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Digital Mobile Phone Licences: Nigerians Count Their Blessings (Posted 13th Mar, 2001) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them.

Having watched with great expectations the conclusion of the recent Digital Mobile Licence (DML) auction by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Nigerians are beginning to count their blessings. While many look forward to cheaper, affordable and efficient telephone services, others are preparing to try their hands on the lucrative job opportunities the whole development will throw up. At the close of a high-pitched, three-day bidding exercise that peaked at an unexpected N28.5 billion figure per licensed operator, three licensed telecom operators emerged. The operators, Communication Investment Limited, CIL*, Econet and Mobile Telecommunications Limited, MTN (parent company website) are expected to kick off service with Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, NITEL that got an automatic slot by of May 2001.

Not only this, each operator is required by the NCC rules to put 100,000 line units network in the first year of operation. This provision has made the expectation of Nigerians for a cheap and affordable phone service not all together misplaced. This line of thought is further strengthened by the obligation on operators to expand subscription base to 750,000 lines within two years and 1.5 million in five years. Reacting to this, Collins Onuegbu, Managing Director of signal Alliance, an IT company says "six million lines in the national networks of these operators will definitely reduce price drastically." Onuegbu's company looks forward to better phone services to improve its own efficiency in the Information Technology market sector.

More Jobs, Less Traffic, Less Crime

Also to follow in logical sequence is the certainty of job creation, since more companies necessarily mean more jobs. Other multiplier benefits of the exercise include a marginal reduction in traffic hold-ups and crime rates. For instance, it is a known fact that increased and enhanced telecommunication between individuals and corporate organisations will inevitably take more vehicles off the roads and reduce inter-city hold-ups particularly in a city like Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital. Also to enjoy the benefits of more mobile phones is the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC. The Federal agency has consistently maintained that an improved communication service will minimise national figure on road accidents, which it currently puts at 14,182 between March 1996 and March 2000. These accidents involve 19,460 vehicles and saw to it that 8,400 victims suffered while another 2,490 lost their lives within the period under review.

In the same vein, the Nigerian Police is of the opinion that, it will also benefit from improved communication service. On several occasions, the force has shifted blames for its inefficiency on inadequate communication tools. Some Nigerians who seem to share this idea too have argued that the licensed telecom operators should be mandated to set aside a portion of their networked lines for the police as security hot lines. Though this argument may not go far as it contravenes the principle of free enterprise under which the operators are encouraged to open shop in the first instance, it however shows the importance of the need to further improve the communication facilities at the disposal of the police force.

Growth In Home Offices

Apart from all these, Nigerians are also expecting an increase in the opening up of what is referred to as "home offices." This phenomenon, which has already gained good ground in Western countries, simply means an opportunity to operate one’s business concern from home. However, in most of these advanced economies, the home offices along with their corporate counterparts are now been complemented with many home Offices also having a presence on the Internet owing to the remarkable fall in the price of hosting Websites and the gravitational pull of global businesses to the Internet. But the "home office" concept may take sometime to grow in Nigeria. And this is due to the fact that other factors, which ordinarily should encourage it, are not presently constant in Nigeria. Such factors are constant power supply, and of course more importantly the technical know-how required for keeping the host server running and thus sustaining the visibility of a company's Internet presence.

This notwithstanding, Titi Omo-Etu, an engineer and managing director of Telecomm Answer Associates is of the opinion that the popularity of the home office will be enhanced by improved access to e-mail, voice mail, facsimile, Internet surfing services provided by an ever-growing number of Cyber cafés at competitive prices, inspired by the presence of the new GSM players and their offer of dialing the world clearly and cheaply.

Reliable and Affordable Services?

But will these services not cost a fortune? To this, the licensed operators have promised that in spite of the high-stake value of the DML and the huge cost of the network, Nigerians are assured of reliable, efficient and cost effective Mobile phone services come June 2001. Strive Masiyiwa, chief executive officer of Econet Wireless International, the leading partner in the Econet Nigeria Wireless Limited consortium, says Nigerians should "expect" competitive prices and high quality services. We absolutely expect competitive price as well as qualitative service."

And this may not be an empty boast. For instance, the firm’s policy and style of service delivery has earned countries like Zimbabwe the toga of the fastest growing mobile phone industry in the world. With a growth rate of 95 per cent, Zimbabwe’s growth rate of digital mobile services is well above growth in Europe, America and Asia. And to further assure easy and cheap access to mobile phones, Masiyiwa says, "We are used to working in markets where taxi drivers and people who are involved in the informal sector, like women, have access to the mobile phones." He added that "we do not believe in high connection charges, barriers to entry and expensive phones."The other licensed operators are not willing to be left behind. They have all promised to deliver reliable and affordable services to Nigerian subscribers. So head or tail, whichever way it goes, Nigerians stand to benefit immensely from the Digital Mobile Licence auction.

*CIL’s Licence has since been revoked due to conditions it attached to the payment for its Licence into NCC’s account. 


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