By Prince Osuagwu
Executive Vice Chairman, EVC, of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Dr Eugene Juwah, last weekend sealed the hope of a possible bail out for the Code Division Multiple Access, CDMA, operators as he revealed that the Open Access Model, the commission was proposing to operators for broadband investment did not take them, (CDMA operators) into account.
Juwah who spoke while presenting the plan to telecom operators in Lagos, however said that if the CDMA operators eventually strengthen their network operations, they may be allowed to buy into the plan.
The fortunes of the CDMA operators have over the years declined and expectations were that the regulator could provide a possible lift for them, particularly as the industry was entering into the broadband investment phase in Nigeria’s telecom growth.
However, fielding questions after presenting the plan to mobile operators at the Oriental Hotels, Lagos, at the weekend, Juwah said that the major focus was the mobile operators but there was room for the CDMA operators to key into broadband, if they work on their operations business plan.
Juwah also announced that the commission was preparing to auction the two remaining slots in 2.3GHz spectrum band in order to enable the provision of last mile wireless access on a wholesale basis.
For him, the licensing would give a face lift to government’s plan to unbundle the country’s broadband infrastructure market, to achieve the 80 percent broadband penetration target by 2017.
According to the NCC, this current industry direction has become imperative in view of the high cost of internet access and the prevalence of poor quality of service.
He fingered lack of a comprehensive domestic fibre backbone within the country connecting the Local Government Areas ( LGAs) as well as widespread and expansive metropolitan fibre mesh network within the cities as responsible for poor broadband services the country was experiencing at the moment.
Juwah said that “the presence of fibre in any local government does not necessarily mean that high capacity transmission services or dark fibre services are available from existing operators at competitive prices. In spite of the recent progress recorded in the telecoms industry, fibre deployment in the country has been plagued by myriad of difficulties ranging from administrative procedures regarding right of way (RoW) permits, to poor urban planning and lack of infrastructure sharing”.
To address current challenges, the NCC is proposing an overhaul of the current industry structure which consists of integrated operators offering end-to-end services and long distance operators offering wholesale services amongst others. This structure, Juwah, pointed out, has served the country well in terms of penetration of mobile services. But, it has faced limitations in terms of increasing availability and penetration of high speed broadband infrastructure. Teledensity has reached 88.3 percent as at July, 2013. On the other hand, broadband penetration is still low at about 8 percent.
The proposed industry structure, based on Open Access, would see to the licensing of infrastructure companies (InfaCo) that are geographically focused. “These companies will provide wholesale Layer 2 transmission service on a non-discriminatory, open access, price regulated basis. InfaCos may provide Layer 1 (dark fibre) services on commercial basis”, he said. These firms would also focus on the deployment of metropolitan fibre and provide transmission services, available at access points (Fibre-to-the-Node or Neighbourhood -FTTN) to access seekers, according to the commission.
Also, a Wholesale Wireless Last Mile Provider will be licensed in coming months. “The available 2.3GHz spectrum license will be auctioned to provide last mile wireless access on a wholesale basis”. Juwah told CEOs of mobile networks that last mile connectivity will be deployed using wireless and fibre optic broadband.
”There will also be Retail Service Providers (RSP). The RSP are expected to ride on the wholesale last mile provider to offer services to homes, businesses, schools, etc.”, the NCC boss stated. Juwah further explained that the proposed industry structure is critical to meeting Nigeria’s vision 20:2020 economic transformation blueprint. He further gave cogent reasons gor adopting this new industry structure.
According to him, there is already the presence of substantial intercity backbone fibre infrastructure covering various trunk routes in the country. “It is accessed that it is more cost effective for InfraCos to potentially leverage intercity layer 2 transmission services from existing operators rather than introduce another company constructing and owning inter-city fibre”, he further explained.