Business

Addressing factors against telecoms QoS

Telecommunications infrastructure in the country has come under heavy pressure since the announcement of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent preventive actions in Nigeria. It is against this backdrop stakeholders have been calling for measures to improve the quality of services. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

Before the spread of the coronavirus into Nigeria, the issue of quality of service has always been a major challenge in the country’s telecommunications landscape. While several factors have been attributed to this problem, most centered on infrastructure, and that include inadequate infrastructure commensurate to the traffic on the networks and lack of protection for the infrastructure leading to incessant attacks and vandalisation across the country. With the COVID-19 factor, it was not surprising that many telecom consumers went through hell to achieve seamless connection, especially, during the lockdown period. There were several complaints of poor connectivity and the inability to connect due to network congestion.

Call for protection

The President Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, had recently called on the government to assist the regulator in ensuring full protection for base stations and other infrastructure across the country. “This will help improve QoS and reduce the costs of repairs in the industry to a nominal level” he said. The ATCON president noted that the infrastructure that is being rolled out for broadband services needs to be fully protected from vandalism, theft, and destruction. According to Teniola, when base stations are shut down wilfully and telecom facilities are vandalised without bringing the culprits to book, not only quality of service is affected but investors’ confidence is eroded. “We cannot achieve the national broadband target or improve quality of service with the non-implementation of laws meant to protect facilities and infrastructures that are deemed to be national assets. “This is another challenge that has impeded the growth of the sector in the sense that some miscreants have turned it to their businesses to destroy the telecom masts and towers,” he said.

Similarly, the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), a body established by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to cater to the interests of telecom consumers in the country, has called for accelerated passage of the Critical National Infrastructure Protection Bill by the National Assembly.

The bill, which has been before the National Assembly over the last six years, when passed into law would ensure that telecoms infrastructure all around the country is protected and identified as an important national asset. However, in the absence of the law, the Federal Government had recently ordered security agencies in the country to ensure the protection of all telecoms facilities. Earlier, the Chairman of Association Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, had also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to issue an Executive Order proclaiming telecoms services as critical national security and economic infrastructure as prescribed the Cybersecurity Act 2015. Adebayo noted that the telecom industry supports many other economic sectors of the economy. He said: “We are also the first layer of critical infrastructure for socio-economic development and security. It is pertinent to state that unless telecoms facilities have first level of protection by government, it will be difficult to provide uninterrupted services to the citizenry.’’

Factors affecting QoS

In a recent presentation at its meeting, the ICAF had noted that the challenge of poor quality of service was beyond the telecoms operators. According to the body, factors leading to poor quality of service for the consumers range from infrastructure damage, bombed sites due to insurgent activities, illegal site lock-outs, unstable power supply, and prolonged power outage, denial of statutory permits for infrastructure roll-out, high cost of Right of Way (RoW), and use of substandard devices by the consumers, among others.

ICAF in the presentation stated: “If there is any challenge that is affecting any operator’s ability to deliver a better experience to its numerous customers, the logical thing is for that operator to take steps to address the challenge so that it will be able to retain its customers. But most of these challenges are far beyond what operators can control.” Elaborating on the challenges, ICAF in the presentation indexed a situation where telecommunications operators continue to suffer various forms of infrastructure damage across the country and noted that such a challenge usually leads to sudden outages or poor QoS. The body further explained that the failure of some government authorities and their subsidiary agencies to grant the statutory approvals required by operators to build more sites is another problem. ICAF affirmed that “as the existing infrastructure gets to full capacity, operators need to build more facilities to accommodate excess call, SMS, data and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) traffic. Unfortunately, in the past seven years, the FCT Administration, in particular, has not granted approvals for telecommunications sites to be built in the Territory.” On vandalism and theft, ICAF observed that this had been a recurring experience of the operators as unknown hoodlums increasingly break into sites, kill or injure the guard on duty and cart away valuable equipment such as the power generating sets, base transceiver station (BTS) equipment and air conditioners among other facilities. It said these criminal activities immediately lead to network outages in the area covered by facilities that suffered vandalism.

Regulatory measures

Disturbed by the complaints from subscribers over quality of service, especially in this COVID-19 period, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said it had taken some actions to ensure telecoms QoS is improved across the country.

Citing an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said with the pandemic, some telecom operators and platforms are reporting demand spike, especially in data usage and volume of calls, as high as 800 per cent since the outbreak of the pandemic. Regardless of this, Danbatta said the commission and the mobile network operators needed to play their roles in sustaining the quality of service delivery and quality of experience by the consumers, who are critical stakeholders in the telecoms sector. Danbatta said the NCC, in conjunction with the supervising ministry, developed e-platforms to handle all requests from the licensees to ensure that regulatory services are provided to sustain service delivery to subscribers.

He said the commission also approved and encouraged resource sharing among network operators and secured Right of Passage (RoP) for all telecommunications companies and suppliers for easy movement during the lockdown. These measures enabled the operators to service their base stations and ensured seamless services for telecom consumers who increasingly relied on the networks during the pandemic. Danbatta further stated that the NCC, working with the ministry is resolving the problem of high cost of Right of Way (RoW) with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), adding that, through such engagements, the state governors have lent their support for robust broadband infrastructure.

“The commission is hopeful that with the reduction in RoW, which will automatically result in a reduction in capital expenditure (CAPEX) by the network operators, telecom companies will sooner than later reciprocate the gesture by making their services more affordable to Nigerians,” he said. According to Danbatta, regulatory efforts have also resulted in a Presidential approval directing security agencies to protect information and communication technology (ICT) and telecom facilities as critical national assets.

Last line

Considering the critical role telecommunications is playing in economic development and now in the fight against COVID-19, the government must take the issue of infrastructure protection seriously. The perennial issue of poor QoS will no doubt subside if the problem of vandalisation is addressed.

 

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