As Nigerian telecoms subscribers grapple with the falling quality of service from network providers, especially in the past few weeks, Festus Akanbi and Emma Okonji wonder why the 13 year-period of operation of mobile telecommunications in Nigeria has failed to manifest in the quality of service
If the mobile telecommunications providers were to be awarded marks in the first two weeks in the month of June by an unbiased umpire, the reality is that it is unlikely if any of the major operators will pass the test of good quality service.
From the number of dropped calls; aborted sms, to countless number of futile attempts to make calls, it was as if the telecoms operators conspired to punish users of GSM services in Nigeria.
As subscribers piled up complaints over poor services in the period under review, watchers of the unfolding development in the telecoms industry wondered why in spite of repeated sanctions by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), incidence of poor service is still recurring in the industry.
According to them, after a period of 13 years of operation in the Nigerian telecommunications sector, it will not be out of place to conclude that telecoms operators supposed to have learnt how to climb the ropes in addressing the hiccups in telecommunications operations. Unfortunately, this is far from reality as subscribers still groan under poor service delivery across networks.
Since the rollout of telecom services in 2001, subscribers have been battling with service quality offerings from operators across networks. It is either they are unable to effect calls, unable to recharge their phones or they are burdened with intermittent drop calls and non-delivery of text messages.
The current situation is such that networks in most cases, could go out of service for several hours, leaving subscribers incommunicado for that period of time. The ugly situation has compelled Nigerians to carry more than one phone, while some carry as much as five mobile phones, representing the four GSM operators and probably a Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) phone in addition, in spite of the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) that was introduced last year to allow subscribers port their numbers to network of choice, especially networks that are doing well.
Subscribers’ mixed reactions
Worried by the situation, most subscribers have blamed telecoms operators for the challenges they are facing, while some are in sympathy with the operators, but heaping the blames on telecoms industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the governments, at the local, state and federal levels.
Mr. Ekundayo Idowu, a civil servant with the Lagos state government, came hard on operators, blaming them for the difficulties that subscribers are passing through. According to him, “by now subscribers should be happy with services being rendered by telecoms operators, but we are faced with a lot of challenges. After loading the phone with enough credit, you will not be able to use it to make successful calls before the network wipes away the credit. At times we will buy airtime and we will not be able to load it because of poor network.”
My greatest annoyance is that in spite of all these challenges, the operators are still attracting more subscribers to their networks with all manners of promos, without expanding their network capacity, Idowu said.
Another subscriber, who gave her name as Mrs. Bisi Omotayo, a subscriber with MTN, explained that the operators were doing their best and needed to be supported by both subscribers and the regulator. Omotayo added that operators were faced with a lot of challenges that must be addressed by the government. “It is not enough to blame the operators, without finding out what they are passing through,” she said.
Explaining the regime of poor quality in service, General Manager, Corporate Affairs, MTN Nigeria, Funmilayo Onajide, said the fundamental reason for ongoing challenges with quality of service is largely due to capacity constraints in the telecoms industry.
She said, “MTN Nigeria has continued to invest very aggressively (approximately $1.5 billion year on year) in order to increase capacity but demand continues to outstrip supply – the increasing demand for telecommunications services has been driven by the sharp decline in tariffs over the last three years, stimulating increasing minutes of usage and activity on the networks by a growing number of people.”
Explaining further, Ojajide said, “All of the above is exacerbated by underlying environmental challenges which have largely remained unresolved in spite of best efforts by the industry and the relevant critical stakeholders – power, vandalism and theft of network infrastructure, insecurity in certain parts of the country, multiple taxation & over regulation leading to interference with critical network infrastructure by unauthorised persons and disruption to services.”
According to her, “One of the ways that MTN Nigeria has sought to improve the quality of service is by outsourcing part of our network to third party specialist vendors for more efficiency. This practice, Managed Services, is known to be the internationally accepted approach towards improved quality of service in the telecommunications industry. MTN Nigeria made that transition in Q2 2014.
“Recent decline in quality in particular areas can be attributed to the transition to Managed Services. The effects have been more keenly felt particularly in Lagos and we expected that there will be a sharp improvement very shortly once the interregnum has been bridged.”
Speaking about the investment made by the company, Onajide said ,”For us at MTN Nigeria, we have built our business based on sustainability in the long term. That is why we have invested in excess of $10 billion in network infrastructure across Nigeria and we continue to invest very aggressively. No operator has invested more. This concentration of capital and immense confidence in Nigeria underscores the premium that we place on customer satisfaction and our tireless efforts to provide good quality of service. The effect of our consistent efforts and investment will soon be manifest.”
When contacted, NCC’S director of public affairs Tony Ojobo said the regime of poor quality service could be attributed to capacity constraints on the part of the service providers.
Recalling that NCC has never hesitated to sanction mobile operators that fail to meet agreeable threshold of performance quality, Ojobo said the challenge facing operators will be addressed when all the stakeholders comprising all the tiers of government meet to check the incidence of multiple taxation currently affecting service providers in the country.
He lauded the efforts of the Lagos State government for reducing cost of right of ways by 85 per cent, saying the story will be good if other states follow suit.
Commenting on the complaints by telecoms operators over reduced earnings as a result of reduction in cost passed to subscribers, Ojobo said it is a sign that the Nigerian telecom market has matured.
He therefore advised operators to come up with value added products and services to win subscribers to their sides.
Also speaking on behalf of the regulator, Head Media and Public Relations for NCC, Mr. Reuben Muoka, explained that a lot of positive things were going on in the telecom sectors, but became more worried that subscribers were complaining too much for little challenges. He said out of the number of calls that subscribers make in a day, only about 25 per cent of them are unsuccessful, while 75 per cent are successful. Muoka maintained that operators were passing through difficult times but insisted that subscribers must learn to be patient with the operators.
“Although I am not exonerating the operators of the obvious challenges in service quality, and that is the reason we impose sanctions on them, but subscribers must also learn to be patient with operators,” Muoka said.
He however insisted that NCC would continue to impose fine on operators who fail to meet up with the set standards on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), as it had always done in the past.
In the views of a Telecom Lawyer, Paul Usoro, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), “NCC has powers to make regulations on any matter for which the Act makes express provision, and such other matters as are necessary for giving full effect to the provisions of the Act their due administration.
“In pursuant to these powers, the NCC has over time, made several regulations, including enforcement regulations. It is in these regulations that one finds the penalties for breaches of quality of service standards.”
Another telecom lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, who disagreed with Usoro, called on NCC to address the challenges on ground, before imposing fines. Fines, according to him, are punitive rather than corrective.
Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo Adebayo, blamed the current poor state of telecoms services across networks on the incessant closure of telecoms sites and the wilful destruction of telecoms facilities, which he said resulted in poor service offerings.
According to him, ALTON has made direct appeals to the Presidency, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Inspector General of Police, the Director of State Services, the Minister of Communications Technologies, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC and other stakeholders to address and declare all telecommunications infrastructure as national critical security infrastructure.
Adebayo, on behalf of ALTON members, sympathised with users of telecoms services for the ugly experience in telecoms service offerings.
Adebayo also called on NCC to soft-pedal on the issue of fine, and address the real issues affecting service quality in the county, which he said, is largely caused by environmental factors. He called on NCC to address the issue urgently, to enable subscribers enjoy the services that operators are offering.
Managing Director of Backup Network, Mr. Monday Ogbe, is however blaming telecoms operators for poor quality of service. He is of the opinion that over dependence on mobile network, rather than fixed lines, is largely responsible for poor quality of mobile services in the country.
According to him, “In the United Kingdom, about 40 per cent of voice traffic is routed through fixed landlines, while about 60 per cent is routed through mobile devices. In Nigeria, over 90 per cent of all voice calls are routed through mobile and less than 10 per cent passes through landlines. Except we begin to redirect our traffic to fibre and depend less on mobile, the challenge of poor quality of service will remain,” he said, adding that Nigeria has excess capacities on fibre cables that have already landed the shores of the country.
He said telecoms operators should be able to move traffic through landlines which operates on fibre.
Offices and homes should be able to make calls through landlines instead of depending only on GSM calls and this will help reduce traffic on mobile lines and the quality of service will improve, Ogbe said.
Based on diverse opinions on service quality, it is expected that both the operators and the regulator must take new positions on service quality delivery and regulation in order to give subscribers the best of services that will offer good value for their hard earned monies spent on telecommunications.