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A Call to Revamp CDMA Operations

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Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), a second generation telecommunications standard pioneered by chip maker Qualcomm, uses spread spectrum techniques and is globally acknowledged as the better technology compared to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM).

GSM, thanks to its wide adoption in Nigeria, Africa and indeed across the globe, gained critical mass subscription, out-edging CDMA and became the dominant standard for 2G telecommunications all over the globe and currently moving to 5G. But in countries like America and Japan, CDMA still managed to find a firm footing and they are better for it.

CDMA is preferred as better technology compared to GSM, given its inherent quality in terms of data speed and capacity. There is no gainsaying that telecommunications network providers are seriously focusing on data services hence the revenue shares from voice has reduced, substantially.

CDMA in Nigeria and Why they Failed
It is pertinent to note that CDMA as a technology managed to find a use case in Nigeria at the time it stood for wired landline connections. Recall, the first set of Private Telephone Operators (PTO) in Nigeria offered services via the CDMA technology. Multi-Links Telecommunications Limited was the first to begin operations in 1998 while the likes of VGC Communications, Intercellular, Mobitel and EMIS were the preferred networks of many Nigerians in the early days of the telecom revolution.

Then, a particular GSM entrant had exorbitant call rates with SIM cards being sold as high as N40, 000 upon entry. But, a number of issues worked against the spread of CDMA networks since the GSM licensing in 2001.

The inability to have the same interconnect charges and failure to convince investors in the interconnect space, that, since CDMA required lesser spectrum than GSM, they should be allowed to provide full fledged CDMA services on the spectrum they got for WLL. That is just one case out of many. Well, the recent acquisition of Visafone by MTN Nigeria may have sounded the long awaited death knell on CDMA operators in Nigeria.

Yes, MTN acquisition of Visafone, meant the services could be spread to a wider coverage area, using the spectrum (800GHz) on fourth generation equipment (4G LTE). However, it may not be yet uhuru. For instance, can you compare subscribing to CDMA broadband service for a year with that of the GSM? While the CDMA helps to ensure stability in your business which depended largely on internet access these days, tethering your phone in order to GSM phone internet connection would bill for every kilobyte and has proved to be a very expensive option. CDMA would have saved us some headache in this time of recession.

CDMA leverages several transmitters and can send information simultaneously over a single communication channel. It uses spread spectrum technology allowing many users to occupy the same space time and frequency allocations in a given band/space. Unlike GSM, CDMA does not assign a specific frequency channel or time slot to each user but instead individual conversations are encoded with a pseudo-random digital sequence.

It is widely acknowledged CDMA showcases better technology compared to alternative technologies such as GSM and is also believed to be more cost effective for operators as the CDMA capacity advantage leads to lower tariffs. Had it this been the case, the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu and his lieutenants at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), probably, would have had a safe-sail in pushing for increased data-floor which generated much debate late last year.

During its dominant era, the CDMA operators unleashed excellent voice clarity for both local and international traffics; clearly identified lines and locations, while their data quality were often been described as first rate.

Many are still at lost over the causes of CDMA demise in Nigeria. As we speak, they are at the verge of extinction with less than 1.5million subscribers in a market where there are over 216million connected telephone lines, according to NCC statistics, with about 154million active lines. Out of the number, GSM operators account for about 152million lines. Fixed wired/wireless operators have less than 200,000 lines.

A close look at the Nigerian Telecommunications industry, as an industry analyst would put it, “one can deduce that the business model of the average Nigerian CDMA operator made it unable to compete on the same platform with GSM service providers. Almost all the CDMA operators where locally developed, with no international investors or technical partners involved in the management of their service”.

This is backed up with the fact, GSM providers- MTN, Airtel (formerly Econet, Celtel), Globacom and Etisalat due to their size and international affiliations were able to attract financing and support from foreign banks and international finance brokers. The CDMAs’ woes reached the crescendo as, financial institutions repulsed by the companies’ stinking financial records, turned their backs, preferring to fund GSM operators with proven corporate practice.

Another factor that could have worked against the CDMA operators could be there network spread, most of them were located in urban cities like Abuja and Lagos, extending their services to other regions or cities meant going back to the regulator for additional spectrum which usually came at a cost. The guidelines on their licensing hindered their spread.

Others believe that market forces like stiffer competition and the tough business climate in the country made co-location impossible in the early day thus operators had to build and maintain their telecom infrastructure across the country. Unfortunately, the industry was skewed against infrastructure sharing, by that; they shot themselves in the leg. This singular act, it is believed, signaled the present NCC’s InfraCo arrangement, where issue around co-location is industry approved.

Simply put that the inability of CDMA operators to spread massively in the beginning compared to their GSM counterparts stifled innovation, and formed the major impediment to their growth.

Way Forward
The regulator seems to have created a monster (monopoly) that will, sooner or later, turn against the market. How do we mean? Pundits predicted that in the near future, mobile operators on different platforms including GSM and CDMA will migrate to the Long Term Evolution (LTE). With LTE operators will get a speed of up to 37.5MB per second on the device as against the 3.1MB that is currently available on the 3G networks.

It is no longer news MTN acquired Visafone to access the 800 MHz spectrum band, which enabled it launch 4G LTE services. Recall, in 2007, VGC Communications Limited (VGCCL), a Lagos-based Private Telephone Operator licensed by NCC to provide cabling and radio, telephone services nationwide and had laid extensive fibre optic cables, and Internet service provision, was bought by MTN Nigeria. In other words, MTN is in a position to be a single dominant player in the voice and data markets in Nigeria’s telecommunications industry.

The question in the minds of many in the light of recent developments is ‘how will the CDMA sector thrive if it is not proactively encouraged by the NCC to do so?”

There could be hope for CDMA, especially, if they are encouraged through the Universal Service Provision Funds (USPF) to deploy services in rural areas, because 3G technology performs better on CDMA. It will be a double-win for the government which is pushing for financial inclusion at the rural areas.

The CDMAs with best spectrum to reach the hinter lands can be very valuable in that regard. For those that will be stationed at the urban centre, they can help power the Point of Sale (POS) Terminals, the key driver of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) cashless policy initiative; it works better with the CDMA technology than with the GSM technology.

Thus,  is it expected the government through the NCC can give the CDMA operators a favourable licensing environment so as to continue operations, because there have been at least six CDMA operators in Nigeria from Multi-Links to Starcomms who have either exited the market or folded up citing unfavourable business conditions as a cause. It is heartbreaking that in 2001, there were 12 CDMA operators in the country and at 2016 none is viable. Remember, the death of a CDMA operator implies job loss, revenue loss to the nation and in a move towards monopoly.

 

 


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FCT Lifts Suspension Order on Masts, Towers

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Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has finally lifted the suspension order it earlier placed on telecoms masts and towers in Abuja metropolis.

FCT Lifts Suspension Order on Masts, Towers

The FCTA has therefore asked telecoms operators to commence fresh moves to regularise, update and settle all outstanding bills on their masts and towers to enable them resume installation of masts and towers in the territory.

Relieved of the burden of the suspension of telecoms masts installation in Abuja, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman of the Association of Licenced Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said that the suspension order would enable telecoms operators resume telecoms masts and other telecoms infrastructure rollout in Abuja, a situation, he said would address the issue of poor telecoms services in Abuja and its environ, having suffered from poor telecoms service delivery in the territory since the suspension order in February this year.

The FCT Administration had on February 3, 2020, placed a suspension order for the installation of telecoms masts and towers in the federal capital territory and communicated same to all telecoms operators through a letter.

In a recent letter dated September 25, 2020, written to all telecoms operators through their association, ALTON, the FCT Administration lifted the suspension order and asked telecoms operators to commence masts installation after seeking the necessary approvals.

Part of the letter with reference No: FCDA/ES/460/Vol.1, which was signed by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Administration, Olusade Adesola, read: “I wish to refer to our letter dated February 3, 2020, which conveyed the suspension of the grant of permits for the erection of telecoms masts/towers in the FCT and the series of correspondences by you dated April 30, July 14, and September 8, 2020, wherein you appealed for reconsideration of the directive to facilitate prompt resumption of the issuance of the build permit process.

“After carefully studying your concerns, the FCT Administration is delighted to convey the lifting of the suspension of the processing/grant of permits for telecoms masts and towers in the FCT, with effect from the date of this letter.”

Reacting to the letter, Adebayo said: “For some time now, telecoms operators in Abuja have not been able to provide adequate capacity to carry the load of Abuja subscribers because of the non-approval of the expansion of telecoms masts and towers by the FCT Administration.

The implication is that those who travelled into Abuja from other states and from other countries were not able to have uninterrupted telecoms services, which was a reputation issue for the country, because travelers will leave the country with the impression that telecoms services are poor in the country. But with the lifting of the suspension order, telecoms operators will be able to install more masts that will lead to better user experience of telecoms services in Abuja. The government agencies will also have better user experience and service delivery.”

“We are happy with the lifting of the suspension order for the telecoms masts and towers in Abuja, and we are glad that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, was able to resolve this for us. So we are ready to expand telecoms infrastructure in the FCT.”


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FG Launches Digital Nigeria Portal, Mobile App

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Dr Isa Pantami, minister of Communications and Digital Economy (FMCDE) has unwrapped a Digital Nigeria Portal and Mobile Application in furtherance of the Digital Nigeria Programme.

FG Launches Digital Nigeria Portal, Mobile App

Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami

The Digital Nigeria Programme was kick-started by President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 19, 2020.

At the virtual launch of the mobile application in Abuja, Pantami, said it was part of the government’s key initiatives aimed at empowering innovators and entrepreneurs with the requisite skills to thrive in an emerging digital economy.

He explained that the Digital Nigeria programme was a key component of the Digital Literacy and Skills Pillar of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria which was being championed by himself.

Pantami said the ministry was partnering with global institutions including the African Development Bank (AFDB) and Microsoft to enable Nigerians to acquire cutting edge digital skills within the comfort of their homes.

The Minister, however, reiterated the government’s resolve to promote skills over paper qualifications.

“We are championing a paradigm shift that lays emphasis on skills, in preference to merely having degrees without skills.

“Degrees are only meant to validate skills, this is a growing trend across the globe.

“The digital literacy and skills pillar recognises the fact that citizens are the greatest assets in any economy, including the digital economy.

“It will support the development of a large pool of digitally literate and digitally skilled citizens. The “Digital Nigeria” mobile app is available on play store and apple store, enabling Nigerians to enrol in ICT courses within the comfort of their homes,” he said.

Pantami said that much of the content was provided through AfDB’s partnership with Microsoft, adding that students can download certificates after completing the courses.

According to him, across the globe, there is a growing focus on the need for developing skills, rather than merely acquiring degrees.

“To this end, Nigerians are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity by enroling today at https://digitalnigeria.gov.ng; or https://academy.nitda.gov.ng/ accordingly.

“The portals will give details on how to register and how to download the relevant Mobile Apps.

“The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is committed to developing the capacity of Nigerians to use technology to solve problems.

“We will keep updating the course offerings to reflect global trends. The Digital Nigeria Programme will provide a platform to empower Nigerians to develop relevant skills and build innovative solutions to address challenges within,” Pantami said.

Some of those present at the launch included Prof. Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and Prof. Mohammed Abubakar, managing director of the Galaxy Backbone (GBB).


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Digital Explorers Launch Paid Traineeship in Lithuania for Nigerian Female Data Analysts

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Digital Explorers has launched applications for the second cohort of the program. This time, it is a female-only track that will select up to 15 female Data Analysts and Data Scientists at entry-level who will undergo up to 6 months paid traineeship in Lithuania. The program will consist of an intensive training and a placement at a Lithuanian company.

Digital Explorers launched in 2019, selecting 15 Nigerian ICT specialists, from a pool of 1,400 young talents. The first cohort of 15 digital explorers have spent a year in Lithuania, working, learning, and networking. They are now wrapping up their 1 – year career advancement journey and transitioning to full-time, more permanent employment.

For the next cohort, Digital Explorers is partnering with Data Science Nigeria to identify and select Data Analysts/Scientists for its 2020 Virtual Bootcamp (to commence on 20th October, 2020).

The objective of this cohort is to support women in tech and contribute to closing the global tech gender gap by offering tailored data analysis / data science traineeships to selected participants.

Interested Nigerian entry-level female data analysts/scientists are required to register for the DSN Hackathon through this link – bit.ly/AIBootcamp20_hack in order to make it into the Virtual Bootcamp.

This also gives an opportunity for Nigerian Companies with existing female entry level data scientists and analysts to encourage their staff to apply.

Participants will receive tailored training, international exposure and return after 6 months better equipped to contribute to the success of the organization. Application for the DSN Hackathon closes on October 3rd, 2020.

The training participants will receive will be tailored to meet market demands in Lithuania and Nigeria. At the end of the programme, participants will be further assisted in finding the right employment opportunities in Nigeria.

Nigerian companies interested in hiring data analysts and data scientists in the future can partner by registering here to recruit participants who successfully complete the programme on their return from Nigeria.

In his vision essay about this program, Kola Aina – Founder of Ventures Platform says this project is “about upskilling the next generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs and knowledge workers with global networks and connections.

“Our ‘Digital Explorers’ will be working side by side with amazing people on world class teams, building products and services for global clients, and spending a lot of time in structured learning and networking activities… Looked at from a certain perspective, the people who make it into the Digital Explorers programme are effectively being paid to learn and acquire world class skills.”

Speaking on the launch of the second track of the Digital Explorers program, Eugenija Kovaliova, Co-founder of AfriKo says, “Lithuanian ICT sector has been maturing significantly over the past decades and this has been recognized by many international tech companies, hiring Lithuanian specialists to work on complex projects.

“At Digital Explorers we want to open up an opportunity for Nigerian talents to work alongside Lithuania’s best and bring back acquired skills and knowledge for a stronger Nigerian digital landscape.”

Mimshach Obioha, the Executive Director at Ventures Platform Foundation, added, “The choice to focus on Data Analysts and Data Scientists is fueled by the growing global demand across different industries for jobs such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists or Data Scientists.”


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