Tonikan Onwordi, Head Corporate Communications, NATCOM, the 5th mobile network operator in Nigeria, trading as ntel, in an online interview with Olubayo Abiodun explains the rationale for bringing retired General T. Y. Danjuma to the board of the company among other issues.
Africa Telecom & IT: Why do I need N50, 000 or N38, 000 handset to get connected on Ntel network?
Tonikan Onwordi: The simple answer is this, you don’t. This is all about demand and supply. ntel operates a 4G/LTE Advanced network and so you cannot use a 2G or 3G phone on a 4G network. That said, 4G/LTE is a new technology so while you can walk into a shop in Computer Village and find 20 different models of 3G and 2G phones, that is not the case with 4G. But with ntel’s coming, the market is opening up and device and handset retailers are beginning to stock different models of 4G phones and with that prices will begin to come down. It’s the usual demand and supply dynamic playing out.
AT&IT: Is Ntel brand exclusively for the middle to top class of the market rung?
TO: Our CEO Kamar Abass answered this question eloquently in an interview with The Nation. I will quote him verbatim: “ntel is not for the rich. Our lowest tariff is N1,000 (one thousand naira) for 1.5GBs of data, which is more competitive than anything in the market today and we have multiple UNLIMITED tariffs, for daily, weekly or monthly validity, that are more competitive: N500 for 1GB data, and free calls to pioneers ntel-ntel.
ntel’s network is being developed as Nigeria’s only truly mass-market network: because its spectrum is optimal for cost-efficient mass-market coverage of MBB services. This is in sharp contrast with the spectrum used in today’s 3G networks and earlier 4G/LTE networks that was optimal for hot-spot coverage.
As we broaden our range of services, we will continue to provide better value recognising that our network drives much higher levels of data consumption and this is the key: high quality MBB networks deliver improved productivity, which itself improves efficiency and earnings. We therefore see our high quality network not just delivering value, but also positioning Nigerians for better productivity, efficiency and income potential.”
AT&IT: Why start with such prohibitive device price list when this had been demystified long ago with massive penetration in the market by the pioneer brands?
TO: I am not sure this question is for us to answer because we do not produce handsets. We are only offering our subscribers options. We buy from manufacturers at the prevailing market rate. A quick survey of the handset/device market will show you that the device prices in our shops are competitive. We buy and sell based on market determined prices.
AT&IT: Why must a prospective customer be limited to a Tecno Cammon C5 to be able to access voice channel via intra network voice traffic? This question is based on details I gleaned from your field marketers
TO: This is actually incorrect. We have a range of phones that can enable you make voice calls on our network. We have Tecno Camon C5, we have the Konka R2, we have Lenovo Vibe K5 plus, Lenovo Vibe C and we are the only 4G/LTE network in Africa with full VoLTE compatibility with Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. A quick visit to our website will show you these.
AT&IT: Why is video still constrained by buffering even with the overtly celebrated best of its kind ‘4G/LTE network of Ntel’?
TO: It doesn’t exist on our network. Our data is superfast and unlimited. Subscribers continue to commend our streaming and download speeds.
AT&IT: Now that MTN and Glo have rolled out 4G/LTE service, what is your unique selling point and how competitive does your brand remains given the implicit threat and dominance of the market by these forerunners?
TO: The entry of MTN and Glo is the best thing to happen to ntel because it has provided subscribers a basis for comparison. To get on their 4G networks there will be a SIM change as well as a hand set change two things people complained about when we launched. With competition they will realise that this is the norm and not an artificial barrier put up by ntel.
In terms of service offering, let me highlight three clear areas of differentiation; we are the only one offering crystal clear HD calls on VoLTE. Secondly, our speeds are superfast, much faster than the competition and finally we are offering unlimited data.
AT&IT: Since your roll out what impact have you made in the market in terms of value reassessment and market share?
TO: Clearly, we are the leader in the 4G/LTE space. We were the first to launch VoLTE enabled calls. But more critically, our coming has benefitted subscribers across board because all network providers lowered their data tariffs following our market entry.
AT&IT: With the coming of General T. Y. Danjuma, as the new chairman, expectations were hyped on the added muscle of Ntel to take the market head on in the competitive space? Yet, we are left wondering if much has really changed.
TO: We are expanding in a phased manner because the CAPEX needed for a 4G roll out is enormous. We are on course. Abuja is fully covered, Lagos is 80% covered and Port Harcourt will be live in a few weeks. So, in terms of our timetable we are on course.
I am not sure what you mean by ‘added muscle’ but General Danjuma’s emergence goes beyond injection of funds. We are looking at an enlarged board and one with a boardroom colossus as chairman. His presence on our board is clear signal that we are here for the long haul and will play big.
AT&IT: What is the prospect of getting back the landline market given that it was the strong point of NITEL back in the days? Another operator also disappointed Nigerians in this sphere. Should Nigeria hinge hope on Ntel for the return of landlines?
TO: The world has changed and gone mobile. Mobile is the future because the mobile handset is both office and work, play and entertainment, leisure and shopping. You can’t do those with a landline and ntel is a distinct entity from NITEL/Mtel. Moreover, when NatCom (trading as ntel) acquired NiTEL/MTel, it found most of the infrastructure and facilities moribund. So, the new owners are building from scratch.
Our medium to long term goals are clearly aligned towards providing fixed lines. So, in the near future, ntel will provide fixed network services to homes and businesses where extant infrastructure can be leveraged at minimal incremental cost.
AT&IT: What will make ntel’s brand unique in the 4G/LTE race?
TO: We are already unique and clearly differentiated via our service offerings – superfast Internet, VoLTE enabled calls, crystal clear HD calls, over 800 4G/LTE sites, massive footprint across Abuja, Lagos and then Port Harcourt. We have also offered our subscribers unlimited data.