ADEYEMI ADEPETUN in this article, sampled stakeholders views on the outlook for a vibrant ICT/Telecoms sector in 2022.
To consolidate on the successes recorded in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in 2021, bridge the gaps created by some policies and regulations, and increase its contribution to the economy, stakeholders, who spoke with The Guardian, have called on the Federal Government to give priority to every segment of the industry.
From technology to telecoms, software to hardware, broadband to satellite, startups to innovators, among others, stakeholders argue that they must all be harnessed to improve the sector’s contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to them, it is also pertinent to bridge the gap between smaller industry operators and the tier one players. This, they said, requires people-friendly policies and regulations.
They also advocated the need to encourage Nigerians to participate fully in the ICT/telecoms sector for efficiency. Besides, rising from the successful auction of the 3.5GHz spectrum for the Fifth-Generation (5G) network deployment, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has been urged to make the deployment of the technology a reality as early as possible in the country.
Faster implementation of broadband plan
Indeed, the advent of 5G is expected to spur a revolution in broadband expansion. As of October 2021, broadband penetration stood at 39 per cent with some 76 million Nigerians enjoying the service.
The Nigerian Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said in 2022, the main focus should be affordable deployment and delivery of broadband Internet to the masses, especially covering those that are offline.
Teniola noted that the recent auctioning of 5G-related spectrum is pivotal to the deployment of Internet accessibility, which makes it meaningful and relevant to consumers across varying use cases that addresses latency sensitive applications.
He reminded that the implementation of the New National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020 to 2025 plan is focused on deepening 4G technology and would provide a basis for 5G migration coupled with increased adoption of NIN as a digital ID.
Teniola, a former President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) posited that with focus on the supply side of the digital economy equation by the private sector, ensuring that big data, analytics and digital infrastructure are primed for scale and adoption in 2022 is critical.
He said an emphasis on Digital Financial Services (DFS) will provide the telcos with an avenue for possible shareholder value with the introduction of AI/ML and appropriate infrastructure to close the digital divide gap.
Teniola urged the Federal Government to improve regulation by introducing innovative policies that lower the cost of doing business and remove the many barriers to affordability by eliminating the multiplicity of double taxes that stifles growth and investments.
“Another priority for FG is the investment in training, retooling and re-skilling a workforce that is prepared for the technological changes that 5G heralds in. Education curricula must be adapted to reflect the changes in STEM or STEAM and stronger linkages between universities and industries must be developed to prepare Nigeria as a destination of R&D that feeds into a 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) era,” he stated.
Like Teniola, the Chairman, Mobile Software Solution, Nigeria, Chris Uwaje, who commended the Prof. Umar Danbatta-led NCC for 5G auction, pointed out that the effort will no doubt provide the momentum for the acceleration of digital transformation, provided there is a shift in implementation strategy, from tech-consumerism to tech-innovation and creativity.”
Uwaje said with the advent of 5G, a comprehensive (converged and inclusive) cooperative regulatory system between telecoms and information technology ecosystem services should be considered, since the digital transformation roadmap has become a converged landscape where data and software services have taken the driver’s seat.
According to him, with IoT, AI, Robotics, Blockchain and Quantum Computing, the telecoms game has turned from physical infrastructure to digital content platforms.
Increased participation of indigenous operators
As momentum gathers around 5G deployments in the country, there should be a clearly defined policy and regulatory push towards asymmetric superintendence in favour of the smaller network operators.
This was the submission of a telecoms lawyer, Ayoola Oke, who observed that there is a void in-between the market’s power network operators and the small network operators.
He said the medium level network operator space is virtually empty. He stressed that the space should be populated with operators, who would keep the significant market power operators on their toes, with a readiness to take advantage of emerging technology and innovative cost-reducing network solutions.
Oke, a Principal Partner at Ayoola Babatunde Oke & Co; and former Special Adviser to the former Executive Vice-Chairman, NCC, Dr Ernest Ndukwe, said the small operators need to be encouraged to grow into this space.
According to him, regulatory imperatives that can encourage this space include spectrum re-farming to free up spectrum. He said dominant operators are hugging too much spectrum, which they should not be allowed to warehouse.
Oke also said there is a need for reduction in cost and requirements for acquiring adjunct network operating licenses.
The telecoms lawyer said prompt attention should be given to complaints against anti competitive behaviour from dominant operators, adding, “policy implementation in favour of increased local content in telecommunications should be frontal.”
Toeing the line of Oke, Executive Director Business Development, Broadbased Communications Limited, Chidi Ibisi, said Nigerians must be encouraged to participate fully in the ICT/telecoms sector in Nigeria.
Ibisi said to achieve this and deeper broadband deployment in the country, the FG should ensure the provision of low interest long-term loans including equity participation similar to the financing incentive administered by the Nigerian Content Development Board for the Oil and Gas Sector.
He advocated for liaison with the state governments for the harmonisation of Right of Way charges at N145 per meter. According to him, implementation and enforcement of compensation by state and FG road construction contractors for destruction of fiber cables during road construction.
To Ibisi, who said the reduction of multiple taxation is sacrosanct if indigenous
Participation in global disruptions
With 5G at hand and NNBP gaining attention, Nigeria should prepare and participate in global disruptions. This was according to the Founder, Jidaw Systems, Jide Awe, who also said FG should ensure it develops real capacity and capabilities in established and emerging technologies with a strategic focus on solving developmental challenges, social, economic and environmental; being proactive and responding to disruption from global events such as the COVID pandemic and geopolitical outcomes.
Awe said FG should prioritise youth innovation to realize their potential through disruptive innovation to meet demands and expectations, and drive trends and reduce digital dependence on the West, Asia and big tech companies. He advocated for digital Inclusion especially in education, health, agriculture and other critical areas.
The Jidaw Systems boss posited that strategy and policy development that is inclusive and stakeholder driven would strengthen the National System of Innovation.
He said there is also a need for the domestication and implementation of the African Union’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024).
While appreciating FG on the NIN-SIM exercise, Awe said the policy had been major in 2021, adding that the extension of deadlines has been positive as it is integral to digital identity management which is critical in this age.
“The next stage is to seize the opportunities of digital identity for legal identity, transparency, data sharing, privacy, cybersecurity, ethical risks, tracking/tracing, among others to meet needs and solve problems in security, health, governance,” he stressed.
Awe also commended the award of slots for the 5G spectrum in the auction conducted by the NCC, which he described as another major regulatory development. He however, asked how sufficient was stakeholder involvement in determining criteria for bidding and other critical issues?
“The licence is just the first step. It is one thing to fight for the licence. It is also critical to hold companies that won the bids accountable. They must deliver through their business cases to enable derive the benefits of 5G,” he added.
From his perspective, Executive Secretary, ATCON, Ajibola Olude, said what took place last year especially towards the ending would form part of what would constitute the outlook for 2022.
Friendly policies will unlock sector
For example, international companies are buying Nigerian companies, which means that the Nigerian telecoms and ICT sector is already receiving attention from international players which is good for the country. The recent auction of 5G spectrum would also lead to new services offerings and this would make the sector contribute more to the country’s GDP,” he noted.
According to him, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy should continue to make friendly policies that would encourage further investment into the sector.
Olude called on NCC, NITDA, NigComSat, NIPOST, and other agencies under the ministry to continue to provide necessary regulations for the continuous development of the industry.
“The Federal Government should see how they can solve issues affecting the industry by creating further awareness among state governments not to see the sector as a cash cow but as a development partner,” he added.