Unique offerings by ntel will change Nigeria’s telecoms sector, says Abass



Kamar Abass is the Chief Executive Officer of ntel, new owners of Nigeria Telecommunications Limited, bought by NATCOM Group. Prior to his new appointment at ntel, Abass was the Managing Director of Ericsson Nigeria. Ahead of ntel’s formal launch into the market, Abass spoke with journalists recently on how the new telecommunications outfit intends to cope in the Nigerian market, with many challenges and opportunities. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN was there.

How do you think ntel will cope in a market that has some of the biggest telecommunications firms in the world?

I think if people understand what we are going to do, and what it is that we are doing, there will be no doubts, absolutely none whatsoever. I am amazed by this comparison and you could say the same some 10 years back when some operators took the challenge to operate in this terrain. Today, confidently, MTN alone still manages to find 60 million customers. I am not sure that history is going to teach us anything other than it is always going to underestimate the demand for communications.

Today, we are seeing the very beginning of a shift from a voice oriented communications market in Nigeria to one that will be dominated by data, especially mobile broadband and we are going to play largely in this space.

Truly, there are not more than 35 million broadband mobile customers in Nigeria. This is in spite of having more than 154 million active mobile customers, a mere 20 per cent of those, 23 per cent if I may be exact are mobile broadband customers. Now, what does the forecasters say about this? They tell anyone who cares to inspect the numbers, that by the year 2020, there will be well, they say two things, first there’s going to be 229 million active SIMs in this market. Now I don’t mean West Africa, I don’t mean most of Africa, but in Nigeria. That is a 50 per cent growth of the total market signs today. But what is more important that they say is that less than 30 million of those would be on 2G.

In other words, 200 million of the active mobile subscribers in Nigeria will be on mobile broadband. So lets just review those numbers. Today, just over 30 million in five years from now, 200 million. What is worrying about our ability to sell mobile broadband in a market that is doing seven times over the next five years? It doesn’t have me shaking in my head, we are sure of propelling this growth. We are sure that our impact will be phenomenon in the sector.

What are your spending projections?

Our forecast is that we will take a total investment of more than a $1 billion to complete the mission, and that’s over the next four years. This also includes our acquisitions as well.

On what we have done so far, today we have laid nearly 200km of fibre in metro areas in Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt. We have acquired a 4th generation LTE advanced core network. We have acquired a total of nearly 1,000 cell sites, which are in the process of being rebound. These are cell sites that enjoy too advanced technology features, carrier aggregation to combine 900MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum.

We equally have four by four multi-antennae technology that allows us to boost coverage on our network for improve customer experience. So we are working a great deal to make sure that from a technology stand point, we offer the most advanced network in Nigeria and frankly its our commitment to stay in that position as the most advanced network in the country. We are equally sure that we will be able to give through that network-advanced experiences, the best experiences possible on the mobile broadband.

Our challenge will be to maintain that and that’s why we are building and shaping our focus to be able to maintain that extremely high-quality advanced network, great coverage, rolling out a good number of base stations such that we can match in each of our coverage states 3G with our
4G coverage and great customer experiences too.

Can you give an insight into your rollout plans and the uniqueness of ntel?

Our plan is to roll out physical sights across the coverage areas in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. We are rolling out sites on 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum, with 4G LTE advanced technology that will allow us to offer four broad categories of services. Voice will be VOLTE, which is voice over LTE is different from traditional voice in three principle ways.

First, it enjoys super fast connections, literally you press your send or your green call button on your phone and the connection is instantaneous. It immediately starts to read that’s one feature of an LTE call. The second quality is crystal clear high definition voice, so its much clearer because of the way the call is set up. The third is because of the technology you enjoy better battery life on the system because the way in which the technology works give your handset much more relief it holds into your call and it manages it better in terms of handle, and one of the principle beneficiaries of that is of course your battery life because it doesn’t have to have multiple different radios on the device on looking for the next cell and this is partly to do with something called optimal frequency division multiplexing.

On 4G there is less overlap and the overlap between the cells is really minimized and that means you don’t have capacity been taking on two systems at the same time. On 3G and 2G the overlaps are greater, they tolerate more overlaps and that’s because when those systems were designed they were never designed for the billions of customers that we have today. With 4G that overlap is much less, that means that you have capacity on this space station or this one, never on both, and that gives you the ability to manage your battery life better.

So those are some of the things we are going to introduce but the biggest thing we are coming to market with is the new sense of product on mobile that are enlivened by 4G.

There was a report about ntel having a regulatory issue with NCC on licensing. Has it been resolved?

That report is completely inaccurate. We have been working with the NCC to achieve all of the regulatory approvals that we need and that works continue.

But as far as being in the position to launch services to Nigerians as specified in our licenses, we have every single clearance that we need.

But of course, we are discussing all sorts of things because it is our desire to be the lead where our customers wish us to be lead. We need to do those things our customers are looking for and we have been working well in other jurisdictions, and of course, the objective of the NCC is to work with operators to facilitate those things and to make sure that they protect the interest of customers. And so we are constantly inviting the NCC to push the boundaries in the way they do things. Though there are certain lines drawn, but dialogue will always continue but I wouldn’t say that there are issues because they are good dialogue, which are healthy for the industry growth, I have worked with regulators in multiple jurisdictions and find the engagements we have with the NCC to be among the best that I have ever experienced anywhere in the world. So I am quite happy with our relationship, happy with the quality of the dialogue and let me say we are quite happy with the authorisations and licensing from the commission that we have today which will enable us launch our network on the April 8th. There are absolutely no impediments.

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