10 Apr 2014

Toyin Oloniteru, Director General - ICT, Government of Ekiti State, Nigeria: "Policy modification, enhancement and refinement is required on the basis of above to bring about network improvement in the sub-region"

Toyin Oloniteru
Director General - ICT, Government of Ekiti State,

The Com World Series team caught up with Toyin Oloniteru, Director General - ICT, Government of Ekiti State, Nigeria to discuss burning issues on Data Service, Investments and LTE Networks ahead of West Africa Com taking place on the -10th - 11th of June in Dakar, Senegal. 

Com World Series: What in your opinion is the main priority in improving access to communication in West Africa?

Toyin Oloniteru: Preparation, adoption and implementation of national Broadband Internet Access policy (BIAP) across the sub-region with local support from and implementation by States and Local Governments within such national federation depending on how the country is organized politically. In Nigeria for example, there is a national broadband plan and our state – Government of Ekiti State, Nigeria is implementing an Ekiti Digital Transformation Programme (EDTP), a segment of it which comprises of Fibre Optic Roll out within the State capital, Ado-Ekiti. The medium to long term objective is to have broadband infrastructure in all the local government Headquarters in Ekiti State and then to the local communities. I believe this model and framework can be replicated across the West Africa sub-region with experience being shared based on case studies in states and countries that have implemented it.
It will also be great to have established and in operation West Africa Internet Exchange Point (WAIXP) so that Internet traffic within the sub-region can be localized. It will make service cost cheaper and bring about economic integration within the region.

How much network improvement is needed to deliver reliable access to data services?

Toyin Oloniteru: Network improvement in the sub-region can be addressed from a policy and a regulatory point of view. There is need for governments in the sub-region to consider licensing of and use of data centric technologies in their respective countries. In Nigeria for example, adoption of and deliberate promotion of GSM technology at the expense of CDMA technology created the problem of reliable data access and services in the country today. When GSM technology was adopted in the country and companies licensed to provide services using the technology, through regulation and policy – GSM Services provider/Operatorss were giving moratorium of 5 years and with opportunity to roll out nationally while CDMA services providers were restricted to regions within the country and in certain cities. 
Now, CDMA is a better technology at carrying data traffic as compared to GSM that is traditionally designed to carry voice traffic. The implication is that when the time comes now for reliable access to data services to be carried out the limit from the GSM networks become obvious – for example, connectivity for Point of Sale (POS) terminals, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Internet Access on mobile devices to mention a few. 

There is therefore need for policy rebalancing of technology adoption with respect to telecommunication service provisioning in countries within the sub-region. It is true that GSM technology for example has brought about substantive improvement in telecommunications development in Nigeria and within the West Africa subregion, but it could be better if the mix were a combination of GSM, CDMA and Fibre Optic Rollout especially in the hinterlands. 

In my opinion, policy modification, enhancement and refinement is required on the basis of above to bring about network improvement in the sub-region.

How can regulators and governments support investment in improved networks in West Africa?

Toyin Oloniteru: Governments in particular have greater role to play in this regard. They need to create conducive environment for investment in improved networks. (1) they need to ensure that power/energy infrastructure in their respective countries are well developed. Today, all Telcos (Telecommunication Companies) spend substantial amount of their fund in improvising for power to support their network. This fund could be used in expanding their network and in ensuring improved quality of service (QoS) to consumers. (2) Right of Way (RoW) charges to Telcos should be lowered and duplication of ROW charges by different tiers of governments – States and Local Governments eliminated. The Regulator can help in ensuring harmonization of RoW charges in this regard – for fair rates to the Telcos.  (3) by giving waivers and special considerations to Telcos in the area of tax payment and import duties through investment friendly fiscal  regime and policies with respect to telecommunication businesses in the sub-region.

The governments and regulators in the sub-region can work together to establish special purpose West Africa telecommunications development Fund that Telcos and SMEs with bias for network expansion can tap into. Such fund will require contribution from Telcos and potential investors in the sector.

How are LTE networks developing in the region? Who are the leaders and what makes their strategies successful?

Toyin Oloniteru: For LTE networks, its development in the West Africa subregion can be said to still be at infancy or just at framework development levels. The leaders are generally the leading Telcos that are already well established. Actual rollout is still scanty at least in the Nigerian environment, which is the largest Telecommunications market in the West Africa sub-region.

What are the latest developments in fixed/wireless services?

Toyin Oloniteru: From my point of view, the fixed/wireless services sub-sector of the telecommunication industry has been unduly short changed with regulatory bias for the GSM industry sector. There is therefore nothing much in terms of latest development as far as I am concern. The industry regulator at least in Nigeria has been unfair to this sub-sector. In the earlier part of telecommunications development in Nigeria it was cheaper and more affordable to use fixed/wireless services but somehow, the regulator deliberately through policy raise the interconnection rates for the fixed/wireless services subsector in other to promote the GSM services. The effect was that charges on calls and services on the fixed/wireless services side became higher, which resulted into loss of subscribers to the providers and hence inability to expand their network regionally and nationally within the country. Again, there is need for prevention of regulatory dictatorship and unfairness to that sub-sector really – at least in Nigeria.

How can operators control costs in order to maximise profitability?

Toyin Oloniteru: One way through which operators can control costs in order to maximize profitability is through “Infrastructure Sharing” and divestment from operations and businesses that are not their core. So Infrastructure Sharing and Business Outsourcing are important to achieving that desire. Others include but not limited to Service pricing innovations and employment of cost effective local human resources (train them to world class level) to man their operation in rural areas where they have operations and render services.

What satellite developments will most affect the communications market in the region?

Toyin Oloniteru: Let us see how the NIGCOM-SAT, in Nigeria develops in this regard. It will give us a hint at the prospect of satellite development in the sub-region.

What is the impact of fibre technology on the region’s market?

Toyin Oloniteru: Fibre optic technology is having great impact in the West Africa sub-region’s market. There are a number of submarine cables that have landed in the region now – MainOne Cable, Glo-1, SAT-3 etc that have landed in Nigeria. Others have landed in other part of West Africa coast too. There are now plans and ongoing implementation to expand the fibre optic rollout to the hinterlands. For example, in Nigeria, we have fibre optic link from Lagos to Ado-Ekiti (by Multilink) and now rollout within the State capital into homes (GRA), government offices (secretariat and campuses) and business locations. At least from this perspective, the technology is impacting the market. There are similar rollouts within greater metropolitan Lagos, the cities of Port Harcourt and Abuja and many other cities will join as the national broadband plan are being implemented and the newly licensed regional Infracos (Infrastructure Companies) by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) begin operation. There is clearly information that similar activities are taking place in other countries of the sub-region. So it is good news.

The real impact is reduction in prices of Internet access/services – to government, businesses and consumers alike. There is also now great increase in the number of mobile internet access subscribers through especially the GSM service providers and other Telcos – reaching previously underserved and un-served areas and groups.

What are your expectations from this year’s Connecting West Africa event?

Toyin Oloniteru: My expectation is that there will be great opportunity for networking, sharing of experiences among countries within the sub-region and from other sub-regions of Africa and the rest of the world. More importantly, event of this nature bring about sub-regional and regional integration of the economies of the participating countries – at governmental and business levels. It also helps to bring about interactions among the people of the sub-region and possibly will aid the need to seek to learn and understand the language of the francophone countries (by the English speaking ones and vice versa). Hopefully, events of this type will help to bring about a common market between the Francophone and Anglophones countries of the West Africa sub-region.

Find out more at Connecting West Africa -Toyin Oloniteru will be speaking on Day 2 at 10:30 on "The role of Governments and Regulators". Register here.

9 Apr 2014

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