- 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.
Facebook to Open Office in Lagos, Nigeria
Social Media Giant Facebook Will Open a New Office in Nigeria
Facebook Inc, the world’s biggest social media company, on Friday announced it will open a new office in Lagos, Nigeria. The second of such in Africa.
According to the company, the office will be home to various facebook teams, servicing the African continent in Sales, Partnerships, Policy, Communications as well as Engineers.
The new office is expected to be operational in the second half of 2021 and will be the first in Africa to house a team of expert engineers building for the future of Africa and beyond.
Speaking on the new office, Ime Archibong, Facebook’s Head of New Product Experimentation, said: “The opening of our new office in Lagos, Nigeria presents new and exciting opportunities in digital innovations to be developed from the continent and taken to the rest of the world. All across Africa we’re seeing immense talent in the tech ecosystem, and I’m proud that with the upcoming opening of our new office, we’ll be building products for the future of Africa, and the rest of the world, with Africans at the helm. We look forward to contributing further to the African tech ecosystem.”
The investment of the new Facebook office follows the 2018 opening of NG_Hub, its first flagship community hub space in Africa in partnership with CcHub, and the 2019 opening of a Small Business Group (SBG) Operations Centre in Lagos, in partnership with Teleperformance. Providing outsourced support to all English-speaking advertisers across Sub-Saharan Africa, the SBG office supports Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) through its Advocacy, Community & Education (ACE) programme, as well as its Marketing Expert sales programmes – all aimed at enabling SMBs to accelerate the growth and development of their businesses.
“Our new office in Nigeria presents an important milestone which further reinforces our ongoing commitment to the region”, commented Kojo Boakye, Facebook’s Director of Public Policy, Africa. “Our mission in Africa is no different to elsewhere in the world – to build community and bring the world closer together, and I’m excited about the possibilities that this will create, not just in Nigeria, but across Africa.”
Since the opening of its first office in 2015, Facebook has made a number of investments across the continent, aimed at supporting and growing the tech ecosystem, expanding and providing reliable connectivity infrastructures and helping businesses to grow locally, regionally and globally. This includes the recent rollout of its SMB Grants programme in Nigeria and South Africa, aimed at supporting over 900 businesses by providing a combination of cash and ad credits to help small businesses as they rebuild from COVID. The development of 2Africa, the world’s largest subsea cable project that will deliver much needed internet capacity and reliability across large parts of Africa, as well as its ongoing training programmes across the continent which support various communities including students, SMBs, digital creatives, female entrepreneurs, start-up’s and developers.
Nunu Ntshingila, Regional Director, Facebook Africa, said: “We’re delighted to be announcing our new office in Nigeria. Five years on from opening our first office on the continent in Johannesburg, South Africa, we’re continuing to invest in and support local talent, as well as the various communities that use our platforms. The office in Lagos will also be key in helping to expand how we service our clients across the continent.”
Senator Rubio Urges Trump to Scrap TikTok-Oracle Deal if ByteDance Ties Remain
Marco Rubio and five other Republican senators called on the Trump administration to reject a proposed deal for Oracle Corp ORCL.N to become a “trusted technology provider” for popular social media platform TikTok’s U.S. operations, if ties to Chinese owner ByteDance remain.
Rubio, the first senator to call on the administration to investigate TikTok over censorship concerns, said in the letter to President Donald Trump that “serious questions” remained about Oracle’s role, the technology it would provide to ByteDance, and the future of the application’s algorithm.
“We remain opposed to any deal that would allow China-based or controlled entities to retain, control or modify the code or algorithms that operate any U.S.-based version of TikTok,” Rubio wrote in the letter, dated Wednesday.
“We are heartened that this deal still requires government approval, and if reports indicating this proposed deal will retain links to ByteDance or other Chinese-controlled entities, we strongly urge the administration to reject such a proposal on national security grounds,” he added.
Late on Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz raised concerns about a deal, saying in a separate letter the Oracle ByteDance deal “failed to meet the intent of the president’s executive orders” and “raises serious national security concerns.”
The Trump administration will make a decision soon on Oracle becoming a trusted technology provider, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Wednesday.
The Rubio letter, also signed by Senators Thom Tillis, Rick Scott, John Cornyn, Roger Wicker and Dan Sullivan, is part of a growing chorus of lawmakers raising questions about the deal.
On Monday, Republican Senator Josh Hawley sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who heads a national security panel reviewing the proposal, calling for the deal to be scuttled, if it does not allow for the “full emancipation of TikTok software from potential Chinese Communist Part control.”
It is unclear what Trump will do. White House adviser Jared Kushner on Tuesday said the White House is reviewing Oracle’s bid and a senior administration official said a decision had not yet been made.
Trump had previously made clear he sought a full-scale sale of the app to an American technology company, amid concerns among national security officials that ByteDance could provide American user data to the Chinese government. But Trump may not want to alienate 100 million-odd American TikTok users weeks before a hotly contested presidential election.
Trump has also said he is a fan of Oracle’s co-founder and Chairman Larry Ellison, one of few tech executives to openly support the Republican president.
Meanwhile, China has updated its export control rules to give it a say over the transfer of technology, such as TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, to a foreign buyer. Chinese officials have said ByteDance should not be coerced by the United States into a deal.
Oracle announced on Monday it was part of a proposal submitted by ByteDance to the U.S. Treasury Department to serve as “trusted technology provider,” to ByteDance, providing no further details on the terms of the deal.
Pandemic Has Spurred Need for Digital ID Systems to Reduce Physical Contact
Digital ID systems, a prerequisite for developing functional e-governance platforms, have been on the agendas of many emerging economies for quite some time.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reemphasized the importance of eIDs in providing social, medical and financial support to households and businesses.
Electronic identification allows citizens and businesses to prove their identity and access the governmental services online. It enables fully digital processes and eliminates the need for expensive and time-consuming manual operations. Such functionality has been crucial during the pandemic, especially for developing countries.
For example, in April Chile pre-enrolled millions of new recipients in social welfare programs, while Thailand, where over 28 million people applied for a new benefit for informal workers affected by the pandemic, filtered out those who had already received assistance from other projects. All of this, including the improved accessibility to medical services, has helped to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on both the economy and the people.
“The pandemic has put electronic identification at the top of the priority lists of many developing countries,” said Mindaugas Glodas, CEO at NRD Companies, a global IT consortium specializing in e-solutions developing and consulting. “It has become a necessary component of digital transformation initiatives for governments around the world, ensuring transparency, security and efficiency of e-public services they are eager to deliver to citizens. The importance of eIDs will only grow in the coming years.
“However, while economies are steadily moving towards digitization, more than a billion people, half of them in Africa, still lack basic unique IDs—a precondition for citizens to exercise the range of human rights set out in international laws and conventions. In the absence of identification systems, people have difficulties opening bank accounts, voting, obtaining formal employment and accessing education or healthcare, while states themselves struggle with government administration, tax collection, response to emergencies, disasters and epidemics, border management and security,” said Mindaugas Glodas.
One of the developing nations that has recognized the importance of unique and digital ID systems is Samoa, previously one of the least digitized countries in the world. Working together with NRD Companies, the Polynesian country has been determined to bring its people an accessible and highly secure identity management system. When the pandemic first hit, the Samoan government decided to continue with the consultancy project remotely even in unfavorable circumstances—a move that speaks to the urgent need for innovation. The new project is expected to help support the economic recovery and serve as a foundation for a digital government platform.
According to Vaidotas Ramonas, a digital identity, electronic signature and trust services expert, identification is the basis for building inclusive societies, where every individual has access to services provided by the state with no one left behind. Once countries have implemented unique ID frameworks, the next logical step is to introduce digital ID systems. There are multiple paths governments can take to initiate and encourage the use of eID platforms.
“The government can start providing eID services by, for example, digitizing some of the most widely-used, costly or inconvenient-to-use public services—ice-breakers, as I call them,” said Vaidotas Ramonas. “Digitization would make the services cheaper, easier and faster to use, which could possibly attract more people to try them out. Also, the government can simply announce, independently, that some service will be available only through e-government for which the citizens will need to set up eIDs. It is possible that at first there will be some discontentment, but experience shows that people eventually see that eID saves time, money and energy, and later refuse to give it up.”
As emerging nations tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild their economies, they have a unique opportunity to use the crisis as a springboard and introduce innovative digital solutions. With all of the advantages it brings to the table, building unique ID infrastructure is a good place to start a journey toward national eID platforms.
NRD Companies, with the support from its global partners—such as the World Bank, AfDB, European Commission and others—often organizes govtech-related events seeking to educate policy makers and encourage sustainable change. The next event, an international webinar on national digital identity, is scheduled for September 17th. However, for those unable to attend, the company is more than happy to share a link to watch the event at a later time, thus encouraging any interested peers to reach out.
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