Efforts by telecommunications operators in Nigeria to address the issue of poor quality of service seem hampered sequel to state governments' failure to approve over 1,200 applications for Base Transceiver Station (BTS) site construction since two years.
A BTS is a critical network component needed for improving phone service quality. Lately, service by operators has being characterised by incessant drop calls and incoherent transmission.
Telecoms operators have expressed discontent, warning that the continued delay in site build approvals and the inconsistency of approach and fees levied by different state governments, are currently delaying the deployment of requisite infrastructure needed to address the prevalence of poor service.
“A lot of telecoms operators cannot build new sites today because of delays by government and their agencies, particularly at the state level, to approve proposals for site build”, Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) told BusinessDay.
“There are even cases where operators begin deployment of a base station and are stopped because of non-payment of spurious levies from state governments”, he said. This, he added, has adverse impact on telcos’ ability to provide quality services. One of such cases is the request for N250 million ecology tax from telcos to deploy BTS. BusinessDay further gathered that last year, telecoms operators had to wait six months to get the needed approval to deploy 300 BTS.
This worrying trend has already drawn the indignation of many industry stakeholders.
“Governments at all levels need to understand that telecoms can do more to their economy than just being a source of internally generated revenue.
“They need to look at the impact of having telecoms services into their respective economies. For instance, the deployment of telecoms masts will create lots of employment for people in the community. Think of the number of businesses that would spring up as a result of improved telecoms services”, Aremu Olajide, senior executive at Globacom, said. The cost of building a base transceiver station, from the point of securing the land for installation of the BTS and the time it goes lives is about $250, 000 (N39 million).
Adebayo agrees with Olajide, adding that state governments and their agencies need to begin to see telecoms as a veritable tool for socio-economic development, rather than a cash cow.
“I must applaud the minister because she is doing a great job in the area of engaging the state governments on the need to support telecoms operators. She has obtained commitment from state governments through the National Economic Council to collaborate on multiple taxes and regulation”, he added.
According to Osondu Nwokoro, director, regulatory affairs, Airtel Nigeria, “It takes over one year to get approval from state ministries of environment to build telecoms site. In other jurisdictions, environmental impact assessment (EIA) approval does not take more than 90 days. I can remember vividly that we applied in October 2011 and received provisional approval in May 2012. Also, operators have to get planning approval from state governments to deploy base stations. It costs about N500,000 per telecoms mast, and it takes a very long time to get the approvals”.
Delays in site approval contribute to protracted site deployment timelines. This, according to industry watchers, is particularly worrying in view of the speedy rise in mobile subscriptions. According to the telecoms regulator, there are about 114 million active mobile subscriptions.
“Delays in site approval due to multiple regulation and unstandardised application and approval processes are slowing down growth in the number of base station deployment”, Omobola Johnson, minister of communications technology, said at a stakeholders’ roundtable held in Lagos, weekend.
With little over 26, 500 BTS sites currently serving a population of over 167 million people in the country, according to analysts, Nigeria is yet to build the critical mass of phone towers sufficient to meet Nigeria’s communications needs. The minister however said that for the persistent drop in telecoms service to abate, the country must have 60,000 BTS sites by 2018.
Telcos are expected to increase their BTS sites to 27, 000 by the end of 2013. With operators in Nigeria’s market expected to spend an estimated $6.2 billion (N979 billion) on network expansion initiatives this year, the industry seems determined to meet the quality of service (QoS) mandates of the NCC.
Industry analysts told BusinessDay that the deployment of network infrastructure won’t happen at the required pace needed to match growing subscriber needs due to continuous delays in approval of site build.