Monday, July 25, 2011

Nigeria - 10 years of GSM but continuing complaints about the quality of the networks

[daily trust] On May 29, 2011, the Federal Capital Territory's phone subscribers literally experienced hell as they could not make or receive calls for the better part of the day. It was the day President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in for a fresh four year term, and the overzealous security personnel took their job beyond boarders and forced the telecoms operators out of business for, at least close to 12 hours.

It was said that security agencies took the decision to cut GSM services in order to forestall breach in security on the day many local and foreign dignitaries were expected in the capital city.

Masterminds of the October 1, 2010 bomb blasts around Abuja's Eagles Square, which killed scores of people, reportedly used mobile phones to perfect the dastardly act.

Although telecoms right activists did not see anything wrong in the government's action, the terrible experience (of not being able to make or receive calls)has made many residents to agree that GSM telephony is of great importance to their business and social relationship.

The advent of Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) in 2001 made life a lot easier for Nigerians as it gave rise to hope and aspirations of the citizens on a brighter future for the country.

Considering what life used to be for people prior to GSM revolution in Nigeria gives one a clear understanding of the many impacts it has had on Nigerians.

Many lives were lost simply because of lack of communication between one end and another due to non-availability of good telephony network. At that time, the now moribund Nigerian Telecommunication Limited (NITEL)'s lines were virtually out of reach of most Nigerians. Many had to walk for several kilometres and then queue for several hours before a call, which might not even be clear, could be made. It was really that bad!

But the arrival of GSM in the country ten years ago changed all this. From the paltry NITEL lines, the country's private sector dominated GSM industry produced 86 million lines though about 24 million of that were said to be inactive. There has been a tremendous change in the method of communication and an awesome improvement in businesses and security. Mobile internet and social networking, which have kept people very well informed of national and global developments, are some of the numerous of GSM advantages to Nigerians.

Needless travels and by extension needless accidents are now things of the past. Thanks to God who inspired the country's leader at the time to go for GSM.

It has also encouraged the setting up and efficient running of small scale businesses and also aided in cost and time savings to ensure smooth running of peoples day to day activities.

Not only that, the GSM revolution has also put Nigeria on a global pedestal. Recent records have shown that Nigeria is now the largest telecommunications market in Africa having surpassed South Africa years back and the country is also among the fastest growing telecommunications markets in the world.

However, Nigerians' hope of good quality GSM telephony, ten years after, is dashed by the operators' not-too-good services currently being offered. Drop calls are still prevalent while undelivered Short Message Service complaints are still being received by the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)

NCC said the telecoms operators are still rendering unacceptable quality of service in the country.

NCC, in a recent statement, said because of this it has turned down the request of MTN Nigeria to give incentives to its customers through promos.

The commission also directed Starcomms Nigeria Limited to stop all promotional activities in its network, pending appreciable improvement in its quality of service.

The NCC directive came on the heels of complaints of bad quality of services being rendered by operators to their subscribers.

Some subscribers who spoke with Daily Trust hailed the NCC's directive and urged it to go a step further to slam a ban on any erring operator.

Abdullahi Musa, a commercial motorcyclist in Abuja, said apart from stopping of promos, NCC should also compel the operators to reduce their tariffs. Musa believes that Nigerians are still being short-changed as regards what they pay for making calls.

Subscribers in the country pay between N12 and N40 per minute for making calls, depending on the type of package a subscriber chooses.

Another subscriber, Helen Adio, said she does not believe the operators would obey NCC as " we have always been told something like this, but at the end of the day we see nothing happening to the operators."

But NCC said the decision to turn down operators' request was made after series of reviews about the content of the promotions and the volume of traffic it is bound to generate. "Such promotions may further degrade its current quality of service status," it said.

It said further that consumer experience on the operators' network during similar promotions in the past, which tend to negate the current position of the commission that operators must take responsibility for improved quality of service for their customers.

But the operators say they are not to be blamed as government has virtually done nothing on improving on infrastructure.

But MTN's spokesperson, Mrs Funmi Omogbenigun, said "the official feedback that we received from the NCC specifically states that they wish to ascertain that our proposed promo will not adversely affect quality of service - this is a routine administrative procedure and they are currently undertaking extensive investigations in this regard."

She added that, "This manner of engagement and examination before NCC gives an approval for any promo is routine and it is in line with their statutory responsibility to ensure that acceptable quality levels are maintained."

Mrs Omogbenigun further said that "It is in our interest to ensure that our network has the capacity to support our promos or else the objective of the promo would be entirely defeated. Therefore, it is an established and necessary procedure for us to ensure that our network can support our activities prior to our application for NCC approval. On their part, NCC is statutorily entitled to seek proof and establish empirical evidence to support our assertions. We are confident that an SMS Promo (which is what we are seeking approval for) will have no effect on the voice network."

Another spokesman of one the country's GSM companies, who pleaded anonymity, said NCC was only playing to the gallery because it knew the challenges facing the operators.

He promised that Nigerians would only enjoy good quality service from the operators if the government improved on infrastructure.

So for Nigerians, it is still a long hope for good quality telephony service ten years after the GSM revolution.

10 Years of GSM - Citizens Still Long for Better Network

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