Garlands for NCC as Nigeria Savours 20 Years of GSM Telephony

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has, no doubt, recorded innumerable milestones in the 20 years of the debut of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technological revolution. Aside from introducing a robust licensing regime and sustaining modern and almost seamless, hitch-free telecommunications platforms, the NCC, convincingly, has fast-tracked the liberalisation of Nigeria’s telecoms industry and provided the much-needed boost to the different sectors of Nigeria’s economy, reports EZECHUKWU CHIDOZIE.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, debuted under Decree No. 75 on 24th November 1992. The Commission was given the mandate to regulate telecommunications services and facilities in the country, promote competition, and set performance standards for such services in Nigeria. Since then, its positive impacts have remained in the public domain but became more manifest on August 6th, 2001, when Airtel got its operational licence, thus emerging as the first GSM operator in Nigeria, followed by MTN Nigeria in that same year.

For the period of nine years, the NCC under its pioneer Executive Vice-Chairman/Chief Executive, Chief Ogbonna Cletus Iromantu, engaged in series of activities to disentangle the Commission from the moribund and epileptic Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) bureaucracy, which had, for years, unsatisfactorily carried out its statutory mandate. It was under Chief Ernest Ndukwe, as EVC of NCC, that the seed planted in 1992 crystallised. Ndukwe embarked on several result-oriented programmes before the expiration of his two terms as EVC prior to handing over to Engr. Eugene Juwa, who also delivered impactful leadership at the NCC. 

If his predecessors were achievers, the current leadership of Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, has been most outstanding. He not only weathered the several storms that came the way of the NCC, but also ensured that Nigeria joined the global players pushing through at the frontiers of e-commerce, e-banking, e-agriculture, e-health, e-transportation, e-education, and so on.

Unarguably, the unprecedented growth recorded in the telecoms sector with clean, clear multiplier effect on other sectors of the economy, resulted in consistent sound regulatory regime consolidated over the last 20 years.

For instance, Prof. Danbatta ensured that the telecoms sector witnessed periodic reviews in terms of providing frameworks, regulations, guidelines and policies which created the enabling environment for the future of telecommunications growth in Nigeria, thus pushing forward NCC’s primary mandate to connect Nigeria and promote universal access to e-activities.

No doubt, the NCC has positioned telecoms as the baseline enabler for the realisation of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020 of government, which was a short-term economic blueprint designed to drive government’s economic diversification agenda.

Through deliberate and sustained regulatory interventions, Prof. Danbatta’s team deepened access to telecommunications services, including voice and data and positively impacted other sectors of the economy.

The telecoms sector, consequently witnessed phenomenal growth in terms of subscribers’ base, earnings to the government, increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), teledensity and increase in foreign direct investments. It is on record that Prof. Danbatta worked hard and warded off the negative global impact of COVID-19 pandemic, and guaranteed a robust economy in Nigeria in spite of the pandemic.

Indeed, the Federal Government, through the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirmed how telecoms sector, alongside other sectors of the economy, significantly contributed to taking Nigeria out of the pandemic-induced recession in the country.

According to available statistics, in the first quarter of 2020, the sector contributed 10.88 per cent to Nigeria’s GDP from 8.50 per cemt in 2015. Active mobile voice subscribers equally increased from 151 million in 2015 to over 189.3 million as at August, 2021, with a teledensity of 99.18 per cent. Internet subscribers equally grew from 90 million in 2015 to 140.2 million as at August, 2021. Also, broadband penetration has increased from 6 per cent to 41 per cent as at August, 2021, indicating that 78.3 million subscribers are now on broadband networks of Third Generation (3G) and 4G.

Similarly, NCC is committed to driving ICT innovations in the academia and technology innovators and security of the country, leveraging on telecommunications networks. For instance, the Commission has increased the number of operational Emergency Commission Centres (ECCs) to 23 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.  Available reports also showed that the NCC equally embarked on measures towards regularising activities of all satellite operators, including space station operators as well as earth station operators and issued landing permits to space stations beaming signals over the Nigerian territory to expand services to more locations in Nigeria.

It is not in any doubt that GSM services in the past 20 years beefed up the socio-economic transformation agenda of the Federal Government through the licensing of infrastructure companies (InfraCos) to provide additional robust broadband infrastructure, specifically with the provision of a Point of Access (PoA) for fibre link each in 774 Local Government Area (LGAs), across the geo-political zones and Lagos, singled out as a single zone owing largely to its enormous commercial concentration.

Through sustained effort of the NCC, deliberate emphasis on deepening broadband penetration through the issuance of standing directive that all new sites built by mobile network operators (MNOs) must be Long Term Evolution (LTE)-compatible, and enabled the implementation of the harmonised Right of Way (RoW) charges on state and federal governments’ highways at the cost of not more than N145 per linear meter, eliminating multiple taxation and regulations. This, no doubt, had further helped in crashing the cost of utilising GSM services.

In 20 years of the GSM revolution, there Commission has been pursuing the ambitious plans to have 3G coverage to, at least, 80 per cent of the Nigerian population to 56.4 per cent. It has also been upbeat to ensure that the 2G base transceiver stations (BTS) are upgraded to 3G with ambitious plan to also ensure the spread of 4G/LTE services to 100 per cent of the population with a minimum broadband speed of 1.5 megabit per second (Mbps).

Interestingly, the NCC has worked diligently and patiently to ensure all stakeholders were carried along in resolving the controversy impeding the commercial deployment of 5G technology to ensure that Nigeria does not lag behind in utilising innovative technologies that will drive the modern global digital economic era.

As such, following the approval by the Federal Government of Fifth Generation (5G) Deployment Plan, otherwise called 5G in Nigeria at the Federal Executive Council (FEC)’s meeting in Abuja of Wednesday, September 8, 2021, coupled with the marching order given to the Commission by the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) to commence deployment immediately, the NCC has said it was set to speed up 5G deployment in the country.

On the implementation, the NCC said the roll-out of the 5G will be carried out in phases beginning with major cities in the country “where there is need for high quality broadband.” Accordingly, the NCC will publish an implementation roadmap for the deployment of 5G across the country with service roll-out obligations.

Already, stakeholders in the industry have commended Prof. Danbatta and his team for their unparalleled achievements in their assignments and enjoin them to soar even higher as the country is urgently in need a more robust broadband infrastructure to propel the development of digital economy ecosystem, as currently being driven by the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

Confirming the innovative strides of GSM to the Nigerian economy at a press conference in Lagos recently, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, disclosed that 20 years after the liberalisation of the telecoms sector in Nigeria, the country has moved from one cellular mobile network with limited coverage and 26,500-connected lines to four GSM operators, two Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) operators, four Fixed Wired operators with 172.9 million mobile subscriptions & teledensity standing at around 100 per cent.

“Nigeria boasts of over N15trn contribution to its economy, over 123 million internet subscriptions across various technology platforms (e.g. VoIP, GSM & Fixed Wired), contribution to GDP standing at 11.4 per cent and over $68 billion Foreign Direct Investment (FDI),” he said.  The latest data from the NCC has further revealed there is current over $70 billion FDI and domestic investment inflow int the telecommunications sector.

With the plethora of achievements revolving around GSM revolution and its attendance huge economic impacts in the last 20 years, coupled with other regulatory initiatives, stakeholders have called on the Federal Government to increase its support for the NCC to take Nigeria to its premium place among the comity of nations in the currently global digital economy.

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