At the beginning of Q2 2016, mobile enclave will experience stiffer competition in Nigeria with the return of the 0804 numbering series. In this report, Olubayo Abiodun reconnoitres what the ecosystem might evolve into with the launch of 4G LTE in the broadband space.
THE 0804 numbering scheme has returned to the vibrant Nigerian mobile telephone ecosystem. Those familiar with the various numbering series in Nigeria know that 0804 was originally awarded to the former Nigerian Mobile Telecommunications Limited (Mtel), the mobile arm of the defunct pioneer national telephone carrier; the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL); whose assets were acquired by NATCOM now trading as ntel in the nation’s mobile ecosystem.
In this new era, the 0804 numbering series has returned as a complete private sector initiative with the innovation and energy imbued in the private sector business. More than six years after the 0804 numbering scheme initially promoted by Mtel went into a coma, ntel has launched it as an offering on the 4GLTE technology. The new brand wants to create a community of digital pioneers on its network with the 0804 numbering series. Certainly ntel did not take off from ground zero with the initiative that was launched. With Nigeria’s mobile teledensity standing at 107 per cent, ntel has come up with an innovation that will drive up Nigeria’s teledensity numbers with the concept of “reserve your 0804 number and become an ntel Pioneer”. The campaign tagged “0804 You” encourages interested customers and prospects to visit: www.ntel.com.ng for the pre-enrolment process of acquiring special number on the 0804 platform prior to the commercial launch. Ntel had successfully conducted its maiden voice test in February 2016, with a promise to be the best platform for voice, data and video with the first of its kind LTE technology backbone. Taunted as Nigeria’s most advanced mobile broadband LTE network, ntel has assured that Nigerians will experience abundance in live transmission on its network in this age of growing tribe of gamers, digital music and video as well as E-Commerce and other forms of digital transformation in the socio-economic landscape.
Aware that Nigerians are very passionate about what they can call their own; ntel is already promoting the frontiers of the Nigerian pride. Apart from running on a trading name; ntel, which Nigerians can relate with, the brand is also hooked on the Domain Name Registration (www.ntel.com.ng) that is promoting Nigeria on the information superhighway.
0804 is more than a numbering series for the tribe of telephone users who had previously enlisted on the unique numbering series. 0804 stands for a true sense of ownership among Nigerians. It is a flagship brand that internalises self-preservation and nationalistic pride in the citizens. The passion that trailed the brand after that Mtel re-launch in 2003 was only squandered by government’s poor handling of such huge market opportunities from the ‘hungry populace’.
Such missed opportunity in the hands of government is what the private sector led NATCOM is latching on to drive ntel to a comparative competitive edge in the Nigerian market. The death knell almost sounded for NTEL/Mtel and it missed by whiskers the threat to have its operating license revoked in 2007 by the NCC. In a letter dated November 12, 2007, the regulator had put the management of NITEL/Mtel on notice for the “commencement of process of suspension or revocation of operating licences of NITEL/M-TEL”. But following high level interventions, NCC gave Transcorp six months grace period and the Commission also directed its management as follows: “All outstanding fees owed the Nigerian Communications Commission post November 15, 2006 should be settled. Consequently, MTel is hereby requested to liaise with the Commission and ensure payment of Annual Operating Levy, National Numbering Plan Fees, and Spectrum Fees.”
The regulator had acceded to the plea from influential authorities to waive the threat of license suspension/revocation because Mtel management had committed to some plans “to transform NITEL/Mtel including revitalization of SAT-3 infrastructure, and expansion of subscriber base and provision of Broadband access/cable television within the next 3-5 years,” according to a memo dated December 21, 2007 signed by the then Director, Legal Services, Steven Andzenge on behalf of the executive vice chairman of NCC.
But Transcorp could not achieve the set goals as a result of paucity of funds. But what could not be achieved by NITEL/Mtel is what NATCOM is set to do with 4G LTE roll out.The plan to roll out its nationwide telecom services is hinged on the resuscitation of NITEL’s most valuable asset, the SAT-3 submarine cable, which the new ntel said, it would ride on to provide its world-class 4G network service.
The deployment of 4G LTE technology is not yet preponderant in Nigeria. MTN Nigeria, for instance, had been enmeshed in a legal tussle with Etisalat Nigeria on the LTE license/spectrum that MTN acquired via the purchase of Visafone (a CDMA technology operator with 700MHz frequency). There were also hues and cry by some industry stakeholders on the manner the 700MHz spectrum was awarded to Globacom. The only MNO that has a settled case in its entry to the LTE zone is ntel.
Chairman of NATCOM, Olatunde Ayeni, said that NATCOM has reportedly spent about $1 billion to revive the beleaguered first national carrier. He said that the funds and other efforts would see the company engage 4,000 employees by March, as it sets to roll out its mobile lines, and 4G/LTE services for broadband users.
When the telecoms revolution commenced in 2001, the forebears of the revolution MTN, NITEL and Airtel (formerly Econet) paid $285m for the DML for the operations of the GSM technology. But during the guided liquidation of NITEL/Mtel, ownership of the company was awarded to ntel with the full payment of the purchase consideration of $252,221,000 in 2014. The initial financial bid was increased to $252.251 million from $221 million when juxtaposed with the liquidator’s reserved price of $256 million. With that figure NATCOM acquired cellular spectrum/microwave frequencies which include 40MHz of 900/1800MHz spectrum that was previously used to provide 2G/GSM voice services, while the new owner further acquired 7.5MHz of 1900MHz spectrum (whose prior use was in a trial CDMA network to be launched as NITEL). The other assets acquired included telecom operating licences, international submarine cable and cell towers, fibre and duct network (including Right Of Way), prime buildings and satellite earth stations as well as 6.23 percentage stake in SAT-3.
Ayeni, while briefing the joint committees on Communications and Commercialisation & Privatisation of the House of Representatives on the progress made so far early this January, said that $10 million had been spent on SAT-3 system, quarterly dues to the consortium, system expansion and upgrade since the acquisition.
The Managing Director, NATCOM, Kamar Abass promised Nigerians enhanced telecoms experience through the provision of better service quality in the areas of broadband data, voice telephony and the fixed line services, which are its core areas of business that will be riding on its supper fast speed 4G network. And what stand ntel in good stead is its part ownership and sole representative of Nigeria in the ownership structure of South Atlantic Telecommunications Cable number 3 (SAT-3); the transatlantic undersea cable. The cable system began operations in 2002 with 17 landing points in 15 countries. It is Africa’s longest submarine cable covering a distance of 28,800km. SAT-3 has a total capacity of about 1,000 Gbps. The cable system is funded and owned by a consortium of 35 foremost telecoms operators from different parts of the world, Nigeria inclusive, and NATCOM is the fourth highest shareholder with a share of 6.23 per cent.
Abass said that Nigerians would enjoy a bigger and better change in the telecoms landscape. He promised that ntel would offer high speed connectivity broadband data service, superlative voice service and excellent metro bandwidth fixed line service, which other operators have neglected.
“The first phase network will begin by deploying up to 800 sites, and later increase to 2,000 sites,” he said assuring that ntel will achieve all of these having revived the old NITEL SAT-3 that carries broadband capacities from Europe to Lagos, connecting South Africa and far East African countries. “With SAT-3, ntel will provide international bandwidth/IP connectivity to carriers and major corporate between Nigeria and international destinations. We are starting with 800 sites in our first phase network rollout, with plans to increase the number of sites to 2,000 in the near future,” he stressed.
On the plan to integrate rural communities to ntel’s business plan, Abass said: “We want to collaborate with third parties to do something in the rural communities, which will help to drive down the high cost of bandwidth, in such a way that our customers will find our pricing appealing. What we are determined to do is to fill the capacity that we have and we need to fill it in a really short time frame. We will work with customers who have genuine interest and try and give them deals that will encourage them to remain with Ntel.”
He explained that Ntel will have five main businesses namely Mobile Network, International Voice Service, International Bandwidth, Metro Bandwidth and Fixed Services. Ntel’s mobile network will be a pure play Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology that has been proven to have edge over similar technologies on the 4G standard. “Our LTE Network will be the first of its kind in Nigeria offering both voice and data and video services and we expect to have at launch around 200 sites rising within a year to about 2000 across Nigeria,” he said.
On International Voice Service, the CEO of Ntel stated his firm had already delivered more than 10million minutes of international voice into Nigeria. “International Bandwidth starts with SAT-3. We have the ability to connect directly to some international points and then coming back, to Lagos. On Metro Bandwidth service, Abass said ntel has over 1000km of its ducts in the principal cities of Nigeria and with the ability to very quickly connect those cities to the SAT-3 terminus but also to connect to principal businesses in those cities to provide fibre connections and ultimately expand those major fibre connections to FTTH, Fibre to the business (FTTB) services for a vast generality of Nigerians.