2018: Year Of Fierce Telecom Battles

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By Chima Akwaja,

As the year 2018 begins, the information and communications technology (ICT) industry is expected to continue to drive innovations across all sectors of the economy in Nigeria and generally the world at large. From a regulatory point, actionable policies are expected from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN) and other ICT-related government agencies and major private sector drivers.

9Mobile Acquisition

For Nigerians, especially, subscribers of 9Mobile, Nigeria’s fourth largest mobile network, the announcement of the bid winner for the heavily indebted mobile network is being awaited with so much eagerness. Barclays Africa, the financial institution charged with finding a new buyer for 9Mobile should be able to close the deal by January 15, 2018 with announcement of a bid winner by the NCC afterwards.

If Glo or Airtel buys 9Mobile, it will set the stage for a fierce battle for the leadership of Nigeria’s telecom market. Already, MTN ruled itself out of contention for 9Mobile. Glo and Airtel out of the three remaining bidders are the only companies with the financial wherewithal and subscriber clout that can challenge MTN’s 16 years leadership of the Nigerian telecom market. Whoever picks 9Mobile sets the stage for a two-horse race for the telecom market.

Spectrum Licencing/Broadband Challenges

This year, the Professor Umaru Danbatta-led NCC is expected to move away from rhetoric and into the realm of actionable policy direction as Nigerians and the world await auction or beauty contest licencing for a plethora of spectrums that have been pending in the last five years. The industry wants to see action on broadband diffusion with announcement of winning bids for the remaining five geo-political zones for Broadband Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos).

Also, expectations are high on new licence blocks: 700MHz, 800MHz and 900MHz and the 70/80GHz (E-Band) which Prof Danbatta said has been earmarked to meet and surpass the 30 per cent broadband target set in the National Broadband Plan 2013-2018 of the federal government. This year is the last year of the Broadband Policy. A review of the Policy should commence this year.

Chief executive officer, Airtel Nigeria, Segun Ogunsanya, said the attention is on the regulator to continue to create conducive environment for the telecom networks to operate in 2018. Also, president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, said from this year, NCC should see the 30 per cent broadband target as baseline target for the industry. All eyes on are NCC to deploy the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) subsidies to provide coverage to underserved and unserved areas in partnership with telecom networks.

Director, Public Affairs of NCC, Tony Ojobo , speaking on the expectations for 2018 said “there is need for us to have pervasive rollout of base stations so that they can narrow those gaps in areas that don’t have coverage so that the issue of access and broadband penetration can be realised. Next year is 2018. We are on course to meet and surpass the 30 per cent broadband target.

“But the challenges we have in terms of slowness of approvals for Rights of Way (RoW) and base stations have slowed us down but we believe that in 2018, especially as some of the governors have started to appreciate the role of telecommunications in economic development, we believe some of these challenges would be surmounted,” he said.

Digital Switchover

With the rate at which the federal government is switching on states, it is expected that government will meet the 2018 deadline for Nigeria to ensure digital switchover (DSO) and join the rest of the world to bring digital television broadcasting to the homes of Nigerians and as well free up Digital Dividend Spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz and 900MHz bands which would be utilised by telecom operators to bring unparalleled full broadband services to telephony users.

NITDA Needs To Wake Up

The minister of communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, has promised more than he has delivered. He promised to convert NCC’s Digital Bridge Institute into a full-fledged National ICT University. That project has been thrown out of the window by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Now, Shittu is dreaming of situating technology hubs in all the geo-political zones of the country. Will this be a wish dream? 2018 will tell.

For NITDA, its performance so far has been nothing to write home about. The NITDA Act has not been adequately implemented. The NITDA IT Development Fund has not been harnessed to effectively spur the training of 500,000 IT experts annually as enshrined the National IT Policy. Will the current leadership of NITDA led by Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami do things differently? 2018 will tell.

Executive director, Systemspecs Nigeria Limited, Mr. Deremi Atanda, speaking to LEADERSHIP said financial technology (Fintech) has huge potentials to increase Nigeria’s earnings aside oil and gas contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “Government needs to see Fintech as a unique opportunity to lead Nigeria’s economy into a new era and it goes beyond talk but taking actions.

““We need a visionary leadership that is connected to global evolution in the social economy space. If we do not have leaders that can see the opportunity for us to transmit from oil income generating economy to knowledge-led economy, then we are in trouble. In Fintech, innovations are going to be taking place every day at a fast rate usual because the needs of man continue to change,” Atanda said.

Fourth Industrial Revolution Upon Us

Accenture Nigeria said businesses across different sectors in the country would boost their productivity and efficiency through recent innovations and investments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), robotics and blockchain.

Mr. Niyi Tayo, Managing Director of Accenture Nigeria said, “We want businesses in Nigeria – from banking to manufacturing, health, construction, education, retail, security, and other sectors to take advantage of the innovations we have created to improve their businesses. We believe as one of the biggest economy in Africa, the time to seize the future is now”, he enthused.

Mohammed Amin, senior vice president at Dell EMC, META, said, “In 2018, the human machine partnership will be more interwoven into our day-to-day lives and more immersive than ever before, transforming everything from the way businesses are run and the importance we place on security to how entertainment is provided.”

Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future (IFTF), said AI, AR, IoT and cloud computing would help organizations, and our lives, digitally transform in 2018. In 2018, businesses are overwhelmingly moving toward a multi-cloud approach, taking advantage of the value of all models from public to private, hosted, managed and SaaS.

In 2018 with predictive analytics, machine learning (ML) and AI at the forefront, companies will better understand and serve customers at, if not before the point of need. Customer service will pivot on perfecting the blend between man and machine. So, rather than offloading customer interactions to first generation chatbots and predetermined messages, humans and automated intelligent virtual agents will work together as one team.

On cybersecurity, Amin said ,“ 2018 will be a year of action for multinational corporations, further inspired by the onslaught of new regulations such as GDPR. Prioritizing the implementation of cybersecurity tools and technologies to effectively protect data and prevent threats will be a growing imperative.

IoT to Grow To $772.5bn In 2018

According to International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide spending on IoT is slated to grow 14.6 per cent year over year to $772.5 billion in 2018. Moreover, the IoT space will witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.4 per cent to reach nearly $1.1 trillion in 2021.

The next-generation superfast wireless networks (4G LTE, LTE-A, upcoming 5G) will provide the primary impetus to the telecom industry. In this context, IoT has the potential to be the numero uno factor driving future growth in this space. Notably, IoT is a network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity that enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with other connected devices.

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