Despite the continuous investments in network expansion by the telecommunications operators, many geographical areas of the country will remain uncovered, a telecom expert, Stephen Bello, an engineer, has said. Bello, a former Acting Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), said the current network expansions are targeted at areas where the operators can get quick returns on their investments.
Speaking with our correspondent against the backdrop of the 20 years of GSM in Nigeria, Bello said Nigeria had achieved a lot in the last 20 years in the area of telecommunications, even though some areas are yet to be covered with telecom services. According to him, there are two types of coverage in a telecom network, which include coverage of area and coverage of the population. “In terms of land area, we have covered about 75 per cent, and in terms of population, we must have covered at least 90 90 per cent. Covering the population is more important than the land area,” he said. Explaining the rationale behind deployment of telecoms infrastructure in some areas while other areas are neglected, Bello said: “These (the operators) are business people who have to recover the investment and they have to give account to their investors and shareholders. So, because of that, they go for populated areas where the people can afford the telecom service. That is why they’re concentrated in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Onitsha.
“At the beginning of the GSM service, these are the areas where you have people who could afford the call, you know the charges were high then and the cost of SIM card was about N250, 000. So, they rolled out in places where people could afford to pay N250,000 for a SIM card, that’s why they concentrated on the urban areas.” According to him, a place like Onitsha is generating more revenue for the telecom operators in Nigeria than some other cities. “It will surprise you that Onitsha generates more traffic than many big cities in Nigeria because of the businessmen who keep calling China. They are monitoring their containers coming from Hong Kong and other places like that. “So, they generate a lot of traffic. And that’s what the telecom companies want.
They want where they recover their money. So that is why they are also concentrated there. “Many of the rural areas are not economically viable and nobody wants to go there. And that is where the govern-ment created what is called Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF). “Part of the money that is paid to NCC by the GSM operators is set aside to get to subsidise cell sites in rural areas, which are not economically viable. So, for them, a telephone supply is the social service. It is not a commercial service and government had to subsidise it,” he explained. Bello, however, noted that concentrating telecom service in populated areas was not peculiar to Nigeria. According to him, no country in the world has covered its land area 100 per cent.
“Not even Israel, which is a relatively small country and has a very high standard of living and technologically advanced. “No country in the world has successfully covered 100 per cent of the land area, what you can cover is the population, because that is really the most important. So that is why we have not been able to cover the land area of Nigeria. Maybe we have covered about 75 per cent of the land area. But we must have covered at least 90 per cent of the population which is more important than the land area. “And that is why up until today, the operators are still rolling out their service. But remember that some places are less priority because they are not economically viable,” he said.