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Poor service looms as vandalism slows telcos’ N800bn expansion push

By on May 13, 2015

Nigeria may witness a fresh wave of poor quality service in the delivery of telecommunications services in coming months due to incessant vandalism of equipment and installation owned by mobile operators, an informed industry source has said.

According to the source, this worrying development was already restricting many telecoms operators from fully implementing outlined network expansion initiatives across the country, even amidst the rising cost of doing business in an industry heavily dependent on foreign exchange and capital.

Speaking, on condition of anonymity, our source said, “There are growing concerns amongst operators that wanton vandalism of network equipment is impacting negatively on their ability to deliver top-notch services to the growing subscriber base.

“We could see a fresh wave of poor services delivered to subscribers if telecoms equipment are not fully protected”, he added.

The total number of telephone lines currently connected on mobile networks in Nigeria has increased from 188.8 million in the last quarter of 2014 to 192.1 million in January 2015, according to the latest industry data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

According to the commission, additional 3.3 million lines were connected in January 2015 alone on all the networks including GSM, CDMA and fixed networks.

There are more than 26,000 kilometres of fibre cables laid across the country by two of the networks, MTN and Glo. More than 25,000 base transceiver stations have been installed across the country.

Speaking at BusinessDay CEOs FORUM held in Lagos recently, Segun Ogunsanya, chief executive officer, Airtel Nigeria, pointed out that 2 to 3 percent of Nigeria’s telecoms sites had been affected by arbitrary shutdown and vandalism at any given point in time.

MTN, the nation’s largest mobile operator with about 60 million subscribers, said Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist sect, had destroyed a total of 120 MTN sites between 2013 and 2014. And 80 sites were destroyed during the last quarter of 2014, according to the company.

In 2013, the NCC noted that it had recorded about 1, 200 fibre cuts in few months.

Ogunsanya said Nigerian operators spent $3 billion – $4 billion (about N800 billion) as CAPEX annually on network expansion initiatives.

If vandalism of telecoms equipment and installations continue unabated, Nigerian subscribers could experience higher frequency of dropped calls, incoherent transmission, and undelivered text messages.

Lanre Ajayi, national president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) said vandalism had become regular occurrence as all telecomm operators in Nigeria had stories to tell in this particular regard.

“This particular challenge is estimated to be costing the industry billions of naira annually and constituting serious hindrances to better quality of service from the operators,” he explained.

To substantiate further, it costs about N24,750,000 to install a single base station together with its tower, special antennas and two generators to power the station.

Industry observers are of the view that the current situation is exacerbated by failure of the National Assembly in the passage of the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) Bill. The bill, if it was passed into law, would criminalise any act of vandalism of telecoms equipment, since they would be classified as CNI.

The president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, had been urged to declare “telecoms infrastructure as a critical national infrastructure and accord them such special protection in the interest of the nation,” said Funmi Onajide, general manager, corporate affairs at MTN. “The ICT industry is a critical enabler of socio-economic growth in Nigeria and government support cannot be overstated,” she added.


[Business Day]