blog titi omo-ettu

 

DUE SEASON - To whom it may concern by Fola Soboyejo
Where will two weeks of talk take US and the Internet to?
Monsters that are called Loans
Hurdles In-plant
Oja Village - metaphor for our CommTech Industry
Harnessing the Potential of the Internet and Applications on Mobile Devices 
The Challenge of Bharti
Of House of Reps, NCC & SIM Card Registration
The Business Opportunities of Mobile Services
Home may be where the problem is :Aftermath of 2.3 GHz court verdict
Opportunity of a Tragedy
Time to Listen!
2/11: Will The Senate Stick or Twist?
Who is dominating who around here?
'
F'ings just gotta change
3G Network Systems: The Choice & Challenge ahat Await Nigeria
2.3 GHz verdict: It was Them not Us
Big tree, small axe


 

 

DUE SEASON, To whom it may concern,


by,
Fola Soboyejo

A Review by Titi Omo-Ettu

Protocols & Preambles. 

The book we are about to review looks like a novel but it is very far from being one. 

We are talking about a 197 page Compendium of the thoughts of an intellectual, engineer, manager and businessman whose passion, using this Collage of Essays as observatory, focuses on issues relating to Africa, Nigeria, engineering and humanity. 

The line that can be drawn across the 6 Essays and dissertations which are captured in DUE SEASON - To Whom It May Concern - is that every one of us merits being 'the concerned'. To Whom It May Concern indeed is a message to all of us who care about development, the professions, international business, the problems of Africa and, for that matter, specifically those of Nigeria and the thoughts of a man who is passionate about these matters is what is available in a book form. 

We are saying in other words that DUE SEASON is a selection of conference papers, technical presentations, dissertations and discussions. These expressions of ideas were created and presented to different audiences in 1986, 1993, 1998, 2009, 2012, and 2013. 

Each essay constitutes a Chapter and the thoroughness by which the subjects are discussed tells a volume about the author. Deep, insightful, rich, far reaching and intellectually stimulating. 

The first essay, International Partnerships - Not for The Coward or the Naïve- was  written for and presented at the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Society of Engineers in 2012 and its purpose was clearly to arm the author's professional colleagues who might be considering international partnerships on what it takes to be a global professional, entrepreneur and business man. And indeed he made an expose of daring requirements which are essentially homework, organisation, transparency, the role of governments, and a rich revelation of attractions and opportunities which beg to be tapped in Africa.  Because this was done in a little over one year ago, it is very relevant and useful for young aspiring professionals especially those in engineering and production to read this stuff. 

The dissertation published as Chapter 2 is one of those works which show that Engr Fola Soboyejo has been in the business of caring for a long time. Titled Practical Solutions to the Problems of Security and Safety in the Petroleum and Allied Industries, it was presented to the Cabinet Office in Tafawa Balewa Square Lagos in July 1986 and it is the oldest work that appears in this Collage. 

Here, the technological, sociological, economic and threat aspects of security are very well discussed and matters of safety especially from fire, oil spillages and the health hazards therefrom are treated in a manner that shows that the objective was to leave nothing out. 

The author said it as early as that time, 1986, that the diversification of the marketing companies and indeed of the nation's earning resources to other areas and especially to agriculture was necessary and he specifically recommended the establishment of an Oil Industry Joint Safety Action Committee and also of an Oil Consumer Protection Association under the aegis of the Public Complaints Commission for the protection of oil product users of all classes against contaminated products.  

Chapter 3 stuns me. It is a training course material in accounting and I wished I had been exposed to a material like this very early in my life, I probably would have ended up an Accountant and not an engineer. It treats Management Accounting by discussing accounting from the fundamental principles of essence through concepts, controls and management information systems. The paper titled Management Accounting - A Planning and Decision-Making Toolkit for small and medium-scale businesses is classical, detailed and educating. 

That could only have been written by an engineer who is thorough and versed in accounting processes. I recommend this to all undergraduates of engineering who aspire to be entrepreneurs in future and also to accounting students who wish to apply their skill to solving practical and real business enterprise problems. 

It is in Engineering and Technology for Non-Oil Export: Challenges, Strategies and Expectations, Chapter 4, that the author presents his best in depth, research, eye-opening, discussion of underdevelopment and inequalities in developing economies. 

Skills and expertise are some of the national interest 'products' which Engr Fola Soboyejo said Nigeria could export. He argued that there was a steady growth in the non oil export from 1987 to 1988 a figure which rose from 5% to12.9% within the period. Fola gave this speech to the Nigerian Society of Engineers Annual Conference in 1989 and argued further that 'Out of the N1,501m non-oil export revenue in 1987, the share of N105.1m i.e. 7% only claimed by engineering technology and miscellaneous goods/services is uncomfortably low.' and quickly added that 'This is the great Challenge before us all.' 

That particular presentation also did an extensive analysis of the contending issues and recommended that a Professional Overseas Services Bureau, with sponsorship by private concerns, the Nigerian Society of Engineers and the Chambers of Commerce be established. This, he suggested, should market expertise in education, engineering, design, project management, plant development etc. That apparently did not happen but an unstoppable brain drain from Nigeria to overseas continued. 

Very early in the presentation he had recognised that automobile and allied industry was one of the key non-oil export potentials. He noted in particular that 'there are big vehicle assembly plants in Nigeria whose production capacity can cater for the entire West African market and beyond'. And he listed PAN, VWON, ANAMCO, Leyland and SCOA. That time 1989, Fola was full of hopes and aspiration if only he got a listening of those that mattered. Today, 25 years after, those plants in the cases where they still exist are merely struggling. 

Long after, in 2001 Fola migrated to Canada in what I can read as a submission to the frustration of a society that fails to listen. As we can see, he acquired tremendous addition to his skills in North America as shown in the subject and content of his 2012 paper to the same Nigerian Society of Engineers Conference on International Partnerships. 

Chapter 5 - It's Now or Never - Connecting Diaspora and Home Professionals for 21st Century Development - is a breezy documentation of the author's overview of the causes, consequences, effects and appreciation of the migration of Nigerian professionals to overseas. The author, as usual, presents a very well researched overview of the transformation of Nigeria in those areas that are worth mentioning, especially the Babatunde Raji Fashola Exceptions and uses this to prove that indeed, things can be done. This chapter is particularly inspiring. He also shared his experiences on health matters such as prostate enlargement and its management. 

The 6th and final chapter deals on Integrity - What matters, what doesn't and its presentation in professional, ecumenical, and socio-cultural terms.  The author gives all the various synonyms that explain integrity, synonyms like candour, faith, goodness, honesty, honour, justice, modesty, morality, obedience, purity, sincerity, temperance, uprightness all of which sum up to doing the right thing

So much for the content of the book. Let's now discuss issues immediately outside of but about the book. 

Why did Fola make this compilation? Who are his target readers? What impact will the book make? How good or badly has the book been produced? 

Most of these questions can actually be best answered by the author himself. However, since my brief was to review the book I chose not to put the questions to Engr Fola Soboyejo but to hazard answers to the questions. 

Fola is an engineer of immense repute who is familiar not only with subjects within engineering but also of the wider world of business and industry. He is also an accomplished engineer whose literary work can only be compared to the best of contemporary writers. Besides, he is known to be one who likes to share and who wants goodwill to spread. Sharing, I conclude, may just be his motive for putting these essays into a compendium that he has chosen to call DUE SEASON - To Whom It May Concern. I am also aware that he loves charity. Little wonder he intends to put the proceeds of the work into charity. 

Who should read this book? I can say straightaway that anyone who aspires to grow in the professions and as industrialists must find time to read all the essays that make DUE SEASON. It is also a very rich material for students, researchers, and entrepreneurs. You and I must be concerned and that explains why we are those 'to whom it may concern' that the author refers to in the extension to the title since the book captures the ups and down of a developing economy which Nigeria is. 

Here is a book that is very well written and also very well published. 

I did not spot many of the printers' devils that we usually come across in many publications. Aside on Page 152, item 2 line 7 where 'garl-making' must have meant to be 'gari-making' there is no errors that I spotted while reading the book. A remarkable thing indeed. 

Here is a book you must buy. Here is a book you must read. 

Thank you. 

This Review will be available at www.titiomoettu.com/blog.html

 

Titi Omo-Ettu, 0802 322 4572, titi@titiomoettu.com
www.titiomoettu.com;
Lagos; March 3, 2014. 

 

Where will two weeks of talk take US and the Internet to?
by

Titi Omo-Ettu,
December 6, 2012

 

 

There is no human being who does not love the Internet. That is because the internet does not discriminate in the sense that it works for all except for communities or countries that do not invest in it.

 

But come to think of it, governments are not human beings. We know many governments that do not love the internet. It's all about their temperament to issues of civil liberty, corruption, crime and criminality and what they wish of social media, a creation of the internet, which is taunting societies, sometimes to the discomfort of many governments.

 

In fact when you mention names like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan you are regarded to be writing an equation which is easy to define. On the other side are US, Canada, France, and the European Union.

 

Just about now, a jaw-jaw is going on in Dubai (Why Dubai of all places!) under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and set to pitch those two groups against themselves discussing about the next level in internet governance. But why ITU?To the extent that the hosts are international civil servants who represent governments one way or the other, we may expect more of diplomatic rhetoric than anything.

 

Where will emerging economies place in all of these and how are they represented is an issue we shall concern ourselves with as we watch the next two weeks of World Conference on International Telecommunications  or WCIT.

 

Even the description of the assembly is rhetoric of a kind as it does not say anything about its mission.

December 6, 2012

 

 

Monsters that are called Loans
by
titi omo-ettu

 

It is very difficult to contribute to discussions on the implications of the loans which the Federal Government said it has been sealing in recent times. This is because loans in themselves are not the evils that are waiting to happen but our experiences are full disappointments and outrage over the management of loans taken by governments in the past for supposedly public good but which did no good and that should guide any rational analysis.

 

Yes we can say politicians are preparing for elections and there must be a rash of loans that government must disburse. But what were the juntas preparing for when they were in power that made them go for wasteful loans? And what lessons must we learn from the nature of current overall management of the economy which seems so much like management of currency, regardless that we parade very senior experts in that sector?

 

Maybe we really have to go to the fundamentals of a liberalised industry to make any meaningful analysis of the loans specifically for the communication technology sector. $100million is such a huge amount that officials should be  willing, infact anxious, to explain the benefits derivable to the citizens even if only to buy their goodwill. But a take-it-or-leave-it attitude is not only undemocratic, it should be unacceptable. That is where the recent $100million Chinese loan purportedly being taken for 'Galaxy Backbone Project' belongs, until it is explained.

 

 

Lest we get caught unawares, this kind of loans are what is required to commence a reversal of the little progress that Nigeria made in telecommunications in the past two decades. In fact if government starts to directly construct telecommunication infrastructure again after all the debacle of NITEL, then it is this particular government that is bringing that policy summersault to the communication technology industry  since it was liberalised.

 

THE MISSING LINK, Sir Maitland's Report of 1985 which recommended Full Liberalisation of the telecommunications sector of developing economies as panacea for closing the gap between the poor and the rich of the world did not leave much room for incompetent implementation of its recommendations. It said emphatically that poor countries that desired to migrate into prosperity had to liberalise faithfully and competently.

 

Sir Donald Maitland's insight on the subject was recognised and exploited by ITU at a time when almost half the world's inhabitants lived in countries with less than one telephone line per 100 people. The Report kick-started the growth of information and communication technologies (ICT) as we know them today.

 

To date, all countries which migrated into prosperity, or are about to do so, are those which implemented the recommendations as prescribed by the Report (also popularly called Maitland Report). Nigeria, not being one of them, however implemented a favourable flavour of Liberalisation which allowed her to manoeuvre if and whenever the vicissitudes of corruption demanded. Nigeria is at that signpost now. By professing Liberalisation and working towards it, Nigeria moved faster than several other poor countries by doing very well in providing mobile telephony. But that is where the good story ends.

 

The recommendations situate growth of telecommunication within the private sector. What it did not say is that it could also apply to other sectors of the economy because it regarded telecommunications as central to the economy and it needs no saying that a success achieved in telecommunications can be repeated for other sectors.

 

It is the half hearted implementation that did not enable Nigeria to repeat what it has achieved in telecommunications industry in other sectors. And the fact of what politicians (and 'militicians' before them) see as the blow on corruption that makes full liberalisation detestable in the energy sector. And officials go about deceiving our people with meaningless models that they falsely call privatisation.

 

Industrial growth is about world trade and economics. It is about packaging and managing loans. A bulk of these loans is usually thought out by those who offer them in un-liberalised markets while it is usually thought out by the beneficiaries in liberalised environments. It becomes bogus and monstrous when Nigeria permits other countries to determine the loans that its economy needs.

 

We will not quarrel with using foreign loans for true development but not when the process is managed as if our own economic managers prefer to continue to manage our currency when their counterparts are managing the economies of their countries.

 

The most stunning is that the bodies and organisations, professional and trade associations, that should be asking questions for the government to answer are not doing so. Everybody seems complacent and dumb.

 

Meaning that a people, indeed, get the government they deserve.

 

September 22, 2012

 

Hurdles In-plant
A Bartholomew who planted mines in the field and walked himself into them

  

Nigeria's internetwork of corruption, poor public power system, unemployment and insecurity has manifestly overwhelmed present leadership and the recent disengagement of a federal Minister is a reminder that all will not be well until fundamental changes are made in the polity. 

That reads like talking in parables. 

Prof Barth Nnaji is a brilliant guy.  Why he has aggressively presented himself for public office is one puzzle I have failed to resolve in all of 13 years of reading him. And that also puts to question what qualifies people for public appointment in our land. 

But before we go on, regardless that Prof Barth Nnaji has thrown in the towel, it is important we draw attention to the substantive issue of the impending waste which spending $23.5million to hire 8 persons under the MANITOBA contract for Power Transmission maintenance is  bound to land us in the same station that PENTASCOPE landed us on NITEL a few years back. Correct me if I am right. 

The first time we trained the radar on Prof Barth Nnaji was in 1999 when words sneaked out that the famous professor of robotics was scheming that President Obasanjo gave him one of either the energy sector or telecommunications sector to manage as Federal Minister. 

As we opened a dossier on him, words came also that President Obasanjo had said matter-of-factly that he would not use him. The reasons adduced by General Obasanjo were vintage the old man and it was clear he would truly not use the applicant. So we closed the book. 

All we knew after that was that the Professor returned to his base in USA only to return shortly to chair a company called Geometric Power Ltd. That gave him a chance to show Obasanjo that what he was not allowed to do for the public sector he could do in the private sector. 

In 2007 when Obasanjo vacated government, the Prof was back to Yar Adua's handlers to tell them he was still available. This time all he wanted was to be Minister of Power so that Nigeria would end years of chaotic power supply. The information then was that President Yar Adua initially laughed him off saying his Geometric Power Ltd spent close to 8 years without producing any kilowatt of electricity for anybody anywhere. The President was however ready to do something for him in lieu of being Minister. And he did. 

Speaking to Aba Business community on June 19, 2008, Prof Barth Nnaji told them in an Enyimba Lecture that 'The Aba IPP (i.e. the Geometric Power Ltd Project) is galloping to completion. In roughly 10 months time, the entire project will be commissioned and it will herald a new era for Aba which it(sic) will have reliable electric power like any other city in the developed world'.  

It never did. 

In that same lecture, he recounted his frustration to the Aba businessmen thus: 

'We began the journey to build a power project unlike any other in sub-Saharan Africa. It's a project that required the construction of 188 MW power plant, over 110km overhead lines, 4 brand new substations, a 27km gas pipeline, an estate to accommodate up to 250 workers, 5 access roads to the power stations and sub stations, and a 4 story office block at the total cost of approximately $385 million or N42.6 billion. 

We cannot say that this project has been easy. We have had to contend with the challenges of being a pioneer sector power developer in Nigeria. We have had to withstand so many due diligences by lenders, some of whom did not see the value in investing in Aba. We have had to present Aba to the international community as a “diamond in the rough” and the adequate electricity supply will put a smile to this great entrepreneurial city. Many have wondered how we can mitigate the risk of building a power plant in the Niger-Delta region and we have explained that Aba is not in the Niger-Delta region. At the same time, we have had to contend with threats of youths and traditional rulers who have brought the negative aspects of the Niger-Delta conundrum to Aba. We have had to spend tremendous amount of time and resources on getting the youths and some of these traditional rulers to appreciate the fact that Geometric Power is bringing money from outside to build facilities that will add value to their business and their lives rather than the situation in the Niger-Delta where oil is exploited and taken away from the soil of the Niger-Delta region'. 

 

We were not really keen on him any longer since he was not considering telecommunications (our own area of interest) for his experiment. But his file left an open end which was a good document to complete even if only for posterity. Besides, power was also central to our problems in Telecommunications sector so a cursory interest in a continued profile of him might not be out of place.  

In 2008 when I was Vice-President of Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN and Chairman of the Council's Technical Committee, the Council invited Prof Barth Nnaji to address us on his concept of a Future of Reliable Power in Nigeria. By that I mean he was to present a paper at COREN's Annual Engineering Assembly while we would take it up from there by picking his brain and supporting him to help Nigeria with his plans. 

The three months leading to the Assembly was harrowing to get the Professor to come and talk to us. He was so 'busy' he did not read letters, emails, and could not be spoken to on telephone. Yet he did not answer Yes or No to our request. It was an experience in tracking down a naturally aloof personality who, strangely, also wanted to be a public servant. His Aides were particularly spectacular. It was like you needed to have the Barth Nnaji DNA in you to qualify to work around him. And all of them were homogeneously arrogant. One week to the event we had to, in frustration, step his name down for another speaker. 

Two days to the event a telephone call came from one of his assistants who wanted to know if his principal could still be our Guest Speaker and we politely turned the offer down. 

Shortly after, Dr Goodluck Jonathan became Acting President, Prof Bath Nnaji also became Special Adviser to the Acting President, and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP). That was to later convert him to Minister of Power when President Goodluck Jonathan became real. 

The greatest surprise came when at his screening in the Senate mid-2011, he told those 109 distinguished Senators that it would take 4 years for any noticeable change to be felt in power supply under his watch and they went ahead to  pass him as Minister of Power. It was at that point some of us gave up hope that Nigeria would ever get it right on power under this government. 

In February 2012, the Nigerian Society of Engineers invited Prof Barth Nnaji to be the Distinguished Guest Speaker at the Inauguration of the Association's 26th President in Abuja but the famous Professor did not show up. And no explanation was given for his absence. That did not prevent the brand new President of the nation's body of engineers from saying the power reform in Nigeria was on course. 

All efforts to make this famous professor share his mind with industry professionals with whom he could fine-tune his thoughts and plans have, to the best of my knowledge, not yielded any result. Yet many who are familiar with the subject did not quite believe he has much valuable solution which he has used his robotic credentials to sell to many uninformed analysts, especially the media. 

His grand design for Power reform in Nigeria is largely the privatisation of operating entities of PHCN and in particular a photocopy of the PENTASCOPE Agenda which BPE used to send NITEL to sleep permanently. His concept of liberalisation is at best feeble and his model of deregulation needed substantial modification which only a listening ear can earn him. And above all, his Geometric interest (Blind Trust or not) makes the field a mine for him to implement the model which makes service providers depend on public money in any manner. Surprisingly all Nigerians are just looking like what Hubert Ogunde, of blessed memory, called 'Won j'oko s'ile regede bi aguntan ti abore mu b'orisha odo' meaning 'everybody sitting in helplessness similar to the goat which the Chief Priest is about to present to the goddess of the river'. 

Public service cannot be given to those who have no nerve to tolerate the public. It is not about being brilliant but about making things work using people. You don't do engineering management and spend all your time quarrelling with your tools. If it is not good for Geometric Power Ltd., it certainly cannot be good for the country called Nigeria. If you hire 8 persons from wherever in the world for $23.5million (N3.8billion) and you frustrate the workers who those 8 persons must use to deliver the goods, you might just not get there no matter how brilliant you might have been. BPE took us through the PENTASCOPE journey and it is again taking us through this Manitoba pilgrimage. This is a BPE whose 'track record' we know very well. 

And in any case how can the Manitoba Model solve Nigeria's power Transmission problem except that it may at best help Geometric to reduce its burden - a gameplan which has now stalled at least temporarily, if not, very unfortunately, permanently. 

It is a pity we are passing through this moment of our life, the worst in the history of Nigeria that we have PhD's everywhere and on every subject and yet we cannot provide electricity for our citizens. And one of our best brains has been consumed simply because we mis-deploy him. 

Who should bury his head in shame? 

All of us?, some of us?, or just one of us? Certainly not Prof Barth Nnaji.

August 30, 2012

 

Also available here

 

 

 

Oja Village - metaphor for our CommTech Industry

 

Now you know it that I am one of those who believe that we now have an industry called CommTech (for Communication Technology), a nomenclature borrowed from those who authored the creation of that Ministry last year.  They went about it the other way round by creating a Minister who eventually told us what her Ministry was and what its mandate were. 

But that is not the issue here.  

In recent history a few incidents, one after the other, set everybody talking. First it was a harmonised ICT Policy Draft, then an Oronsaye Study Report and lately a NigComSat Bill (Bill keh?).  

In my assessment, the Oronsaye Report must have given the greatest cause for alarm for those who choose to worry over its recommendation on NITDA and Galaxy Backbone Ltd (or Plc?).  

Regrettably up till this time I have not stumbled on a copy of the Oronsaye Report, so I am unable to comment on it. 

But I am told it says something that reminds me of what Mr Allison Ayida, a former Head of Civil Service (who, I think, also doubled as Secretary to Federal Government) told us what the true function of the civil servant is. Mr Ayida said 'if a government goes out to make a fool of itself, it is the duty of the civil servant to make it the biggest fool of itself'. 

Of course Mr Steve Oronsaye, today's busy Consultant of Federal Government was until recently the Chief Civil Servant of the country. I also understand that he recommended that EFCC and ICPC should be -------- (please fill in the gap). That fellow called Oronsaye is the Civil Servant that Mr Ayida told us to give a thumb up to. 

I choose this morning to talk about the latest of the three issues mentioned earlier and not about Mr Oronsaye and his report. 

NigComSat Ltd, we understood, is a limited liability Company floated by Federal Government sometime somewhere in between General Olusegun Obasanjo's first term of his second time. So the first question would be how come a Limited Liability Company (or a publicly quoted company, if it is a Plc), suddenly becomes a subject matter for an Act of Parliament? 

I read in the PUNCH that a Chairman of one of the several Committees of the National Assembly which oversee our industry has denied all that some people told us they wrote in a Bill his Committee promoted. 

If it is a way to avoid those of us who consistently argue against government venturing into establishing private companies, I beg to say on behalf of our constituency that the method of Hon Gusau is not yet ingenious. 

Our argument is that using NITEL as our case-study, it is not good, in fact no longer fashionable, for government to toy with involving itself in participating as a player in a liberalised industry where it should rightly be the regulator. I thought that is very simple to understand. 

Besides, we argue that civil servants are never business managers. They do not, and need not be involved in making Business Plans. Theirs is to make expenditure plans and for now we should make our civil servants develop skills in keeping to expenditure plans. I understand Chairman Gusau said they set out to copy what other developed countries were doing. Honourable sir, no investor will deal with civil servants when it comes to doing business together except where that business is to loot government treasury.  

In the past two years, I had the privilege of making comments paragraph by paragraph on two documents which I was told were draft bills. On each occasion, the National assembly somehow stopped further discussion on the drafts shortly after sending my comments to those who asked for it. Since then I became no longer very anxious about reading any bills that are made in the Assembly for our industry. 

There is this Segun Olusola's 'Village Headmaster' which sets around an Oja Village, a truly rural community which boasts of a Headmaster, one or two cantankerous chiefs and one gossip called Amebo, all raw comedians. That is beside the Village Chief himself, a roadside doctor and one or two jokers who gave themselves other names. An issue just needs to be picked up by Amebo and using her house to house, mouth to ear media infrastructure, she regularly sets the village on fire and by the time it is all over, everybody realises that there had been no issue in the first place. In fact if nobody has said anything, the matter would have just died naturally. 

Is it Parliamentary Bills that turn people into marketers? 

It is poverty that ravages Oja village. It is corruption that ravages bigger villages.

May 7, 2012

 

 

 

Harnessing the Potential of the Internet
and Applications on Mobile Devices
 

An Opening Address
by

Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu

President Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria at the
Mobile Web West Africa Conference, Lagos on February 2, 2011

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 

This is a unique gathering and one which I feel privileged to address.

 

It is a gathering assembled by a guy who, my investigations reveal, is fast becoming a 'young veteran' in the business of putting people together to discuss. I ran into some colleagues who were at the South African edition of Mobile Web Africa and they told me it was excellent. Having been in close communication with Mr. Matthew Dawes in the past few weeks I am not surprised at the success that attended his past efforts.

 

It is also a honour for me to welcome you all to Nigeria because it very much epitomises the development and reach of our industry. Certainly, a market has to qualify to be ready for this kind of gathering and to take on the kind of subjects that are listed for discussion in the next two days.

 

All Amber is one company whose effort in this regard is considered fitting for these times and it is very well appreciated by our Association.

 

Our Association is also happy to align with this conference because efforts of this nature bring young entrepreneurs together to meet the established players, to stimulate interaction between them, to instigate a more rapid spread of mobile web applications and services and a plethora of opportunities and benefits that exist for the entire eco-system.

 

We have begun to see the mobile phone, in particular, as a device for change, a tool for closing the digital divide, an ultimate closer of the gap between the rich and the poor, and between the rural and the urban. I want to hope that delegates at this conference will see the need to include in the discussion agenda the role of legislation, regulation, and the link between government and the private sector. That interests us as an emerging market that is in a hurry to catch up.

 

Building the rapidly expanding mobile system to generate more business makes good sense. Yes, millions of SIM cards exist in the market and are supposed to be doing quite a lot beyond voice. Content creation is key and I am particularly concerned about how much of this can be locally targeted and locally produced.

 

Our Association is not only concerned about some issues but we are in a hurry about attaining set levels about them. These include attainment of more generic and stipulated levels of service and proliferation which will be brought about by a deeper understanding of our problems and how to solve them. Also up on the cards are areas of increasing productivity among young people, growing competition that handles antitrust effectively, regulating independently and fairly, understanding and getting ready to manage the frequency spectrum optimally, and of course growing mobile systems for optimum application.

 


 

For those who live in the developed economies, mobile telephony has surpassed its raison d'etre of information exchange between peoples and seamlessly moved into the socio-political realm of politics and consumption. With the unrest raging across the Northern African countries, it is irrefutable that mobile telephony is driving the mobilization and emancipation of people against many tyrannical state machines.

 

2.         The Industry and its opportunities:

 

To many, industry associations carry on like clubs for people who have known one another for some long time. ATCON,  and its present thinking and to deliver its mandate, will leverage the passion of the young and the wisdom of the old - and the expertise of all - towards building an industry that won't only command better economic attention but one that will add to the socio-economic growth that Nigeria so desperately needs.

 

Mobile Network Operators in many markets are known to be making huge amounts of revenues and profits from voice and text. However as competition, penetration and innovation increases these will hit a plateau and the new area of profitability will be data usage. This is happening already - some experts are describing it as an explosion. I am told that at the weekends in South Africa, 60% of Google searches are made on a mobile telephone. For Operators to take full advantage of this they need to have content and services for their consumers to use. This is why the entire ecosystem needs to work together to enhance the development of the mobile web and applications.

 

Mobile advertising is a case in point - this is single biggest opportunity to monetise the mobile web and applications. Mobile marketing has created a new medium for advertisers - an entirely new way for them to reach out to and connect to consumers. Indeed, some experts consider it to be the superior way of marketing their products.

 

3.         Content: More Content

 

While telecommunications was a neatly defined word few years ago, so much has happened in terms of interdisciplinary shifts that when we now speak of a mobile sector, we do not speak only of telecoms - but also of other elements of its application in life, business, entertainment, and even governance. For example, many telcos will soon realise that providing a number is only the beginning, and that value added services will decide who is king. The announcement by NCC that number portability will take effect this year also adds credence to this thought.

 

As we speak, a lot of viewed content is imported into Africa because it is so much cheaper to do so than to produce African content. The end result of that can only be negative - loss of culture, language and people engaging content that isn't directly relevant to them. In terms of the mobile web and applications this is a great opportunity to react early. People want local, relevant information - it is important this is produced, and there are a plethora of reasons why. That is why it is important to take this opportunity to boost the local mobile ecosystem so that companies can start producing content for the local market.

 

This is an opportunity to reach Nigerian mobile subscribers with Nigerian created information and services. Sports, News, Jobs, Education, Music, Film, Democracy, Finance, Social Development, Commerce - are all areas where content and services can and need to be produced.

 

4.         Capacity Development

 

Something tells me that our youth may just be getting an opportunity which need necessarily not come from government and which already manifests itself embedded in prevailing mobile systems. If capacity can be developed in this way, then the possibilities are endless but prevarication or worse still, inaction will be precarious. That is why this conference is most timely.

 

Through this forum we are able to reaffirm our vision and our commitments and pitch them against the reality of the pace of development in the industry and see how we measure up to where we are in relation to where we want to be. A lot has been done already but we still have much more to do. Now is definitely not the time for complacency.

 

If capacity development can be achieved then it is to the advantage of the country as a whole in relation to point on local content and services. To facilitate a thriving mobile ecosystem is an essential element of this. Having the resources of the internet at your fingertips at a reasonable cost is fantastic for all members of society, especially if a local industry has contributed significantly to the information they are consuming.

 

5.         A call on our youths

 

There's an obvious gap between elderly professionals and young industry entrepreneurs and enthusiasts. Unfortunately, the industry has lost many potential bright minds to other sectors with promises of immediate large salaries. Also, the few that have chosen to pursue telecoms have not had the chance to have access to mentors with immense experience who can guide them along specific career paths. However, the onus lies on young people to take responsibility by first realising that the strength of the future mobile industry in Nigeria rests on their shoulders - and they must reach out to get all the help they need.


 

6.         The role of Institutions and Agencies

 

The role of institutions in the development of the mobile web and applications is a key one and their active support would have a considerable multiplier effect on the speed of the expansion of the ecosystem. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC and NITDA come in here for special mentioning as their mandate has suddenly grown beyond what was written in the act setting them up long before mobile opportunities came into our lives.

 

7.         Collaboration and Competition:

 

While everyone today speaks of Google, Facebook, Skype and all, a clear difference between these companies (led by youth like Nigeria's) and Nigerian startups is the fact that while the average young Nigerian goes his way to start something without the discipline of mentors and accountability to senior professionals, these mostly Silicon Valley-based companies know what it means to collaborate with other people to build a powerful team. And when these teams form, they have healthy competition.

 

I am happy many of those who have eye witness experience of what I am saying are with us here and we could not have expected a better conference at a better time than this.

 

I wish you a fine deliberation.

 

 

Titi Omo-Ettu
President, ATCON 

Lagos, February 2, 2011.

 

 

The Challenge of Bharti
by
titi omo-ettu

 

This is not a talk about Bharti. It is, as the reader will soon find out, a talk about Nigeria.

 

You may be forgiven if you thought, from the name Bharti Airtel that we are referring to an airline rather than a telecommunications company. If its meteoric rise among world-class mobile telecom service providers has been overlooked in the past, its acquisition of Zain's African assets for a staggering $10.7 billion, sure made us take notice. Bharti is now the world's fifth largest mobile phone company by subscribers base.

It is not new story but the newsy aspect is that the CEO of Bharti was in Nigeria the other day to announce that his company would inject $600million into the business formerly known as Zain Nigeria with a promise to reach all Nigerians with cheap phones. Its capability is neither in doubt nor is it the issue here either but rather that this potential intervention allows the  Nigerian Government defer its responsibility to Bharti playing  the role which is rightly its (i.e. the government's) to play.

 

What happens to those who defer their responsibility to another?

 

What makes Bharti tick is the storyline that it is a master explorer of IP technology in managing business. The trump card Bharti may wish to tout is its outsourcing model of managing business. The core truth lies in the several other things that we do not set out to discuss.

 

To start with, once a company is able to cultivate IP, it is running on the success lane. All other things will become mere additions. It is what will eventually separate the men from the boys in world economics and in  the craft of using technology to manage business.

 

Using IP, outsourcing, deep wallets and an excellent PR/media machine that has the world's ears tuned to its aggressive march into emerging markets, Bharti may just have struck gold and of course we know telecommunications is one intoxicating phenomenon.

 

By the way, and in parenthesis, our subject is not the kind of telecom firm whose name counted a few years ago. It is a trade vehicle in the manner of emerging businesses where you buy and sell at a profit. The interesting thing is that the Nigerian firm called Zain (formerly many names, almost 5, starting from Econet Wireless) is the one that buyers have always used as bait in Nigeria.

 

When such companies infiltrate emerging markets, usually via corrupt polities, their take over is total. That is quite understandable isn't it? Such forays are characteristically into structurally defective markets that are customarily low on morality and ethics and high on corruption. Even when these polities stumble on good decisions, because they are often by default rather than design and lack conviction or principle, their good initiatives tend to somehow self destruct.

 

Take Nigeria for example. After several years of prevarication and outright refusal by its rulers to embrace liberalization, it eventually did in 1993 but in just one year after it made that decision, it thought the better of it and the initiative was promptly reversed by disbanding the NCC board while simultaneously putting an unbeliever in the liberalization agenda in charge of NITEL to complete the hatchet work. Nigerians, who by then had become almost immune to such crass decision making from it rulers, had to wait another five years till 1999 to make a new beginning. One can attribute a lot of problems that persist today to such those days of poor decision making.

 

With IP, the need for human intervention in running networks across the world becomes minimized, thus translating to cheaper costs and good margins. And if the gains are truly passed on to the consumers, it makes phone reach the poor and the rural persons cheaper. At least in theory but also demonstrated as real in other climes.

 

The cost the market pays is that its own technical work force will not partake in the production line. The question is, where does Nigeria stand in all of that? Nigeria is turning out university graduates without preparing them for immediate use of the market. Not even for long term use except that the users will sort that out eventually. Graduate unemployment poses a colossal danger to society. I understand, unpleasantly though, that some of the militants in the creeks are graduates. Well that is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

Is there a way out?

 

Of course, there always is. Can Nigeria keep its people talking without keeping them working? The answer lies in our bargaining for every carrot that comes to the table.  

 

That is the challenge of Bharti and a subject for another day.

 

July 24, 2010.

 

 

Cyberschuulnews 391

Of House of Reps, NCC & SIM Card Registration
by

Titi Omo-Ettu
,

 

It was a coincidence, but one I found quite interesting. There is at least some irony in the fact that the day after I had, at a Press Conference, called on Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to effectively make the case of the merits of SIM card registration to Nigerian phone users via better communication which extends beyond its customary deployment of newspaper advert and website postings,  newspapers also reported that the House of Representatives were querying the Commission on why it should ask for a budget to spend on SIM card registration.

 

While it is right for our federal representatives scrutinize a government agency on accountability for public spending, what troubles me is the thinking that belies the Honourables' inquiry about why the NCC should plan for money to spend on SIM card registration 'when it is not its business to register SIM card purchasers'.

 

Let me start by saying that we in ATCON (Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria) diverge from the idea of registration of telephone users being limited to SIM cards as it suggests that this process - a continuous census - is for only mobile telephone users. Indeed the objective of registration of phone users which, by the way, was our brainchild, is not limited to the crime perspective of mobile telephony, important as that may be,  it is imperative that an industry like ours must not only track information about people that use our products and services, but also managing this information for the public good is crucial.

 

A database allows us to manage and use an incredible variety of information and will maintain order in an otherwise very chaotic environment. Its expansion  and manipulation as the industry grows and our resources increase will not only mean we can fulfill the requirement of security surveillance, but it will aid and augment industry and consequently, national planning and economic growth.

 

We also advocate that the Honourable members should consider that it is the NCC, not telephone operators, who are justifiably ruled by their commercial imperatives, that is our agency that garners the industry's and our peoples' socio-economic interest.

 

They should be cognizant of the possibility of failures i.e. less than socially desirable byproducts of the market from which our industry is not immune. While telecom operators would take care of their investment, it raises the questions for example, who will educate our people on the benefits of new technologies? What happens if telecoms operators mis-educate our people? The prospect of these by-products provide a strong rationale for a portfolio of economic-incentive based public policies be enveloped by robust regulatory framework and incentives that systematically evaluate their success. For this reason and in these circumstances, people defer to the regulator to safeguard their interests.

 

When the NCC approved that we provide a register of SIM card users, we erroneously interpreted it to be the first phase of a bigger assignment but on seeing the proposed Bill that the Senate is working on, we realized that the vision of the Bill is indeed limited to registering only SIM cards and not all telephone users. Alas it was not a means to an end but an end itself.

 

We should impress on the National Assembly that it listens to itself because we read in the newspapers that Hon Dave Salako, Chairman House Committee on Communications, laboured to explain to his colleagues on the floor of the House the reasons why NCC's powers should not be whittled apparently because he has seen the good in the good but limited powers that the agency has enjoyed to date.

 

We also need to impress on members of the House that the little isolated strides that was made in telecommunications industry has been partly due to the fine statement enshrined in the National Communications Act 2003 that defines the realms of the NCC's power to perform its function and that any attempt to whittle down those powers may be retrograde step taking us back to where we have come from.

 

More importantly, the beauty of the Committee system of a democratic parliament presumes that the benefit of Committee members being able to study public affairs of selected agencies is infinitely deeper and better than the notion that the ill-informed can or able to propagate or implement policy from a re-inforcing layperson's perspective all based on the specious premise of being the peoples' representatives.

 

The perfunctory job of scrutinizing public spending and retaining the success and independence of the  NCC are not mutually exclusive. It is indisputable that the way the NCC has professionally discharged its role and responsibilities has immeasurably taken the telecommunications industry to the lofty heights of performance that far exceeds that of any other public institution.

“The Business Opportunities of Mobile Services”
by
titi omo-ettu

I presented a paper on “The Business Opportunities of Mobile Services” yesterday at the Annual Assembly of IT Professionals in Abuja. It was hosted by the Computer Professionals Registration Council of Nigeria, CPN. The presentation is attached.

 

The main points I made were that the metamorphoses of technology has made us improved our living standards and sharpened our business instincts that things that were not possible a few years back are now possible. I used my personal experience of having to modify some of the claims which I made in a few of my presentations of old to prove that the whole world may just have been changing and improving. All in a space of less than 15 years that the internet arrived our shores.

 

I used a few data to demonstrate that there is no stopping the reliance of our life's on mobiles systems and the huge business that is in there for us to do if we must make all the un-served over 130 million Nigerians to be served. I submitted that the technology exists now waiting for the business initiatives to take over.

 

I invited Nigerian IT practitioners to know that their own aspect of the business is mainly in Content Creation which, for now, is only imported if it exists at all in our own industry.

 

My position is that Opportunity cannot be more than this.

 

I take the position that good political leadership is one of those things that will take us there and that professionals in all their groupings can bring this about by making sure it is only the politicians who are ready and willing to use ICT that have the right to lead us, come 2011.

 

I made it known that we in ATCON will invite Presidential Candidates of all political parties for the 2011 elections to address our members on what plans they have for ICT while I admonished all other professional associations at all levels to also engage the politicians at various levels what they have in stock for their own professions and trades too. With that, we shall put politicians on the spot and prepare them for accountability in all aspects of their responsibility even before they transform into 'excellencies' and 'honourables'.

 

To me, while politicians are campaigning to catch our votes we too shall be campaigning to stop the unsuitable ones among them from coming into office since such minds can only take us back, not forward.

 

 

Home may be where the problem is
Aftermath of 2.3 GHz court verdict

by
titi omo-ettu
 

One of the engaging issues in the early days of deregulation in emerging telecom markets was serial litigation from operators, which had the potential to slow down growth, stifle competition and impede tariff reduction. It was Telecom Answers Associates, while presenting an industry study report to the new NCC management of the very early days of deregulation in Nigeria that  drew attention to what it called 'over-litigation' in several merging markets stressing the importance of addressing the matter right from the fundamentals. 

The issue became a popular talking point for the Commission and the consensus then was that for the survival of the emerging Nigerian telecom industry, a robust and professional Commission was imperative. The operating military decree of the time, according to legalists, left room for manouvre to grow a professional NCC for sustainability in the embryonic industry. The National Communications Act 2003 which emerged almost a decade later, duly lived up to the billing and it did not disappoint. 

There is no doubt that today the NCC met the vision of those founding fathers in that regard and even more. Several operators, especially the so-called 'big players' headed for the courts at the slightest opportunity to undermine the Commission's attempt to achieve rollout out services from every Tom Dick and Harry that held a license. Fortunately every time they went to court, the Commission and industry emerged stronger. 

There was the particularly interesting case of a notable operator's lawyer who found offence in then proposed Universal Service Provision FUND objective on the premise it would be 'unfair to us that we contribute money only for others to spend it'.  You have got to hand it to these guys at least they keep things interesting. 

From all indication, the 2.3 GHz imbroglio has refused to go away. The latest news was that NCC pre-emptively issued MOBITEL license for to pick up as soon as the Abuja High Court ruled that its licence be released. Perhaps NCC was thinking ahead just in case an operator proceeded to court to argue that the judge had 'erred in law', and to request MOBITEL's license remained withheld. 

A few days after MOBITEL received its license, THIS DAY newspaper reported on Thursday March 25 that the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications (we dare not say Minister since there was none at the time) went back to court on appeal to request that the judgment be set aside. 

In other words, the returning operator should not be allowed to come into the market. It calls into question whose interest the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications serves. On the face of it, legalism may just be the interest here but certainly not the interest of telephone users  for whose interest the ministry was supposed to be serving. 

Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory once said 'With friends like these, who needs enemies' - if you get my drift.

 

 

 

Cyberschuulnews 383

Opportunity of a Tragedy
by
titi omo-ettu 

 

It is best to present it in the form of a movie script just to fuel the imagination. Very apt given that one of the main characters who, while making the third leg of an unscheduled tripartite meeting at Heathrow, had come to the conclusion that all Nigerians are actors. He claims his  outlandish conclusion is not without basis and, believe me, he was right. We can say without contradiction, given the events of recent months, that Nigeria has gradually become one huge theatre where unbelievable, movie-like, things happen.

 

But we are not talking about theatre here. Rather opportunities that Information Technology offers.

 

Three men, let us call them Messers A, B and C stumbled on one another brought together by the harsh reality of an huge ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano which brought air travel across Europe to a standstill and for four days during which, one account said 98,899 flights were cancelled across the continent. Mr. A, a Cisco executive was actually heading to Nigeria to pursue an investment opportunity in the oil rich country; Mr. B, a visually impaired Scot who told the story of how he gradually lost his sight due to a disease that is not the well-known glaucoma; and Mr.C, a consultant who was returning from a conference in Europe to his base in Nigeria.

 

The three men met at a coffee shop and got talking after which they all retired to their respective hotels and reconvened the next day to hear Mr A say his firm had just released an internal memo to their top brass executives that it had made very tidy billions of dollars in the few days of the volcanic tragedy not only because disruptions posed by the volcanic eruption had prompted business people think and opt for video conferencing,. but incredibly it had also induced a few startup companies to begin a retail business in teleconferencing.

 

The moral of the story is whenever and wherever problems spring up unexpectedly in the world, information technology comes to the fore providing ready solutions - always making the best of a bad situation.

 

 

Time to Listen!
(A review of Ernest Ndukwe's recent lecture series)

by titi omo-ettu

 One of the drawbacks of the public sector is a lack of continuity as there is never a succession plan. In our environment, sitting officials who plan their succession have done so even for selfish, sometime very callous, reasons. This lack of continuity and consequently inability to plan for the future is sometimes put forward as an argument for the 'limited' state - one which has no role in business. NITEL is an interesting case in point which we have successfully deployed as a template to demonstrate that government has no business running a business. 

Ernest Ndukwe, the telecommunications engineer and manager who had in the last ten years sat atop the operations of Nigeria's Regulator of telecommunications appears to have now joined the public lecture circuit discussing what he thinks the future should be for Nigeria beyond 2010. He can talk about a future, because he has done something worth talking about. It was by no means plain sailing and if he is vindictive, he probably will also use his lecture to fight back as he has been battered and bruised along the way - a 'parting shot' especially now that his exit is imminent. However, the scars on his back tell us he has earned his stripes to surely have some say in what (not necessarily who) succeeds his tenure in office… and he is worth listening to.   

Some few weeks ago, he listed about ten important issues which taken together, may translate to having advised the market on the unfinished business as he leaves office. Last week was the third and latest time he discussed those things that contributed to unprecedented success in Nigeria's telecommunications and how they can be sustained.  

His speeches have taken a holistic approach to the requirements of the future addressing the kind of attributes that whoever government eventually appoints into the Commission should possess; what the focus of attention should be; as well as the role of all stakeholders - government, the regulator, operators, and consumers in taking the industry to the next level. 

The one issue on which Ernest Ndukwe has been relentless and discussed more than any other public official throughout his tenure is the central and critical role public electricity supply had been to the telecommunications industry. His unyielding stance on this thorny issue may be taken to mean that he has suggested an alternative procedure for government to look at the issue of power sector reform in the country.  

Although there has also been a professed reform or even declaration of liberalization industry in the energy sector, the regime of implementation has been at best insincere. Some guys started by mushrooming 'private companies' out of the government octopus called NEPA and they went about telling us that is what liberalization is all about. 

It was the same in the telecommunication industry when in 1994, just one year into liberalization, General Sani Abacha disbanded the Nigerian Communications Commission and also went ahead to put 'a liberalisation unbeliever' in charge of NITEL. By so doing, he stalled liberalization and there existed an NCC without a Commission. We ran such an industry till 1999 when the emerging regime changed tact  

Perhaps what Ernest Ndukwe had been saying is that the liberalization process in the energy sector needs a rethink and it has something to learn from the telecommunications sector reform process. 

Ernest also said that an efficient Frequency Spectrum Management and allocation is desirable. Those in the know, know he has already advised on the quality of who should be entrusted with the responsibility of day to day operation of the Commission. No doubt he must have based this view point of his personal experiences and the limitations of the Commission as it is today. 

Other issues he has described in various words include:

Maintaining stability in the policy and regulatory space; Maintaining the operational and financial independence of the regulatory Agency; Invigorating an operating environment that is conducive to attracting investment; Emphasis on growing broadband infrastructure and catalyzing adoption and usage of broadband services by the citizens; Expansion of fibre optic cable transmission infrastructure nationally and internationally and striving for improved corporate Governance in the industry.

 

If there ever was a time for us to listen, it is now

 

 

CyberschuulNews 370

2/11: Will The Senate Stick or Twist?
by
titi omo-ettu 
 

At a session in Abuja about four months ago, Nii Quaynor the renowned Ghanaian internet engineer and expert, referred to those who conduct terrorist activities on the internet as 'cyber-miscreants' - a term that  stuck in my mind and I guess that of many delegates judging by their reaction. Owing to issues of timing, I never got the opportunity to engage Nii on that vocabulary. 
 

I had specifically wanted to ask Nii that in his thesaurus, what word would best capture the perpetrator of internet terrorism were it a country rather than an individual? This question is particularly poignant in the context of the prevailing spat  between China and Google, which was brewing then and has now escalated to international level with the United States calling on China to moderate itself on the recent cyber attacks on Google that have prompted the search giant to threaten to leave. 
 

I eventually posed the question at Nii's Nigerian opposite, Chris Uwaje who told me it would be appropriate to call them cyber terrorists for want of a more severe description. 
 

Assuming you catch a 'cyber-terrorist' state (my imagination does not stretch that far) what do you do? Prosecute her? Jail her? Who will judge and who will be the jury? And under which law? (my mind drifts to Basil Udotai). Answers on a postcard and please do not mention the UN. 
 

This inevitably leads us down a tricky path. Firstly the very nature of cyber-terrorism - conducted by faceless, ubiquitous entities that could spread across national boundaries- means it does not fit prescribed international or legal definitions. By extension the issue who will emerge victorious - the perpetrators or the prosecutors comes to the fore and it is by no means clear cut. Thirdly there is the issue of retribution. It is easy to administer justice (or punishment if you wish) if the perpetrator is an individual or a group of individuals. However if the perpetrator(s) is a state, then we are in a bit of a sticky situation.  
 

Two days ago as the weekend commenced, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington that those perpetrating such cyber attacks “should face (the) consequences.” In specific reference to the China/Google spat. What these 'consequences' could possibly be given China's socio-political, economic and military might is of great interest. 
 

Chris Uwaje had told me then that I should wait till sometime in the first quarter of 2010 when he and his constituency would engage the legislature. I am aware that he is in the fore front of mobilizing effort at getting our legislators to hear him and other experts out on the subject for the purposes of formulating a coherent response to the threat posed by this thorny issue. 
 

Certainly there will be unknowns and unworkables in this scenario. They include what those experts will tell the legislators and what the response of the distinguished Senators will be.  
 

Allegedly all will become clearer on February 11 at the International Conference Centre Abuja. Stick or twist, we all await proceedings with great anticipation. 
 

2/11 must be a date indeed! 

 

 

CyberschuulNews 361

Who is dominating who around here?
by
titi omo-ettu

 

Although hardly discussed, one major source of consternation to many telecommunication regulators is the subject of market dominance. Seems harmless enough to start worrying about until a nasty dominant operator appears on the scene and starts to throw its commercial weight about. For a host of reasons, players are quick at perceiving a regulator as weak when the latter fails to install appropriate systems and controls to ensure that firms which see themselves as big in the midst of others do not abuse their market power. This failure of the office and power of the regulator sometimes results in an imbroglio which sets firms against one another. It starts becoming an issue when such bellyaches become headaches and the forces of stress and distress set everybody and especially the consumers against the regulator. 

The need to curtail dominance primarily stems from the necessity to achieve long term and sustainable competition in the market.  

In monopoly Nigeria of those days it was government itself that was the culprit. That is to say it was a straight fight between government, the operator, and its citizens, the consumers.

In the early days of regulation in Nigeria, NITEL was the first among unequals and but for the good side of corruption (corruption too has its good side after all !) which brought it to its knees, its dominance, essentially due to its monopoly, would have known no bounds. In the heady days of the military and at the height of NITEL's monopoly, one soldier-minister, decided that users of a telephone exchange which got burnt down at the hands of its operators should pay for its restoration. The time of this aberration coincided with the tenure of a Chief Executive who was noted for his campaign that 'telecommunications is a natural monopoly' doing all within his power to ensure the emerging competition which was at the time embryonic was thoroughly stifled.  

Today, NITEL is comatose and everybody, it seems, has put this in the trash can of their memory even though all these happened less than 20 years ago. 

So who is dominating who now? 

In environments where the regulator is either smart or sufficiently experienced, it makes the dominant operators tariff and other indices of assessment subject to its own approval while other operators may just be allowed some bench mark within which to maneuver on tariff as a mere publication may be required to move within the approved limits. The solution begins from defining who the dominant operator is and that is what makes the subject interesting (difficult really) to handle.

 In one particular market in Asia, academics were brought in by a regulator to help fine-tune the definitions and framework to determine who the dominant operator was but when the internal combustion of politics set in and the heat became intense, the men of books opted for a return to the serenity and the familiarity of their university campuses. 

Sometimes some folks either naively or mischievously confuse the terms 'dominant operators' and 'incumbents' in markets which liberalized from a monopoly as did several across the globe. 

Pose the question differently, is there a dominant operator in Nigeria?  

Very good question which no one has posed and no one has answered until about now. 

An advert is already in the media reporting that the Nigerian Communications Commission is now posing the question and seeking answers. The advert says the Commission seeks comments on issues related to whether certain companies are exercising dominant market power with the purpose (and effect) of substantially weakening  competition in these markets. For now, it has chosen to shine its torch on two markets -: The Mobile and The Internet Connectivity markets.

Chances are that the Commission must have been reacting to simmering discontent which is now coming to the boil and can no longer be ignored.  

It may be a wild goose chase, but a nice one nevertheless.

 

'' just gotta change
by
titi omo-ettu

 

These were the famous words of a radical politician of the left who is, probably, now retired. Things changed alright, but in which direction? Perhaps not in one that might have impressed the speaker. It would be rather interesting to hear his thoughts on the events of the past two years. 

Indeed things are changing and very fast too. As technological innovation gathers even more frenetic pace, it may be a stretch too far for one's imagination what the 'ordinary person' would do should they be afforded the illimitable opportunities Broadband Internet Access offers. The politicians would tell us that the ordinary person is far too bogged down by the daily grind of trying to provide the basics of food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families to care about 'broadband'. And perhaps they have a point. But the nature of our politics and politicians makes it harder to decipher where the line between this approach as an abstraction of reality ends and where upholding it as a justification for inaction begins. To 'bring home' the reality and its possibilities, a few guys got together recently to discuss broadband and its effects on the basics of food, security, industry, transportation and more. Is somebody listening? 

Let us consider some alternatives. 

It's been suggested that technology should be encouraged, developed and applied. One method for consideration is that agencies of government that superintend over technology  creation and development coalesce and administered under one bureaucracy - joined up government - if you wish. This is  a model which if implemented with principles and conviction will deliver good management of the resources of technology. Another method is to have a concentric grouping of those agencies that develop technology together and those who regulate and motivate its application. 

It has been suggested that the latter model is good for developing economies. Nigeria is one of such economies though economic development and growth pattern in other sectors make that claim less discernible. But at least on the issue of telecommunications and information technology, it is an emerging market which demands and deserves management. 

If the emerging technologies especially in the ICT's are not properly managed, society suffers as it is either isolated from the proverbial global village or its people pay exceedingly to realize the benefits of emerging technologies. This is exactly the motive driving the IT revolution that is taking place in East Africa. 

There are two key issues that we need to address. Firstly, the need for a revised policy framework which all parties need to look up to particularly for investors as it allows them to map out long term investment plans and how that translates and implemented in the market. And secondly, a corresponding administrative and regulatory framework in which these technologies are implemented  which some people call restructuring. In both cases, the 'ordinary person' has little role to play but government should play its role and govern in the interest of all rather than narrow itself to issues of winning elections as has been the case in Nigeria. 

If the past two years are anything to go by, the country has shown little in way of direction in ICT policy re-formulation. If it is intended, it is yet to be seen. This lack of direction and review of how the sector is being managed for better results engenders an exclusion of minds that can see the fuller picture exacerbated by the arguments that ICT is fine but intangible and inconsequential in comparison to roads, food and 'wining' elections.  

One morning this week, a TV channel took on the issues of federal roads, ASUU strike, decaying hospitals, and Saudi Arabia visit. I swiftly changed channels desperately trying not to have negativity ruin the long day ahead only to be confronted by more misery on another channel where the discussion was about the refusal to assist London's Metropolitan Police to prosecute some charlatans of the land; industrial action by primary school teachers across the land and 90% failure of all secondary school students who sat the NECO examination in Sokoto State. My third escape channel was reporting on assassinations, kidnappings, 0-1, 0-2 serial losses  for our under-20's in Egypt and the like. Such a catalogue of negativity begs the question 'How can all these happen in one single country?' And these are only the ones that make it to the newsrooms! 

I suppose it is the case that 'bad news sells'. By extension we can deduce that Telecom ICT does not get a mention because for all intent and purposes, it is the one sector that has been fairly well run and has a good story to tell. The mind boggles at such complacency. Presumably we will start talking when we are dragged to where we started from. 

'', indeed just gotta change? Never have truer words been spoken.

CyberschuulNews 356

3G NETWORK SYSTEMS: THE CHOICE & CHALLENGE THAT AWAIT NIGERIA
by
titi omo-ettu

 

1st things first, let's discuss why we are where we are. We shall then recall some historical perspectives and also mention a few personal experiences.

In 1995 the NCC commissioned a study under the title of 'Study into Cellular Mobile Telecommunications Market in Nigeria'. The report of that study led to various motion-without-movement experiences between then and year 2000 when there was a modification that turned out 'A magic'. 

In the early days of Mobile Systems, there was fragmented market. Systems went by their proprietary standards and generally cared less about interoperability. There were: The American Standards, The European Standards, The Nordic Countries Standards. Two notable realizations emerged:

One; that mobile systems thrive on economy of scale and interoperability makes business sense and two; that even poor countries could be viable markets. 

Then emerged the 'generational' initiative as in assigning vocabulary to each stage of mobile technology development. Each generation represented an improvement in spectrum capacity usage and ITU took advantage of the global realisation and situated itself for its natural role. It operated in a true belief that business would be truly global and that regulators would have less problems of incompatibility to deal with. The initiative seemed good for all concerned. On top of this, it was also realised that there is money to make everywhere.

 
The First Generation of systems for mobile telephony was analog, circuit switched, FDMA Access technology, and it only carried voice traffic. The analog phones used in 1G were less secure and prone to interference where the signal is weak. Analog systems include AMPS [in the US], NMT[ In Nordic Countries : East Europe, Asia and Russsia] and ETACS[in UK].  

The Second Generation of mobile telephony systems, 2G uses digital encoding. 2G networks support high bit rate voice, limited data communications and different levels of encryption. 2G networks include GSM, D-AMPS (TDMA) and CDMA. 2G networks can support SMS applications.  

General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a mobile data service available to users of GSM mobile phones. Although GSM is strictly a 2G standard, that GPRS is an enhancement of it makes it code-named a 2.5G generation of mobile phones. GPRS, which supports a wide range of bandwidths, is an efficient use of limited bandwidth and is particularly suited for sending and receiving small bursts of data, such as e-mail and Web browsing, as well as large volumes of data. 

2.5G extends 2G systems, adding features such as packet-switched connection and enhanced data rates. 2.5G networks include EDGE and GPRS. These networks support WAP, MMS, SMS mobile games, search and directory. 

One of the major limitations of Second Generation cellular communications systems is that data can only be transferred after a connection has been established. This is inefficient if only small amount of data is transferred, and in situations where data is transferred in bursts. 2.5G cellular systems allow a mobile station to be "always-online" for sending and receiving packet data. This allows efficient transfer of small amounts of data, without the overhead of establishing a connection for each transfer. It also efficiently supports bursty data transfers, avoiding the need to allocate capacity to a connection that cannot be reallocated by the network if the connection chooses not to use it. The two major forms of 2.5G enhancements to second-generation cellular systems are the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution (EDGE). Some GSM networks support the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution (EDGE).  

The Next Generation Network

The next generation networks (NGN) would support all traffic demands. Specifically, it should meet all the following services: A single network must converge voice, data and video traffic, support mobility, have a very high speed switching core, must be packet based technology and must support value added services. 

It is usual to refer to 3G systems as a Next Generation Network System. They can also be described as ITU's IMT 2000 family because it was in the year 2000 that there was unanimous approval of the technical specifications for third generation systems under the brand IMT-2000. The spectrum between 400 MHz and 3 GHz is technically suitable for the third generation. This approval meant that for the first time, full interoperability and inter-working of mobile systems could be achieved.  

What specific advantages are envisaged?

IMT-2000 offers the capability of providing value-added services and applications on the basis of a single standard. The system envisages a platform for distributing converged fixed, mobile, voice, data, Internet and multimedia services. One of its key visions is to provide seamless global roaming, enabling users to move across borders while using the same number and handset.  IMT-2000 also aims to provide seamless delivery of services, over a number of media (satellite, fixed, etc…). It is expected that IMT-2000 will provide higher transmission rates: a minimum speed of 2Mbit/s for stationary or walking users, and 348 kbit/s in a moving vehicle.  Second-generation systems only provide speeds ranging from 9.6 kbit/s to 28.8 kbit/s 

The often quoted major strengths of Third Generation Mobile technology is its suitability for voice, video and data services including video, video conferencing and Internet access. For equipment vendors and manufacturers, there is universal agreement, a necessity really, that they will be flexible, affordable, compatible with existing systems and modular. 

Why embrace 3G?

Considering that Nigerians have demonstrated a thirst for Broadband internet access and that so far there is still lack of broadband internet. Considering also that Digital Subscriber Line, DSL is not known to have been commonplace, there is a pressing need to fill the gap. And 3G may just do that according to some specialists. What is more, recent experiences show that Nigerians create opportunities on emerging technologies. Moreover, it is cheaper and quicker to roll-out 3G/WCDMA than to run communication cables to every home.  

With all the above arguments some have forecast that high uptake of services in 3G is therefore expected if launched. Who knows, these may have informed the embrace of 3G by the industry regulator which is known to have issued licenses to all existing mobile service providers. 

Wideband CDMA, also known as UMTS in Europe, is 3G standard for GSM in Europe, Japan and the United States. It's also the principal alternative being discussed in Asia. It supports very high-speed multimedia services such as full-motion video, Internet access and video conferencing. It uses one 5 MHz channel for both voice and data, offering data speeds up to 2 Mbps.  

The Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)

A digital wireless technology that uses a spread spectrum technique to scatter a radio signal across a wide range of frequencies. CDMA is a 2G technology. WCDMA, a 3G technology, is based on CDMA. CDMA has multiple variants, including CDMA 1X, cdma2000, CDMA2000 1X, CDMA2000 1xEV-DO and cdmaOne.

What is possible?

All e-advantages[ e-learning, e-business, e-sports etc] Video Telephony, eMail, Location Services, instant messaging, etc High Speed Internet Access and Interactive Multimedia. These do not come without challenges though. We should expect challenges in the areas of Licensing, infrastructure, and capacity building. 

We must be conscious of some drawbacks  such as the reality that  users have to make completely new investment in 3G compliant terminals just as lack of access of majority to the internet may limit penetration.  

Recommendations

It is hoped that the structure 3G License fee so far supports affordability going by the enthusiasm with which the existing operators are canvassing for their monopoly of the license. It is at this stage that the often repeated need to review telecom engineering training syllabus in good time to meet current challenges is apt. 

4G encourages architecture "openness". The services that 3G can offer should be such that it can be developed by any content vendor. The architecture is open as opposed to proprietary in that it allows third party vendor to run in the network. The 3G is not necessarily designed with open Application Programming Interface (API). The API in each network decided what developed services that can be used by a network operator in the network. So, 4G is an enhancement to 3G with open API for third party applications (services) developments.

Presented November 2006

 

 

CyberschuulNews 353

2.3 GHz verdict: It was Them not Us
by
titi omo-ettu

The image that President Barrack Obama may not be a happy man after all is etched in my consciousness. Something keeps telling me that the fellow would have wished that Nigeria lives up to reputation as the world's most populous black country and worthy of the title, 'centre of the world' for all black people.

In this episode of 'The West Wing' that is playing in my mind, El Presidente has assembled his inner caucus of the ruling class and asked them 'how can I tell the folks in Nigeria to shape up without causing unnecessary offence'. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton perks up to say 'I do, Mr. President' to which he responds, 'Great, don't tell me. I think you should go tell them in person'. And so came Hillary.

Suffice to say that she came at a time when listening and doing good was not a high point of those who are on the cockpit in these parts. One even went as far as telling her to mind her own business.

Or how do we explain it. Mrs. Clinton's plane had barely left the tarmac at the airport when what clearly was an executive intervention in a purely judicial logjam was announced from the office of President Yar Adua.

For those of us in the awkward squad who argue and believe we should put the controversy surrounding the 2.3 GHz spectrum licenses behind us and face the future, there is yet an explanation to make so future generation does not ask us what the hell a whole lot of 140 million of us were doing when rule of law was being murdered.

The objective here is not to revisit the controversy all over but to appraise the validity of the decision both in law and practice so as to ensure that an inadequate framework is neither the template nor precedent to which current and future generations will have to adhere. It is vitally important in a participatory democracy that legislative and executive decisions are subject to scrutiny to avoid any potential ugly precedent before it sets in stone. It is what makes us citizens rather than mere bystanders in the democratic process.

For starters, it is going to be difficult for rational minds to agree to using the President's decision as a precedent for future if and whenever all facts present themselves again as they did in the 2.3Ghz instance. It is a failure of our democracy that our laws in this instance are not allowed rigorous scrutiny and intellectual dialysis.

In the ensuing 'presentation-over-substance' scenario, the commercial imperatives of using the story by the local media dictated that this very public spat was personalised and drawn out thus making it an issue of 'who' was right (which meant that the other was wrong) when the issue should have been of 'what' was right or what was wrong.

So what was wrong?

It was wrong for our system to create and perpetuate a climate in which the decision of a Commission be reduced to and regarded as the decision of a person. It makes an institutional failure a personal one and consequently remedy is thought of and applied in the context of personnel rather than of systems or institutions. That the person singled out for criticism is not the Chairman of the Commission (where ideally the buck stops) does not help but rather makes it messier.

It was wrong for a complaint to be fabricated as it eventually emerged from records and facts from AO3 Company's strong rebuttal, which categorically stated that it did not participate in an auction and therefore could not have written a petition about a process it was not party to.

It was wrong that the advice given by the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice to Mr. President was allowed to leak to the press or blatantly published in the media to the effect that the minister's (of Communications that is) intervention was impolite to the law.

With so much wrong, it is difficult to catalogue what was right in the whole milieu except the perfect opportunity for us to test our Communications Act within the purview of the executive. Unfortunately it is an opportunity we have missed.

We are in a nightmare, somebody wake us up.


CyberschuulNews 352

Big tree, small axe
by
titi omo-ettu

With the warped entertainment content of the CBN's act of last week, there is an overwhelming temptation to get carried away such that we forget to import whatever lessons it offers our industry.

The week's sacking of five CEOs for 'winning' banks produced a drought of news in the telecommunications sector. It suggested that ceteris paribus, events in our industry pale into insignificance due to the axe falling on the supremo's of our banking industry. The guys who produce CyberschuulNews told us that unless we wrote an opinion column this week, there was no news for them to report or to analyse. Very true as I found out when week drew to an end.

Nothing inspires newshounds more than 'How hath the mighty fallen' especially when the 'mighty' in question belong to the class that readers love to hate. If as they say 'a week is a long time in politics', two months must therefore be eternity. Given that not quite two months ago the 'mighty' were collecting awards, buying jets for pastors and distributing religious tracts as part of bank product leaflets (talk about a conflict of interest), is it not a tad strange how jubilant we are about their fall from grace? Yet we all pretended to be ignorant of the fact the front (and middle) pages of our newspapers have been taken over by bank adverts while we were treated as if we actually pay to buy adverts rather than content in our newspapers.

If we must profit from all this, then we must quickly identify two lessons which the telecom industry can learn from the finance industry's recent experience.

We should remind ourselves that if and when services providers merit sanction, they should be dealt with. Our laws must provide for those who evoke such sanctions to think of how the decision will affect the common consumers and to take action to mitigate their losses. Of course our experience is that many service providers had, on their own, folded up and closed shop. Many of them in recent memory - MTS of old, EMIS, Mobitel of old, to name but a few. In the ensuing wreckage, no one cared about what happened to the real stakeholders - the subscribers who had made investment in such networks. It is time our law thought in this direction. There is something for our legislature to keep in mind as they attempt to edit the existing Act.

The other is the treating awards and laurels like confetti at a wedding - conferred on everyone and anyone which, to be brutally frank, is somewhat suffocating. It is not as if we believe these awards or that they mean little more than businesses and organisations disingenuously ingratiating themselves with their sponsors. In this era of reciprocal back scratching among the undeserving, a modicum of modesty and a reality check is both required and necessary.

It is time we demanded an arrest of this culture of roguery, hate and moral indecency that is like a parasite feasting on the soul of our society.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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