By Prince Osuagwu
Since the debut of the GSM in Nigeria August 2001, there has been an unconsciously wide gap among phone users across the country.
A gap that however, does not totally derive from the expensive nature of telephones or other related accessories but the outright neglect of the larger number of the population who are still not connected because they live in the rural communities.
This in some way, has dimmed the huge successes recorded in the sector, in these past nine years.
In the present circumstance, while the Nigerian cities benefit from the latest telephone technologies, over 40 million people living in the outlying areas have been waiting a long time for telephone services .
Meanwhile, in the new world, countries can no longer afford to have sections of their population cut off from communications with the outside world.
Unfortunately, the lack of basic communications in rural areas seriously detracts from the quality of life of the population. Ironically, telecommunications is a critical catalyst for encouraging the growth of local extractive, agricultural and manufacturing industries, as well as rural business and tourism.
However, the distance from centers of population has been a prime factor impeding the progress of bringing telecommunications to these areas. In most of these remote regions, rural telephony can be the ideal solution for providing a communications infrastructure that can be the backbone for economic development.
But government has not even helped matters. All the projects targeted at extending telephony to the rural areas have either been highly politicized or lack stringent implementation strategies, leaving the unserved at the mercy of private telecom operators.
Incidentally the operators themselves are ruing the huge investment involved in this venture, especially when it could not readily guarantee Return on Investment.
But like a bolt from the blues, MTN Nigeria last week, braced the storm to walk the talk, giving hope to about 350 remote villages that have never seen telecommunications from the word go. This was just a part of the 850 villages, the company said it discovered have suffered this stigma since the history of telecommunications Nigeria.
In doing that, it dragged another telecommunications equipment vendors, Huawei Technologies, who would provide the smart telecom equipments needed to carry out the assignment without failure.
MTN said it has used the past nine months to conduct research which revealed that well over 500 villages and communities and over 40 million Nigerians have not experienced the telecommunications services for the first time in history.
Announcing the development at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island Lagos, while concluding the signing of the MOU with Huawei, the Chief Executive Officer, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Ahmad Farroukh said about 35 to 40 million Nigerians, especially in the rural areas do not have access to basic telephone services.
According to him, “MTN had, in the last nine months carried out a nationwide survey and discovered that over 850 villages have never had access to any form of telecommunications services and so it became imperative for such unconnected communities to be adequately served under our rural telephony scheme.
“Our goal is to cover every village in Nigeria. The first phase will see 350 villages covered before the end of May, 2011 and through the support of our strategic partner, Huawei Technologies, another 500 villages will be covered in the second Phase before the end of December, 2011.”
According to him, the villages selected for the first phase include 91 in Abuja, Asaba 21, Ibadan 17, Enugu 37, Kano 92, Lagos 13, and Port Harcourt 46.
Meanwhile the Corporate Services Executive, MTN, Mr. Wale Goodluck, said the villages were categorised in line with MTN network topography, where Abuja, Asaba and Ibadan amongst others are separate regions even as the selected villages cuts across the whole country.
Explaining the modalities of the survey, Farroukh said, “We recognise the technical complexities, the infrastructure challenges with some of the villages just 200 to 250 kilometres far from one another. MTN and its consultants got on the job and we shall be deploying the latest telecommunications technology to serve the unserved.
He also noted that though it has gulped well over $40m to get to this level, it was not even about the cost, but that the main challenge will be to ensure that service related cost are maintained adequately to further improve on the development.
According to him, Huawei will deploy latest base stations technology that consumes low energy and environment friendly. He added that they can also be upgraded for other services in the future if need be.
Expressing happiness on the development, an NCC Commissioner and Former Minister of Communications, Dr. Olawale Ige, said, “The policy of extending telecoms services to the rural area has being with us since the monopoly era. But we have not been able to achieve much due to dearth of adequate infrastructure and the problems of monopoly.
“But today, we now have liberalised, open market and convergence as the drivers of the telecommunications industry. I must commend the efforts of MTN Nigeria, because this is not easy to do, if we are to consider logistics including the capital, maintenance, funds for technical services amongst others.”