and we have sent this report to our task force on QoS and have been interacting with governments at different levels as part of the measures to deal with the poor QoS”.
Danbatta admonished the operators and co-location service operators to provide suggestions on how to address the situation.
Earlier, NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Mr. Ubale Maska said, QoS has been a great concern as consumers inundate the commission with complaints.
“It requires everybody’s input if the situation has to be redressed, hence 2017 has been declared the year of the Consumer,” Maska said.
NCC Director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity (DTSNI), Dr. Fidelis Ona, explained that the commission was aware of some of the challenges which include Right of Way (RoW), difficulty in acquiring new cell sites, multiple taxation and regulation, vandalism, power supply among others.
“We are engaging stakeholders, including Industry Working Group on Quality of Service, special committee on Counter Harmonization to address this,” Ona said.
NCC’s Head, Quality of Service Unit, Edoyemi Ogoh, in his presentation traced poor quality of service to fibre cuts, community issues, among others.
He said in October 2016, operators experienced 175 cuts across the nation while they recorded 180 cuts in November and 103 in December, 2016. There were 113 community issues in October 2016, 74 in November and 133 in December, adding that fibre cuts and community issues remain major drawbacks for QoS.
Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at MTN Nigeria, Mr. Hassan Jamil, expressed happiness with the interactive session, and said it would help the regulator to know the situation on a one-on-one basis.
The issue of poor service quality has caused a great deal of pains to subscribers. At every consumer parliament organised by NCC, consumer complaints on poor service quality always take the centre stage. Most subscribers at some point in time will remain incommunicado, especially at festive periods like Yuletide, because they could not make calls as a result of network congestion. Some text messages were delivered days after the messages were sent, and at the time the message would be received, the essence of sending the message which had been billed, would have been defeated.
In order to address the challenges, the Chief Executive Officer of Teledom Group, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, called for increased access to ubiquitous broadband across the country. In a similar vein, the President of National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOM), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, also called for increase in the number of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), otherwise known as base stations. Ogunbanjo said Britain with a population of less than Nigeria’s 180 million people, has over 65,000 base stations, while Nigeria is still struggling to maintain about 20, 000 base stations across the country.
Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, however called for growth in local content development in the telecoms sector, which he said would boost telecoms growth among small indigenous players. He said Nigeria should be able to address its collective challenges, to enable telecoms subscribers enjoy the achievements of the sector, since the rollout of GSM services in the country in 2001.
Both the operators and subscribers suffer economic loss, once there is network congestion that affects successful calls. According to the operators, they are never happy when there is network congestion because what that means is loss of revenue for the operators since people will not be able to make calls and browse the internet.
In the same manner, subscribers who have business calls to make that could fetch them good money, will end up losing funds in the process.
Telecoms operators who attended the recent meeting with the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, listed some of their challenges as it relates to poor service quality, and made some suggestions on how to address the issue. They were of the view that scarcity of dollar has worsened the situation, and has resulted to their inability to import equipment to boost network expansion. According to them, we can’t transmit forex to vendors, we have issues with incessant fibre cuts, community related challenges, scarcity of diesel to power base stations, Right of Way issues with different layers of government in the regions, as well as sabotage at different levels. “We planned to install 100 sites for Abuja this year, but after a very long time, we were only able to build six because of the bottlenecks of getting approvals and until we resolve these, quality of service will be a mirage,” the operators told Danbatta at the recent meeting.
The issue of poor service quality, no doubt, is affecting both the operators and the subscribers, and the onus lies on NCC to find a lasting solution to it, in order to bring hope alive.
AFP Supports Access to Renewable Energy with €70m
AFP Supports Access to Renewable Energy with €70m
The Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) is supporting access to renewable energy for Nigerian manufacturers with €70 million under the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources and Energy Finance (SUNREF) Nigeria Programme for renewable energy.
The fund would be administered through the Access Bank Plc and the United Bank for Africa Plc.
However, only renewable energy projects like solar, wind, small hydro, biomas including waste-to-energy power plants would be eligible for funding under the SUNREF initiative.
The AFP described energy efficiency projects (EEP) as capital expenditure projects that would allow energy consumers to use less energy for achieving the same level of energy service.
The AFP made this known during the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency investors’ virtual conference that was held on Wednesday, in partnership with the Nigerian Energy Support Programme (NESP), which is a technical assistance programme co-funded by the European Union (EU) and the German Government and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Power and All-On of the Shell Foundation.
The conference was aimed at enabling the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN) to understand the SUNREF’s technical requirements, equipment and installation quality standards, self-regulatory initiatives and certification for industry practitioners.
The President of the Nigerian Manufacturers Association (MAN), Mr. Mansur Ahmed, who participated in the conference, described the financial and technical assistance offered by the SUNREF as significant opportunity that came at a time, “we needed it most more than ever” to address one of the most militating factors against industrial development of Nigeria.
Mansur said: “Clearly, this is the time for every effort to shore up the manufacturing sector is very welcomed. Therefore, I am delighted that this green energy project is focusing on renewable energy in improving energy efficiency.
“It is our hope that our members will take the full advantage of this facility and be able to diversify their energy sources, improve energy consumption and be able to expand their productive capacity, which is indeed very important in the current state of our economy. I, therefore, urge our members to take full advantage of this.”
The Country Director of the AFP, Ms. Virginie Diaz, said in her opening remark during the conference that the SUNREF would basically provide financial and technical assistance “aimed at supporting business strategies in the green energy sector in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which Nigeria has been supportive of.”
Also, the Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and the ECOWAS, Ms. Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, said the conference would enable investors and service providers to showcase their products and be able to develop relationships with clients and prospective investors in Nigeria.
She added: “I will like to highlight that this collaboration is an innovative financing and project that will help to address Nigeria’s energy gaps by mobilising foreign investments to finance green power projects.”
The SUNREF Nigeria Team Lead, Mr. Javier Betancourt, described SUNREF as integrated environmental finance that is dedicated to developing renewable energy in Nigeria.
Betancourt said in his presentation during the conference that the AFD has put in place targeted support to develop innovative green financing through dedicated credit lines through local financial institutions in the country.
He said: “The SUNREF is part of the broader initiative to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy as well as the sustainable use of natural resources.”
According to the Chief Executive Officer of All On, Dr. Wiebe Boer, the mission of the SUNREF is to bring the members of the MAN into the green energy fold.
Boer observed that any opportunity to address the significant gap that exists in access to energy in Nigeria would have considerable economic and social impacts.
Fintech CEO: Morocco’s Move to Revisit CBDC Has Global Implications
Scottsdale, Ari. – February 25, 2021 – Earlier this week, it was reported by both the Morocco World News and NASDAQ that Bank-Al-Maghrib, Morocco’s Central Bank, is forming an exploratory committee to deliberate whether the institution should launch a central bank digital currency. Significantly, only four years ago, the country banned cryptocurrencies.
“It isn’t so significant that yet another country is exploring the benefits of a CBDC, but, rather, the significance is in which country is doing the exploration,” explained Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and digital asset exchanges. “Even the slightest consideration from Bank-Al-Maghrib marks a historic day for digital assets.”
The newly formed committee is said to be tasked with identifying the pros and cons, while remaining cautious due to the “speculative nature” of cryptocurrencies. This is in line with the country’s original critique that a lack of regulation created risk for consumers and investors.
“It’s worth noting that, despite the ban, Moroccans account for the fourth highest volume of trading in Bitcoin within the African continent, behind Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa,” said Gardner. “A lot has changed in four years. A lot of bureaucrats were leery about the lack of regulatory oversight back then. Even now, many are still cautious. But, the power of cryptocurrencies is real, and they’re here to stay. Especially in Africa, digital currencies could radically change the lives of the unbanked. The fact that Bank-Al-Maghrib is even contemplating the benefits of digital assets — that’s something the whole world will be watching.”
Modulus is known throughout the financial technology segment as a leader in the development of ultra-high frequency trading systems and blockchain technologies. Over the past twenty years, the company has built a client list which includes NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Siemens, Shell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago.
“In addition to the raw power of digital currencies, the technology that powers blockchain-based solutions is something that region can’t afford to miss out on,” opined Gardner. “For example, blockchain-based authentication, especially when blended with artificial intelligence technologies, could be a gamechanger in authenticating malaria treatments. Using blockchain verification solutions, African governments could nearly eliminate counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which is a topic our company intends to continue to explore over the coming months and years.”
Biotech Firm Launches Lassa Vaccine Trial in West Africa
Biotech Firm Launches Lassa Vaccine Trial in West Africa
A biotechnology company, INOVIO, says the first participant in Lassa vaccine trial has been dosed in a Phase 1B clinical trial for INO-4500, its DNA vaccine candidate for Lassa fever.
The clinical trial is being done in Ghana, the firm says, adding that INOVIO is focused on bringing to market precisely-designed DNA medicines to treat and protect people from infectious diseases and cancer.
The Phase 1B clinical trial (LSV-002), ongoing at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, Ghana, is the first vaccine clinical trial for Lassa Fever to be conducted in West Africa, where the infection is endemic.
The lead clinical Principal Investigator for LSV-002 is Professor Dr. Kwadwo A. Koram, an expert and specialist in tropical medicines and epidemiologist with more than 20 years of research experience, including malaria vaccines.
INO-4500 was also the first vaccine candidate for Lassa fever to enter human trials, PUNCH Healthwise reports.
Already, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has tweeted his commendation.
Said Ihekweazu, “Fantastic news. The urgency of now. A vaccine for Lassa fever. We have worked very hard with WHO, CEPI vaccines, ACEGID, BNITM_de and many others to put this on the global health agenda. We will keep pushing.”
According to a press release by the biotechnology company, INOVIO is advancing INO-4500 with full funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global partnership that leverages funding from public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations to support research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.
INOVIO previously received a $56m grant from CEPI in 2018, under which the company is developing vaccine candidates for Lassa Fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
“INOVIO and CEPI are committed to making a vaccine available as soon as possible for emergency use as a stockpile product post-Phase 2 testing,” the press release stated.
The statement notes that INOVIO’s Phase 1B clinical trial, LSV-002, will enroll approximately 220 adult participants who are 18 – 50 years old, with the primary endpoints of evaluating safety and immunogenicity in an African population.
The dosing regimen involves two vaccinations at zero and 28 days with either 1.0 mg or 2.0 mg dosing levels. In addition to providing valuable insights on the INO-4500 safety and immunogenicity profile, this trial will inform dose selection for subsequent Phase 2 studies in West Africa.
Lassa fever is an animal-borne, acute hemorrhagic viral illness primarily observed in parts of West Africa.
Infection is spread through contact with infected rodents, as well as person-to-person transmission via bodily fluids (primarily in health care settings).
The disease can cause a range of outcomes, including fever, vomiting, and swelling of the face, pain in the chest, back and abdomen, bleeding of various parts of the body including the eyes and nose and death.
Lassa virus infection in West Africa is estimated to affect 100,000 to 300,000 people annually, and is responsible for 10 – 16 percent of hospital admissions in the region. The virus is responsible for approximately 5,000 deaths annually.
Because of difficulties in diagnosing Lassa fever, the lack of standardised surveillance assays, and the remote nature of many of the areas in West Africa where outbreaks typically occur, the numbers of reported cases and deaths are very likely significantly lower than the actual numbers of cases and deaths.
Though the majority (about 80 percent) of Lassa virus-infected persons are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, the infection can be quite serious to fatal in others. The case-fatality among patients hospitalized for Lassa fever is about 15 – 20 percent and, in some epidemics, case-fatality has reached 50 percent in hospitalized patients.
Up until now, there are no licensed vaccines or treatments specifically for Lassa fever.
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