Creating new model for accelerating broadband deployment

The apparent sluggish pace of deploying broadband internet services across the country is worrying stakeholders in the Nigerian telecoms industry and to address this, the Nigerian Communications Commission is adopting a new model aimed at accelerating the expansion of broadband transmission infrastructures across the country. KUNLE AZEEZ examines the developments and concludes that the move, if well implemented, would be beneficial to the nation’s economy.

The current slow pace of last-mile broadband internet connectivity is Nigeria has continued to raise concerns among industry stakeholders, who are believe that having a ubiquities broadband accessibility in Nigeria presents huge economic opportunities for the country.

Already, various studies have proven that investment in broadband can engender a positive outlook on the Gross Domestic Products of a nation, with even more potential in developing economies than developed economies, where access to broadband has been available. Over the years, with the landing of various International undersea cables, which have brought huge internet bandwidth capacity into the country, experts say Nigeria looks prepared to bolster its economic performance.

However, since the landing of the cables such as MainOne, Glo 1, the West Africa Cable Systems owned by a consortium led by MTN as well as the news of other cables such as ACE and others expected to launch commercially in the country early next years, the transmission of the bandwidth capacity brought by this companies to the hinterlands remain a big challenge.

For instance, industry experts as well as the regulator have noted that the huge capacity in the country is concentrated in Lagos- along the sea shores in Lekki, where most of the undersea cables have their landing points.

Unfortunately, the various plans by the cable companies to single-handedly undertake the transmission of their bandwidth internet capacity to different parts of the country is been hampered by a number of issues, the chief of which is right of way, multiple regulation, multiple taxation and vandalism of cable infrastructures, some inadvertently by contracture companies.

Though, following the approval of the National Broadband Plan early in the year by President Goodluck Jonathan, the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, had stated that going by the quantum of efforts being put in place, the country should achieve a 500 per cent increase in broadband penetration by 2015.

The minister, who pointed out the current state of broadband penetration in Nigeria is estimated at between six per and 10 per cent, stressed that attaining the benefits derived from broadband connectivity will require not only industry collaboration but significant investment in time and in money.

She said with low broadband penetration rates and high cost of access to broadband, the government has realised that significant work still remains to be done and significant investments are still required to be made. “The industry landscape has changed since the early days of liberalisation– the competitive landscape have changed, the technology continues to evolve, consumers are getting more demanding for bandwidth and industry priorities for infrastructure are now more focused on broadband employment, raising new challenges for our network operators and infrastructure providers.”

She said this has made the government to continue to be alive to its responsibilities in developing the appropriate policy, legal and regulatory framework to attract the necessary domestic and foreign direct investment to fuel the data/internet revolution that the country needs. Speaking at recent forum, immediate past President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu, had insisted that there was a need to license a specially category of companies that would assist the country in last-mile broadband capacity transmission on inter-city and intra-city basis.

In realisation of Omo-Ettu’s other industry observes comments, who had recommended the need for such broadband infrastructure transmission companies, the Nigerian Communications Commission last week held a meeting with the chiefs executives of telecoms companies in Nigeria with a view to brainstorming on the best model to adopt in accelerating broadband access across the nooks and crannies of the country to achieve the set objectives in the National Broadband Plan.

Speaking at the forum, which held at the Oriental Hotel in Lagos, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Dr. Eugene Juwah announced the plan to proactively use an Open Access Model for broadband deployment with the proposed licensing of seven new infrastructure companies, InfaCo, which will spearhead the task of ‘true ubiquitous broadband infrastructure deployment.’

According to Juwah, the current industry direction has become imperative in view of the high cost of internet access and the prevalence of poor quality of service. According to the commission, the current situation is mainly attributed to the dearth of a comprehensive domestic fibre backbone within the country connecting the Local Government Areas as well as widespread and expansive metropolitan fibre mesh network within the cities. With only 56 per cent of the 774 LGAs estimated to have backbone optic fibre present, the NCC boss said, “The presence of fibre in an LGA does not necessarily mean that high capacity transmission services or dark fibre services are available from existing operators at competitive prices.”

In spite of the recent progress recorded in the telecoms industry, Juwah lamented that the fibre deployment in the country had been plagued by myriad of difficulties ranging from administrative procedures regarding right of way, RoW, permits, to poor urban planning. In addition, Juwah lamented that the lack of infrastructure sharing has also hindered efficient internet access.

“Hence, to address current challenges, the NCC is proposing an overhaul of the current industry structure which consists of integrated operators offering end-toend services and long distance operators offering wholesale servces amongst others,” he said. While noting that existing structure hitherto being used in the industry has served the country well in terms of penetration of mobile services, Juwah said the structure had also continue to face limitations in terms of increasing availability and penetration of high-speed broadband infrastructure.

For instance, National Mirror learnt that teledensity has reached 88.3 per cent as at July, 2013 while mobile subscriptions peaked at 120 million. On the contrary, broadband penetration is still low at about 8 per cent. On how the InfraCos will operate to boost broadband penetration, Juwah said: the proposed industry structure, based on Open Access, would see to the licensing of infrastructure companies, InfaCo, that are geographically focused. According to him, “These companies will provide wholesale Layer 2 transmission service on a non-discriminatory, open access, regulated basis. InfaCos may provide Layer 1) services on commercial basis. Digicel Top Up is the top mobile operator, which keeps you connected to your loved ones around the world!

They would also focus on the deployment of metropolitan fibre and provide transmission services, available at access points (Fibre-to-the-Node or Neighbourhood- FTTN) to access seekers.” In addition to the InfraCos, Juwah said a Wholesale Wireless Last-Mile Provider will be licensed in coming months, even as the Commission prepares to auction the remaining slot of 2.3GHz spectrum by January, 2013. “The available 2.3GHz spectrum licence will be auctioned to provide last mile wireless access on a wholesale basis.

There will also be Retail Service Providers, RSP. The RSP are expected to ride on the wholesale last mile provider to offer services to homes, businesses, schools and others” Juwah said, stressing that last-mile connectivity will be deployed using wireless and fibre optic broadband.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have continued to react to the new model for accelerating broadband, with some saying the proposed industry structure is critical to meeting Nigeria’s vision 20:2020 economic transformation blueprint. For instance, telecoms companies have given their initial approval for the new structure, saying it will stimulate a new national broadband network that is not only widespread but also faster and more secured than what is available today so as to boost other aspects of the Nigerian economy. President, ATCON, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who described the new model as welcome development, urged government to declare access to broadband by all citizens as fundamental human right.

To the Chief Executive Officer, AAA Infoteck, Mr. Akin Akinbo, who spoke to National Mirror on phone yesterday, “What I consider a major thing in the whole model is the need for government to create attractive incentives for the InfraCos so as to be competitive and help the country in achieving its lofty broadband penetration targets.”

Meanwhile, the President, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, had reinforced Akinbo’s view. According to Adebayo, “There is a need for government to establish a special intervention fund to support organisations willing to participate in ensuring widespread deployment of broadband services across the country.” Meanwhile, telecoms operators in Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) segment of the Nigerian telecoms sector may not have been considers to be able to play any significant role in the planned national broadband framework.

The revelation became apparent during the same last week meeting by the NCC team with telecoms executives, without the inclusion of the CDMA representatives. The Commission, however, insisted that all willing players in the industry would be carried along on the new model and would be given a chance to play a role on an impartial basis. With the proposed model, which is expected to stimulate ever-present highspeed internet, therefore resulting in more productivity, efficiency and cost-effectively, industry watchers are of the view that the nation’s economy would benefit significantly from individual, enterprise and government levels.

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