How Tijani plans to fix poor connectivity

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Bosun Tijani

By Frank Eleanya

Bosun Tijani, Minister of Communication, Innovation and Digital Economy, raised hopes of better connectivity in Nigeria on when he recently unveiled the draft Strategic Blueprint. The goals in the strategic blueprint document were not entirely new. They had, however, received a few tweaks and reviews. For example, the draft retains the 70% broadband penetration target by 2025 which is featured in the National Broadband Plan 2020-2025. There is, however, a new target of 90% by 2027. The new target will depend on the achievement of 70% fibre optic cable deployment by 2027.

“With the aim of providing widespread access to ensure that citizens are connected, we will focus on executing our broadband strategy to lay 95,000 kilometers of fibre optic cable across the country,” the minister noted in the draft. The total on-land fiber deployment stood at 61,897.31km as of December 2022, compared with 47,128.7km in 2021. The growth was recorded by Airtel whose fibre deployment grew to 16,112.2km in 2022 from 14,454km in 2021; and Glo which grew to 13,813km in 2022 from 13,233km in 2021. MTN’s fibre deployment as at end of 2022 was at 30,460.31km. The company said it had added 1,511.74km till date, bringing their current fibre kilometers to 31,972.11km.

From the Strategic Blueprint draft, the Minister of Communication, Innovation and Digital Economy is projecting that in less than 4 years, the country will record an additional 47,871.3km of fibre optic cables across the country. That is nearly 50 percent growth by 2027. It will be an unprecedented feat in the industry.

The potential to achieve this is there, given that there are seven submarine subsea cables with over 140 terabyte capacity lying on the country’s shores. And even at 90,000km, Nigeria is still 30,000km short of where it should be, according to Umar Danbatta, the executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in a 2022 presentation. The challenge has been the actual deployment of the cables on land. The cost is enormous for operators and the government agencies often pose the biggest stumbling block.

It is equally important to note that the industry added less than 10,000km in four years; in view of the 40,370km recorded in 2018 and the 49,367km as of December 2022. In 2019, the operators were able to deploy 43,898.10km of fibre. It was largely unchanged in 2020 at 43,898.8km, before rising to 47,128.7km in 2021.

For Tijani to achieve his 50 percent growth target by 2027, it means the industry would need to see at least 12.5 percent growth every year, consistently, for the next four years. While the Strategic Blueprint document touches on every aspect of development in the ICT and technology sector, it is very short on details, especially with regard to how the targets will be achieved. It does, however, promise to keep a measurement over a period to gauge progress made.

But telecom experts say the minister needs to work on his communication with the industry. It has been months into his ministerial appointment, and Tijani has yet to convene a formal meeting of the stakeholders in the telecommunication sector. He has however met more than once with founders and CEOs of the tech ecosystem in the country.

Gbenga Adebayo, President of the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said last week that its members were scheduled to meet with the minister in no distant future. ALTON is one of the associations whose members have been significantly impacted by the economic meltdown in the country. According to Adebayo, the association’s membership has depleted from 25 to 16 because members who couldn’t cope with the harsh operating environment left or tuned down their operations.

Tony Izuagbe, President of the Association of Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ATCON) said the blueprint is a welcome development and the association was willing to work with the minister to achieve the targets. However, the minister needed to look at the licensing regime in the industry. The licensing needs to be incentivizing enough to attract investors into the industry.

There is a need for segmentation of licenses to enable smaller operators to be part of the process. A situation where big and smaller operators are required to bid for the same licence will only have one outcome; the big operators will out-compete the smaller ones. However, Izuagbe acknowledged that NCC was already working on tackling this challenge.

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