By Prince Osuagwu
The 3rd West African Information & Communications Technology Congress (WAFICT 2011) which held in Lagos last week turned out to be a forum where key stakeholders in the nation’s telecommunications sector made case for the ubiquity of broadband, describing it as the next frontier that will power growth in the sector in the next decade.
For MTN, the sector will be driven by broadband services in the next ten years, while for Airtel, for that growth to happen, the country would need a new policy framework as the existing one pre-dated broadband, with the Communications and Technology Minister, Mrs Omobola Johnson tasking all stakeholders to join hands in advancing ICT in the country.
“The onus is now on the stakeholders to advance ICT development in the country. This is the time for us to work together willingly, with the zeal of overcoming the challenges ahead,” she said. She urged Nigerians to guard all installed telecom equipment and infrastructure jealously in order to make the vision of government workable.
Call for new telecoms policy
Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Airtel Nigeria, Rajan Swaroop then called on the Federal Government to issue a National Policy on Communications (NPC) that incorporates government’s commitment and resolve towards the development of broadband in the country.
The Airtel boss said the present National Policy on Telecommunication (NPT) issued in 2000, which pre-dated the coming of broadband does not incorporate the required framework that can boost broadband uptake and development in the country, and therefore, recommended a review of existing guidelines.
He explained that countries that have recorded success in the area of broadband penetration started with favourable policies complemented by smart regulations. Swaroop referred to broadband successes like Finland, Malaysia, Morocco, Sweden and the US to buttress his point, arguing that strong regulations and right policies enabled successful penetration of broadband in those countries.
Broadband’ll shape market
CEO of MTN Nigeria, Mr Brett Goschen, represented by Corporate Services Executive, Mr. Akinwale Goodluck used the event to express his prediction that the next phase of growth of the Nigerian telecommunications industry will be shaped by stakeholders’ ability to develop broadband services for different categories of the market.
In a paper titled ‘The Future of Telecommunications: Ten Years Ahead,’ the MTN boss gave a lucid illustration of the industry and its milestones in the last ten years, highlighting the penetration of telephony and offering a sneak peek at the industry’s future. According to him, the Nigerian telecommunications sector in the next ten years will be driven by broadband services.
This reality, he said, made this year’s WAFICT Congress’ theme, ‘An Emerging New Frontier: Opportunities and Potentials for Development of broadband Services for Sustainable Growth in West Africa’ very apt.
The theme, according to him, is in line with MTN’s current investment focus and business projections. MTN, he said has a strong desire to develop broadband in Nigeria, not just by making the necessary investment, but also by ensuring accessibility, affordability, availability for the service and raising public awareness about it.
Massive strides in last 10 years
While stressing that the country has recorded massive strides in the area of internet connectivity in the last ten years, he stated that there is still a lot of room for growth.
“Broadband is regarded as very high speed, always-on, allowing quick transfer/exchange of huge amounts of data, video, graphics and other information at bandwidth greater than 512 Kbit/s. Therefore, speed is at the core of broadband, and speed is what the customers need,”
He enumerated some of the socio-economic benefits of broadband penetration as social media inclusion of Nigeria, telemedicine to enhance healthcare delivery, improved agriculture, eGovernment, eEducation, and business efficiencies powered by solutions like the MTN ePresence.
Airtel ready to partner with govt
Further on policy, Airtel’s Rajan Swaroop said Finland declared broadband a legal right in 2009, and entitled every person to have access to 1Mbps Internet Connectivity by 2010 while Malaysia had a singular policy goal to deliver a High Speed Broadband (HSBB) Network to cover major cities and towns in the first phase and boost household penetration to 50% by 2010.
The Airtel CEO, who hinted that his company is committed to partnering with government to attain the next level of growth for broadband, also outlined other strategies that can help develop the telecoms and broadband industry.
He also reiterated his earlier call for the declaration of Telecom Infrastructure as Critical National Infrastructure just as he sought action against multiple taxes and fees by states and local governments.
He also advocated for the pragmatic implementation of policy and regulatory convergence. In this instance, he called for a merger between the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), stating the future is in convergence and it is absolutely necessary for both organizations to come together.