Extend 30-Day Data Expiry Period, NCC Orders Telecom Operators

Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on Friday ordered all Telecoms Operators in the country to give a 14-day grace for subscribers to exhaust their remaining data after the 30 days expiration period.

Speaking during the Consumers Conversation Forum held in Minna, Niger state, Ms. Hellen Obi, who represented the Executive Vice Chairman NCC, Professor Umar Danbata, stated that the commission declared this year as consumer year as a result of their important in the industry.

The event was organised by the NCC to sensitise consumers on the need to follow the right channel in resolving issues with their service providers.

“NCC has mandated all network providers to give their subscribers 14 days of grace after the 30 days expiration of their data if they still have data left and cannot recharge to get their data rolled over,” she stated.

Obi declared 2017 as NCC Telecom Consumer year as a result of the consumer’s importance to the growth and development of the telecom industry.

She added: “The commission which is the independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria declared Year 2017 as NCC year of the telecom consumer in recognition of the importance of the consumer to the phenomenal growth and development in the telecoms sector.

“The year of telecom consumer, which was formally launched by NCC Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, Danbata, is in tandem with the 8-point Agenda of the commission aimed to protect, educate, and empower consumers towards ensuring sustainable growth and further development in the Telecom sector.’’

Obi explained that the consumer conversation was designed to educate and inform consumers about their rights and privileges with their service providers.

The commission also articulated four strategic initiatives as key drivers of the Consumer Conversation including “Do-Not-Disturb” (DND) Service across all telecom networks, a service, which enables the consumer to stop receiving unwanted and unsolicited messages from telecom operators.

Goodbye Etisalat Nigeria

The telecommunications operatives in Nigeria will be losing one more competitive name in the industry after the crisis rocking Etisalat Nigeria deepened yesterday with a directive from the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), the largest shareholder in the embattled firm, that the Nigerian arm should stop using the brand name within the next three weeks.

The implication is that the new management must decide within the next 21 days on the options before it, which are either an outright sale of the company or merger with an existing operator in the country.

Etisalat, which controls 13 per cent market share in Nigeria, has had a running battle with a consortium of 13 banks since March, after it notified them of its inability to service its $1.2 billion debt in February due to the foreign exchange challenges in the country.

The firm had through its Vice-President, Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Ibrahim Dikko, three weeks ago, claimed that it had repaid 42 per cent of the loan.

“As at today, we can categorically state that the outstanding loan sum to the consortium (of banks) stands at $227 million and N113 billion, a total of about $574 million if the naira portion is converted to U.S. Dollars. This, in essence, means almost half of the original loan of $1.2 billion, has been repaid.”

The Chief Executive of Etisalat International, Hatem Dowidar, told Reuters yesterday that Abu Dhabi’s Etisalat had terminated its management agreement with its Nigerian arm and given the business time to phase out the brand in Nigeria.

Etisalat had been ordered to transfer its shares to a loan trustee after the talks which brought up management changes to the Nigerian arm.

Dowidar said all UAE shareholders of Etisalat Nigeria had exited the company and left the board and management. He said discussions were ongoing with Etisalat Nigeria to provide technical support, adding that it could use the brand for another three-week before phasing it out.

Etisalat had already planned a name change, according to a source, who claimed that there was nothing to worry about on the matter. He said Emirate Telecoms Group, which hitherto had 45 per cent shareholding, had pulled out of the business. Other shareholders in the company are Mubadala Development Company (40 per cent) and Emerging Market Telecommunications Services (EMTs) (15 per cent). While the first two investors are from UAE, the third, which is EMTS, is from Nigeria, led by the former chairman, Hakeem Bello-Osagie.

On the development, the Director of Public Affairs at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Tony Ojobo, told reporters that the regulator was not aware of such a deadline. “If there is anything like that, Etisalat will need to write the commission officially,” he said.

Besides, there is a report that two telecommunication giants, Orange and Vodafone Groups, are in a race to buy 65 per cent of Etisalat Nigeria, following the pullout of its major shareholders.

An industry source claimed that Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, might be nursing the ambition of helping the troubled telecommunications firm by buying up the shares.

In December, 2010, The Guardian reported how EMTS purchased Alheri Mobile Services Limited, a fully owned subsidiary of the Dangote Group. Alheri Mobile was a holder of a 3G licence for Nigeria. The acquisition put Etisalat Nigeria in the position of having immediate access to and full use of a 3G licence in line with the other three GSM operators in Nigeria.

The pioneer CEO of Etisalat Nigeria, Steve Evans had stated: “We are delighted to acquire the 3G licence, which is an essential element of our plans for further developing the market for mobile broadband in Nigeria. We have placed a strong emphasis on offering data services to all our customers from launch through enabling ‘Edge’ on all our cell sites throughout Nigeria. Now with 3G, we can further develop our data and mobile broadband portfolio and offer our customers even higher levels of service. There is pent-up demand in Nigeria for broadband and we intend to be leaders in satisfying it.”

Then Chairman of EMTS, Hakeem Bello Osagie said: “We are very happy with the acquisition of the 3G licence and with the professional way in which the negotiations were led by Mr. Aliko Dangote and his team. We look forward to further cooperation in the future.”

Interestingly, the newly appointed interim CEO of Etisalat, Boye Olusanya, was the managing director of Alheri Mobile and head of Dangote’s telecommunications arm. “It makes sense for us to sell Alheri Mobile to Etisalat Nigeria as we believe that the market here can only sustain four mobile operators in the medium to long term. We intend to use the capital raised to develop our other assets in the telecommunications market and we look forward to continuing to deepen our relationship with Etisalat Nigeria.”

On the new development, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said that as people were aware of the new management team, “we do hope that the brand issue will be resolved without any impact on the subscribers and as part of the overall resolution of all issues affecting our members (Etisalat). We are hopeful and optimistic that the brand will overcome the current challenges. We continue to assure management and staff and their subscribers of ALTON support at all times,” he said.

To the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, the brand image of Etisalat is key to the 20 million subscribers that identified with the youth profiling that the brand sought to attract.

Teniola said it was inevitable when Abu Dhabi Emirates pulled out that their brand would also leave.

According to him, like the various and many changes in Econet to now Airtel, “it appears that this change in name from Etisalat Nigeria will hopefully not mean a change for the worst in terms of the quality of service Etisalat was known for in its data service offering. We expect a proactive communication from the new management of what this means to their loyal customers.”

Meanwhile, at press time, Etisalat Nigeria was yet to issue a statement on the deadline on the use of the brand name.

MTN Nigeria Set To Deploy 4G LTE Network In July

MTN Nigeria is gearing for a 4G LTE network rollout in selected cities by July 2016, following the acquisition of LTE-suitable frequencies in the 800MHz band earlier this year via the takeover of CDMA network operator Visafone Communications.

MTN Nigeria’s CEO Ferdinand Moolman disclosed that MTN has started the process of migrating all of Visafone subscribers onto its network so that it could vacate the 800MHz frequency band and start rolling out LTE.

The executive was cited as saying: “It delayed our capital expenditure rollout during the first quarter a little bit because we needed to realign some of our CAPEX towards the LTE rollout. We started the migration of the subscribers and we hope to conclude that soon. The plans are to have commercial LTE available towards the end of the second quarter, maybe early Q3 2016, albeit very limited, and then start expanding this towards the first quarter of next year.”

MTN is aiming to have roughly 1,500 LTE collocated sites backhauled with fibre-optics by year-end. Meanwhile, MTN Group’s Chief Operating Officer Jyoti Desai said that the company undertook a detailed analysis of MTN Nigeria’s data usage in order to determine the most suitable locations for 4G rollouts: “We looked at the handset ecosystem and revenue opportunity and have identified some of the major cities.”

In January 2016, MTN finalised the acquisition of Lagos-based Visafone, reportedly paying N47.5 billion ($238.7 million) to obtain its assets (including spectrum in the 800MHz band and roughly 2.1 million subscribers) in order to strengthen its position in the Nigerian wireless broadband market.

NTel Unveils Nigeria’s First 4G/LTE Mobile Network

Ntel, Nigeria’s most advanced 4G/LTE network has announced the commencement of its phased and paced commercial operations with bumper offers for Pioneers and data users.

The first 100,000 to redeem and activate their ntel SIMs will get free on-net calls for life while data subscribers will get 3 months unlimited data usage on select bundles.

In a statement issued by ntel, Kamar Abass, its CEO said “I am delighted to be writing to you, on behalf of the staff and directors of NatCom, with the news that, today, 8 April 2016, we start commercial activities on our newly commissioned 4G/LTE-Advanced network. Our very earliest customers will be able to buy and use these services in clusters, across Lagos and Abuja from sales outlets and agents featuring our bright new brand name: ntel.”

Ntel, Nigeria’s 5th Mobile network operator announced that the commencement of operations is the culmination of their journey from acquiring the old NiTel/MTel assets to the delivery of successive milestones underlining their growing operating capability on their new fixed and mobile network infrastructure.

With the formal commencement, commercial services will be available on ntel’s 4G/LTE-Advanced network across key site clusters in Lagos and Abuja.

Coverage in Port Harcourt will follow during May, along with expanded coverage in Lagos and Abuja, and subsequently to other states, across multiple geo-political zones, during the second half of 2016.

The company said their 4G/LTE-Advanced technology built on the 900/1800MHz spectrum will deliver an unbeatable and game-changing customer experience of high-speed Internet Access up to 230Mbps, the fastest available in Nigeria today thus enabling a world of full mobile broadband experiences that will transform both lives and livelihoods!

“We are passionate at ntel about the power of Broadband to boost productivity and, thereby, transform lives, We expect to see this happen as ntel helps to accelerate the ongoing migration, from existing 2G and 3G services, to genuinely high-speed Mobile Broadband on 4G/LTE-Advanced,” Abass who is a strong advocate of 4G/LTE said.

New Telecoms Company, NTel, Begins Operation April 8

Newest entrant into Nigeria’s telecommunications market, Ntel, has concluded plans to roll out services from April 8. Ntel, which plans to start from Lagos and Abuja, said it would offer Nigerians fourth generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) network service.

The Chief Executive Officer, Ntel, Kamar Abass, who disclosed this yesterday, in Lagos, said that all is set for the commercial launch following link from completion of agreements with channel partners as well as go-ahead from Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Abass said the telecommunications regulator has approved all licence authorization necessary for Ntel to launch its Voice over LTE (VoLTE) network using next generation telecommunications infrastructure.

He said Ntel has deployed about 600 base transceiver stations (BTSs) in the two cities with 2000 sites to be rolled out as the network expands.

Abass said already 200 kilometres of fibre optic transmission cables have been laid in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt for seamless network connectivity. He said Ntel has deployed LTE Advanced, the latest 4G technology with multi-antenna MIMO sites.

“We are rolling out physical sites in two cities on our 900MHz and 1800MHz bands to launch Voice over LTE come April 8, 2016. We have signed agreements with trade partners and fulfilled all licence authorisations and payments and we are up-to-date. There are no impediments to our launch,” he said.

Abass said NATCOMS Investments Ltd, the parent company of Ntel has project over $1 billion investments over the next four years.

To ensure smooth take off of its mobile network, the NATCOMS has completed the construction of Tier III datacenter as well as reactivation of SAT3 submarine international fibre optic cable.

It will be recalled that NATCOMS had last year paid $252.52 million to acquire the assets of the defunct first national operator (FNO) to begin commercial operation on its mobile network.

According to Abass, despite the growth of the telecoms sector in Nigeria which has seen voice subscriptions rise from less that 60,000 in year 2001 to over 147 million as at 2015, broadband usage has only grown by 20 per cent.

He said NATCOM has come to fill the gap bringing Nigerians unfettered access to full mobile broadband both on voice and data services.

Over the next four and half years, the total number of mobile broadband customers alone will be greater than all of the customers that have come into the market on mobile since its inception. In other words, we are at a point where a major transformation is in the making. You will see 168 million mobile broadband customers coming into being between now and the end of 2019, which is more than all the mobile customers (both narrow and broadband) that we have seen in the last 15 years.

“That sounds like an enormous transformation. When it comes to the supply of broadband services, we are unique because we have more spectrum, which can deliver more throughput than any network available today and potentially any network in the future. The spectrum we have has unique features which are simply unrepeatable on any other spectrum band” Abass said.

Subscribers Can Now Use One SIM For Two Lines – Airtel

Airtel Nigeria has said the introduction of Smart Number service, an innovation that allows Nigerian subscribers to use an additional line on their already in use Airtel SIM card, yet maintaining a single mobile phone is unique.

The new package is designed to empower owners of small businesses, entrepreneurs, top executives and professionals who wish to improve productivity as well as separate their professional/social and personal mobile lines while maintaining the use of a single phone and SIM card.

The Smart Number is a virtual number mapped to customer’s primary mobile line so that both lines can be used on a single phone. With this service, customer can define and determine the period when the Smart number is made active and reachable in order to make or receive calls and send or receive SMS.

Commenting on the new package, Enterprise Director, Airtel Nigeria, Tawa Bolarin, said the telco is intensely interested in defining new path and innovative ways of empowering and improving the productivity of professionals, top executives and business owners.

“The Smart Number service is intended to make life better, simpler and more enjoyable for business professionals. It is an innovative way of boosting productivity and driving business performance. Airtel will continue to pioneer new initiatives that will empower entrepreneurs and business professionals,” she said.

Apart from the user-controlled option, other features of the Smart Number include voice mail, call transfer, and value-added services such as conference call, group SMS, etc. Also, Airtel customers using Smart Number can conveniently maintain privacy and security by screening unwanted calls.

The Airtel Smart Number, which comes in two different packages – Basic and Plus – is available on monthly subscription for both pre-paid and post-paid customers on the network.

To subscribe for the package, customers can send ‘SUB’ as text to 619 and reply with either 1 or 2 to choose either the ‘Basic’ or ‘Plus’ package. Customers can also call the IVR on 618 and listens to the menu option to subscribe and manage the service.

The Smart Number can call/send text to all networks except international calls/text. To make calls or send through the Smart number, the subscriber is required to dial/text 66 before dialling the recipient’s number. Inbound call on the Smart Number is identifiable as 66 prefix appears before the eleven digits of the caller’s number.

The Smart Number, however, cannot be directly recharged with airtime so the airtime is drawn from the customer’s primary line.

According to Airtel, customers will also need to register the Smart number to ensure full KYC compliance.