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Roaming: NCC forecloses threat to infrastructure rollout

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has said its plan to implement national roaming service in the country will not in any way affect the infrastructure rollout obligations of the service providers.

The commission stated this in response to concerns by some operators that the roaming service may discourage other players from investing in further expansion of their infrastructure. Specifically, Airtel Nigeria, during a public inquiry on national roaming and other new industry guidelines introduced by the commission, expressed worry that the service is likely to erode the competitive advantage derivable from coverage, as it could become a disincentive to making continued investment in network enhancement.

As such, Airtel said: “An operator should not be constrained by a regulated pricing regime but be allowed to negotiate any potential roaming arrangement based on pure commercial parameters towards recouping such investments.”

However, NCC in its response said it had addressed this in its guideline by stipulating a duration of three years for national roaming agreement and the requirement for national roaming seekers to continually deploy infrastructure to be less dependent on other networks. “The commission will monitor effectively to ensure that national roaming seekers continually roll out their own infrastructure,” it said.

automoWhile most telecoms users, especially, those who frequently travel out of the country, have been benefitting from international roaming service, which allows them to make and receive calls on foreign networks, national roaming service makes the same possible locally as the network operators are yet to cover all parts of the country.

This presupposes that a Globacom customer that moves to a remote area where only MTN service is available is automatically connected through MTN. During the public inquiry on the service, Airtel also suggested that national roaming should be driven by commercial expediency and not regulated by any government body because it has complications of inter-operability.

The commission, however, responded by saying that the service is very similar to international roaming in operational methodology. “National roaming aims to improve overall customer QoS experienced across the country and hence it is being instituted by the Commission to drive this objective,” it said. The NCC had last year given 9mobile and MTN the approval to carry out the first trial of national roaming in the country.

The trial approval, according to the NCC, covered a few local governments, designated as the national roaming geographic area, in Ondo State. Speaking on the approval, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the primary objective of the national roaming service trial was to encourage network resource sharing among operators. He said this would lead to operational expenditure (OPEX) optimisation and capital expenditure (CAPEX) efficiencies leading to freeing up of resources to expand mobile network coverage to unserved and underserved communities across the country, which will lead to improved quality of service (QoS) delivery to subscribers.

“The successful implementation of the trial will enable EMTS, subscribers, to access MTN network service within the national roaming trial geographical area without the need for an MTN Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card,” Danbatta said. Going forward after the trial, the commission said there would be a thorough evaluation and assessment of how the trial between the two operators has run and necessary regulatory measures put in place to ensure a full-blown rollout of national roaming among telecoms operators in the country.

Industry experts have hailed the NCC for implementing national roaming services in the country. According to them, national roaming has the potential of promoting seamless communication of subscribers as they will be able to roam on the network of other service providers where their service provider is unavailable or has limited network coverage, while there will be a noticeable reduction in network deployment costs when active infrastructure sharing is encouraged.

 

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