Olubayo Abiodun explores how the new entrant, coming with the new name, NTEL, plans to surmount and conquer the competitive market where existing operators have already skimmed the market.
HISTORY has a way of re-writing itself. That is the case of the latest potential entrant into Nigeria’s mobile telecom space. The Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd, NITEL, was once the government-owned dominant monopoly for decades until the deregulation policy paved the way for new entrants. NITEL alongside MTN, Airtel picked one of the Digital Mobile License (DML) at a firm price of $285m, though government had to pay for NITEL. When the race began, NITEL, with its mobile arm, Mtel, found the task too daunting to cope with following myriads of issues. After several failed attempts to privatise it, a glimmer of hope appeared in the horizon in 2014. At the financial bid opening on December 3, 2014, NATCOM emerged the preferred bidder with an offer of $252.25
Today, the mobile ecosystem in Nigeria has some startling statistics with the template today showing 146.7 million active subscribers as at June 2015 numbers revealed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); the telecoms regulatory agency. Given Nigeria’s 170 million population, the CEO of ntel, Mr Kamar Abbas, is optimistic that the 5th mobile operator has the magic wand to evolve as a growth driver with the LTE technology being positioned to drive the mobile genre.
Kamar flaunted the assets of ntel acquired from Nitel and Mtel as the ‘tonic’ for the turnaround for the 5th operator.“We have 20megs of spectrum in the 900 and 1800 band. And we have a little bit of spectrum 3 and three quarters of MHz in the 1900 band. Of course, we also have a lot microwave spectrum too. With these, it means we are a position to launch LTE services and there is a rational decision to launch LTE over and above other options opened to us. We, of course, have licenses and the spectrum is just one part of the puzzle. And therefore we have all the licenses that we need: mobile, national carrier and international gateway to carry out a full set of services. Then we come to SAT3, we have 6.22 per cent of the international submarine cable which means we have got many bits per second to travel from across Lisbon (Portugal) to Lagos (Nigeria) and then onward to South Africa and then to the far east. And we can from our own capacity connect pretty much to all countries in the world to underpin our data service offerings,” Kamar said. Also acquired from Nitel/Mtel portfolio to enable ntel rewrite the story of Nigeria’s mobile market were about 800 celltowers nationwide which ntel would use a good number of them in its operations during the initial rollout.
To Kamar, another exciting piece of the puzzle is the ducts on the fibre paths to various locations across the country. “We have many kilometres of ducts space. We have already commenced going round and documenting the positions of the ducts so that we can regularise the contractual arrangement with the existing users,” he said. The ntel CEO is also excited with other acquisitions. “We’ve got lots of switch buildings comprising of primary exchanges and secondary exchanges, international transit/data switching centres all across the country. Several hundreds of them and over time we will be refocusing those to a new application within our business. Finally, we have some enormous truly vast satellite piece of hardware. We will be looking into those for two major applications initially. The first of course is some form of redundancy in our overall transmission. But the other is the opportunity to address the rural coverage opportunity.
While asserting that the acquired facilities are key assets, he corrected the impression that NATCOM bought NITEL and Mtel. “We did not in fact buy NITEL because NITEL was never up for sale. What we have done is to acquire these assets from within the NITEL portfolio and the Mtel portfolio.