May 16, 2020

COVID-19: Investing in telecom, ICT easy way to revive our economy —Infravision Boss

Arinze Chukwudile

By Moses Nosike

The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe has affected economies and businesses in the ICT industry, leading to uncertainties, unemployment, cost increase and operational difficulties and more.

Chief Operating Officer of Infravision, a telecommunications service provider, Arinze Chukwudile in this interview with Nosike Moses reveals the efforts of his organization to remain in operation at this time of COVID-19 pandemic hitting hard on global economies.

He also mentions some of the challenges threatening Telecom/ICT industries especially this time and how government of the day can be of immense help to cushion the effects of doing business now in Nigeria. Excerpts:

As a Nigerian business enterprise operating in the ICT industry, how is your organization coping at this COVID-19 pandemic period?

Our organization provides managed services to Telecom Operators (that is supporting the Telcom Operators to manage their network infrastructure).

Our staff are widely distributed across many states in Nigeria, providing field operations support that requires moving across several sites to resolve network issues.

In addition, we have some dedicated employees at our HQ to provide back end support to the field team. In view of the nature of our business, we started making some preparations in advance, like purchase of material stock required for operations, purchase of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for regional field staff.

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The back end staff supporting the field operations team were accommodated in hotels close to their working facilities. In all, our planned forecast was just for a few weeks, but since the COVID-19 Pandemic is now extending for long time, we still need government support as our stocks will run out soon, which means the telecom network quality will be affected.

Following this, we have sent a letter to the Hon Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, duly signed by 16 MDs of Telecom Service Providers to make our appeal officially known.

What are the major challenges of your organization while providing Telecoms/ICT services in the country at this time of COVID-19 Pandemic?

The main issue now is that Telecom operators have reduced and as well cut down their planned investments. This adjustment has affected service providers like us due to decrease in the network rollout. It also affected our gross revenue and decline in business opportunities.

Despite the decline, operational costs keep rising because of an increase in material costs, service purchase costs and other unanticipated costs.

Under such circumstances, it is most likely that some of us who are service providers may be indebted or go bankrupt.

We are therefore appealing to appropriate government authorities to provide us some relief that could sustain our business and keep the job for our people, so that we continue to provide quality services needed in the ICT industry.

There are fears and tension among employees mostly in the private sector of possible job loss should the COVID-19 persists, is your organisation thinking towards that direction?

We are not. Although there has been news circulating around that some organizations are trying to downsize workforce, our organization has ensured that its employees so far keep their jobs even as their salaries are being paid up till date.

Considering also that we have our employees working in different states of the federation, we have maintained a steady touch with them via emails, video, audio conferences to continually keep them abreast with the situation and their well-being. Honestly speaking, the situation is bleak at the moment as we don’t know how long we can sustain this.

However, we hope that with the anticipated intervention of the government in the Telecoms/IT sectors, we can jointly create an enabling environment for the ICT Industry investment, which will ultimately protect the employment of our employees.

What are the likely consequences of the situation on ground on the national economy?

One of the obvious consequences on the national economy is reduction in staff overhead which will lead to job losses in order for businesses to stay afloat.

This would also result to slower response times, thus causing poor network quality and increase in customer complaints.

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Other sectors that rely on Telecoms/ICT network to provide internet services to them such as banks, insurance companies, hospitals etc. will also be affected.

As you can see, this would have an overall negative impact on the Nigerian economy and bad user experience.

However, with COVID-19 pandemic plunging the world economies into recession, some countries like South Africa, South Korea, and the Middle East etc. have started investing in Telecommunications/ICT sectors, as part of their strategy to speedily recover from recession, knowing that there is huge potential in the sector.

And if Nigerian government can channel resources to Telecommunications/ICT sector, it would quickly help our economy to recover from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. So we advise the government and private sectors to consider investing in the Telecommunications/ICT industry.

Since the lockdown, there had been reports of increased crime rates mostly in some parts of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, what measures is your organization taking to protect your field workers?

This is really a big challenge we are facing as an organization in this period of COVID-19 pandemic, because we have some of our field operations employees at risk while going to site to resolve network issues.

We had to make special budget for their safety which has increased our operational cost. Even though we have good collaboration with law enforcement agencies and the local communities, we still encounter some of these challenges. For instance, one of our engineers was attacked recently by hoodlums on his way to site.

Fortunately, he did not sustain serious injuries, but he lost his phone, wallet, ATM and some money to those attackers. Hoodlums attacks were much because of hunger and a lot of people who earn a daily living cannot go out as a result of the pandemic.

We are asking the federal and state governments to put in place adequate security measures to protect lives and property during this pandemic period.

How do you think government can help in resolving these challenges?

The government can help by making available loans/intervention packages to support struggling businesses or other supportive policy as incentive for investment.

This will motivate the Telecom Operators to carry out new investments which would in turn provide revenue stream opportunities for other providers like our organization in this sector.

As a maintenance team leader, what are the major challenges of your team working during this COVID-19 period?

The first challenge is that many of the engineers are afraid of contracting COVID-19 despite wearing PPE to site. This fear has made some of them delay in responding to and resolving network issues at sites.

Again, the situation has made it difficult to move around because of the restriction imposed by the federal and state governments, where at different check points security operatives carry out checks before they are allowed to move on. This no doubt causes a lot of delay and make engineers to arrive late at site.

The situation on ground also makes it difficult for engineers to access sites located in residential homes, offices and estates because those areas have placed strict access restriction for non-residents or non-employees.

As such, the engineers find it difficult to access these locations to resolve network faults. This causes long fault resolution time (MTTR) and results to poor network service and bad user experience in the affected areas.

We, therefore, call on the government, organizations, residential estates office organizations, and individuals, having network equipment installed at their premises to give special consideration to Telecoms/ICT managed service engineers to enable them to resolve issues timely.

Tell us other challenges as a field team leader while carrying out Telecoms network rollout/expansion work during this COVID-19 period?

The first challenge is non-availability of new network roll out jobs. Even some of the previously awarded contract jobs had been stopped and withdrawn by the Telco operators.

As a result, many of the installation engineers who work on contracts are without jobs. Many of them have been placing calls to me and lamenting about the situation and how they find it difficult to feed themselves and their families.

Another challenge is the difficulty of moving around this period as some of the engineers who are still having some jobs to execute complained bitterly the challenge of transportation and security checks.

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