When the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks commenced operation in Nigeria in 2001, the joy of Nigerians knew no bound. Their expectations from the subscribers were high and they were willing to pay for the services, considering their highly harrowing experiences with the hitherto epileptic but now moribund NITEL.
The GSM operators initially strived within their capacities to meet the expectations of their ever growing subscribers. But this was short-lived as subscription soon outstripped the installed capacities, resulting in poor services on the various networks.
The poor service manifested in forms of dropped calls, poor phone conversations, unsolicited text messages and many more.
Efforts by subscribers to reach operators’ helplines to lodge complaints on some of the issues have been largely difficult.
Mr Augustus Eromosele, a Lagos-based businessman, blames telecoms operators for difficulties faced by subscribers.
According to Eromosele, instead of the subscribers being happy with telecoms services, they are facing numerous challenges daily.
“After loading a telephone handset with enough credit, you will not be able to use it to make calls successfully before the network wipes off the credit. At times, we will purchase airtime only to be unable to load it because of poor network.
“My greatest annoyance is that, in spite of all these challenges, the operators are still launching promos to lure more subscribers to their networks without expanding their capacity,’’ he says.
Also, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, president of the National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS), notes that there had not been improvements in the quality of services offered in 2014 by the telecoms providers.
Ogunbanjo notes that this had compelled the association to take some telecoms operators to court to ask for compensation over poor services to the public.
He says the issue of contacting the helplines of operators, to lodge complaints, has become worrisome to the consumers.
According to him, just one in a 100,000 calls to operators’ customer care lines gets through— after about 30 minutes of the aggrieved subscriber being kept on hold.
The NATCOMS’ president says the association has since recommended that for every 100,000 subscribers, there should be a care centre, noting that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has failed to agree to this suggestion.
He adds that some subscribers complained of their inability to access the NCC’s complaint centres, saying this should be the last resort for them to lay their complaints.
On his part, the NCC Director of Public Affairs, Mr Tony Ojobo, while agreeing that the quality of services by operators have fallen short, says they as the regulatory body have given the providers up to the end of 2014 to improve.
He says the commission will also take measures to ensure that providers, who have fallen short of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), are sanctioned.
According to him, subscribers should take telecoms firms to task, based on poor services rendered.
“I think the time has come for people to assert their rights. It is only in the telecoms industry that the people want the regulator to do everything.
“People should also take responsibility at some point to demand their rights from their service providers. That is the point we have made. People can take service providers to court.
“It is not everything that the regulator should handle. In other climes, people have gone to court for even lesser matters. But in Nigeria, everybody wants the regulator to do everything.
“We need to be able to put our laws to test. It is a contract of service. Every network has a contractual obligation within which it provides services. And for every service they are providing, there are terms and conditions.
“So, if they violate the terms and conditions, they should have a reasonable excuse, otherwise consumers can seek redress through the courts,’’ he adds.
According to him, those rendering unsatisfactory services to consumers will be made to face the music.
However, Mr Wale Goodluck, the Corporate Services Executive, MTN Nigeria, says the issue of capacity to accommodate subscribers essentially lays in the hands of the operators.
Goodluck says that it behooves operators to get a good understanding of the demand and improve on capacity to meet growing demands.
“The good news is that operators have the resources to install the required capacity, but the reality is that it is extremely difficult to put infrastructure on the ground in our environment.
“The same infrastructure challenges that have bedeviled the power industry also affect the telecommunications industry,’’ he says.
Goodluck notes that telecoms infrastructure can not exist in vacuum, as there has to be parallel growth in other sectors for the full realisation of the benefit of increased rollout.
Contributing, Mr Gbenga Adebayo, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), says the challenges hampering capacity rollout remained enormous.
Adebayo says that the insecurity of telecoms infrastructures, a phenomenon that manifested prominently in 2012, during the terror attacks on telecoms facilities in some parts of the country, has posed a major challenge.
He says the operators are faced with other challenges: such as multiple taxations and the difficulty to obtain the Right of Way (RoW).
“Some of the various levies from some states and local governments have been hampering the erection of base stations that can help to boost the quality of services’’.
Not less than 30 base stations were bombed and several others damaged in the 2012 terror attacks on telecoms installations, and some of these facilities have yet to be re-built because of a lack of access to the sites.
Recent reports also revealed that telecoms firms have recorded a minimum of 70 cases of vandalism of their infrastructure monthly in different parts of the country.
In his view, the Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Nigeria, Mr Segun Ogunsanya, blames recent poor telecoms services on Nigeria’s irregular electricity power infrastructure, “which has long been an obstacle for the country’s telecoms operators”.
Ogunsanya says for a country with not less than 25,000 Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) and the need for twice that number over the next 10 years, the power infrastructure challenge may be especially nagging.
“The power cost of a site connected to the power grid is only about one to six of those powered by generators, and only about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of BTS are connected to the electricity powered grid.
“The implications of such an absence of reliable power infrastructure are far-reaching. The operators spend around N8 billion to N10 billion yearly on diesel to power their base stations.
“Such costs account for about 60 per cent of operators’ network costs. Primarily, because of such fuel costs, the average network cost in Nigeria is twice to three times higher than in a number of other African markets,’’ he says.
The above scenario shows that telecoms subscribers in Nigeria are in for unending worries over poor services, if drastic actions are not taken.
Information Technology (IT) analysts have suggested that NCC should put in more efforts to ensure that the challenges listed by operators are eliminated.
They also suggest that operators should upgrade their helplines and make them accessible, so that subscribers can get answers to their worries.

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