By PRINCE OSUAGWU
THE sing song among operators in the country, from telecommunications to banking or oil and gas, is the dearth of necessary infrastructure to operate optimally here.
Most often, this has formed the subterfuge for poor service delivery. But telecom equipment vendors and managed service operators, Ericsson has deflated the argument.
In a recent interview with the company’s country Manager, Mr Kamar Abass, he tells HiTech that Ericsson has creatively designed strategies which overcome the shortcomings of Nigeria’s business environment.
He speaks so authoritatively, apparently relying on over fifty years’ experience of his company’s existence in Nigeria.
Some of his revelations could also help new entrants in the market.
YOU are an expert in managed services. Let’s tap from your experience, what network sharing truly represents?
Well, there is passive sharing. Today, networks in Nigeria are shared at the passive level. By this I mean that operators share towers, and power at the towers. They may share transmission but generally speaking it is the towers, physical infrastructure and the power that they share.
It’s however very essential because all operators need towers and it makes absolutely no sense to have towers built literally next door to one another, it will be a blight on the landscape, waste of resources, and frankly it is also bad for the radio performance .
Another level of sharing that goes beyond the passive category is active sharing. With active sharing, both the physical and electronic components of the cell sites are shared.
So you are sharing the radio and the antenna in this situation and that produces significant benefits because it means that all of the operating costs at that particular tower are halved, in the situation where two service providers are utilizing the tower.
If it’s three, it’s a third each, and really that is absolutely what the doctor recommended for the telecoms industry in Nigeria.
You recently signed a managed services contract with MTN. What does it entail, what are the benefits?
The contract that we have agreed with MTN is for full passive and active maintenance of MTN’s cell sites in five of seven MTN geographical regions.
This means that we will be responsible for making sure that each and every MTN site is correctly maintained and help MTN improve their quality of service which will be a test of our effectiveness. I look forward to being able to confirm that it has happened in three to six months’ time.
The impact of improved operational availability of individual sites: the length of time the site is able to provide voice and data services to customers, how the sites can be kept running for much longer and faulty components replaced or repaired much faster; can aggregate benefits for MTN and its subscribers.
How did you emerge favorites to the MTN deal ahead of other competitors. Is there a South African connection because we know you also play big there?
No. I will rather say, track record. We have bid many times for managed services projects. What is of utmost importance to our customers is knowing that they can trust in our ability to deliver the service that they need and that is reflected in the experience and track record that we have. Again, I think, we were able to reach a common ground with the client with regard to cost of service.
The third factor is that MTN knows that Ericsson is committed to this market and is here for the long-run. Is MTN going to do business with any organization that will probably be here for maybe two years and not much longer? Probably not.
This managed services thing has always fueled fears of job loss. Are we going to see that in this transaction?
In relation to this project, No! In fact, in a matter of weeks, we will inherit, from MTN, new staff members to the Ericsson family. This exercise, known as a transition project specifically manages the transfer of people and tasks from MTN to Ericsson in such a way as to absolutely ensure full continuity of operations.
Staff will be transferred on their substantive terms and conditions, meaning they are paid the same salary and they get the same sets of benefits. Generally, they are doing the same job but, over time, more and more in the Ericsson way. So, there are no job losses.
Indeed going forward, our expectations are that MTN’s number of sites will grow. As their site number grows, more people will be required to manage them.
If you look at the states, by 2050 Nigeria could be the second most populous nation in the world. My thinking is that demand for telecom to-telecom services will continue to grow quite appreciably. Overall, I can anticipate jobs growing in the telecoms sector.
You are speaking with such zeal as if you don’t share the general belief that inadequate support structures, especially power infrastructure, is a major challenge to growth here?
It is true Nigeria and its telecoms market, are both growing at a fast rate. It is also true that there are significant challenges in this market: as there are in others.
However, it is the case that we have found many creative ways of overcoming those challenges: And some challenges, such as the lack of a legacy fixed infrastructure, are partly responsible for the meteoric rise of our telecoms market. But it’s not all bad!
The key challenge that remains is the ability to maintain a staff strength that is well trained, motivated and properly equipped to do the key jobs in our industry. In managed services, much of the work needs to be done by people on the ground, we need to make sure that these people can readily access cell sites, can work safely and effectively.
This is where we will pay most attention to. We know about power, we know about fuel and these need to be managed, no one can neglect these issues but they are not unpredictable.
We know how much fuel they need, the quantity that needs to be stored, the alternative sources of power and how we need to get all that working properly. I mean it’s not trivial but it’s not unpredictable. I think the human element is what we need to watch out for.
Ordinarily, you operate a business-to-business B2B model. Now delving into running the network on a day-to-day basis, you will face stakeholders such as communities, touts that have not been your experience before. Are you prepared for the challenge?
We have an enormous number of partners, who will work with us, and with those partners we have ways of working which are very clear, ranging from definitions of what is required, guidelines on how work should be done, through to what the results should be.
We have our own means of checking and controlling that work is properly done and we pay a reasonable price for the work we need to have done.
There are lots of people in the value chain and we use our various partners to help maintain the correct engagement with our customers. We use a lot of people in the local communities to help make sure that we have understanding of the situation locally, that we can respect local customs, we can support communities where possible and generally be seen as a friendly face in those communities and a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Connectivity in the local villages is something that is valued and there are very small villages that are covered even in the remote communities. Our job is to engage with those communities so that they understand what we are trying to achieve and we can find a way to work with them for the mutual benefit of all parties.
Continued investment in this new sector would determine sustainability, you can agree with me?
Ericsson invests a significant amount of turnover, between 15 and 20 percent, in research and development. The investment is in services, solutions.
In terms of local investment, we have currently 800 people employed at Ericsson in Nigeria. This figure does not include transfers from MTN. These individuals are trained, housed and operate from an office. We are opening up a new office shortly too. These are significant investments. We also invest in making sure that we can support our customers in all sorts of ways. We support our customers in everything ranging from briefings to visits to Sweden to support in discussions with the regulators, all the way through to trying our products and services. All these investments are available because of the commitment of Ericsson to the telecoms industry across 175 different countries, including Nigeria of course.
Ericsson has been in Africa for over a hundred years and in Nigeria for over 50 years. What is the secret of your staying power?
We are here because there is business to be done. This is a telecom business where we frankly do not believe we are anywhere close to saturation. By various measures, Nigeria is somewhere between 60 percent and 90 percent of penetration of the addressable market for Telecoms and many countries today are at 130 percent of the population penetration so we have still got some considerable way to go. Our business is telecommunication we are a market leader in telecommunications. Forty percent of mobile customers across the world have their traffic passed over an Ericsson network. So we are significant in this space and we intend to become more significant, especially in areas like Nigeria where there is still a strong growth potential.
Photo: Kamar Abass 14/4/14