Author's Picture Issue: EMEA 2008
Article no.: 1
Topic: Convergence – policy and regulation for Africa
Author: Mrs Mary Uduma
Title: Director, Licensing
Organisation: Nigerian Communications Commission
PDF size: 223KB

About author

Mary Uduma is the Director of Licensing at the Nigerian Communications Commission. Prior to her current post, she headed other departments of the authority including Corporate Planning and Research, Tariff & Charges, and Finance. Before joining the Commission, Ms Uduma worked with Deloitte and Touché a public accounting firm, for the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation, and at an investment bank, all in Nigeria. Ms Uduma is a member of the National Committee on the implementation of the outcome of WSIS, was a member of an interim Board of Trustee for the Organisation (NiRA) responsible for the country code domain name. Ms Uduma is now the Vice President of NiRA’s Management Committee Board. Mary Uduma coordinated the Africa Regional Preparatory Meeting 2005 for the ITU’s World Telecoms Development Conference. Ms Uduma, a trained and certificated teacher, worked with the Ministry of Education as a teacher and currently teaches the teenagers in the Sunday school of her church. Mary Uduma qualified as a Chartered Accountant and a holds B.Sc (Hons) in Accounting from the University of Lagos.

Article abstract

Africa needs to build up its telecommunications infrastructure, especially to handle international broadband connectivity and backhaul for mobile traffic. Since there is little legacy infrastructure in much of Africa, and mobile networks handle the bulk of both voice and data traffic, building the infrastructure to handle the growth of data based services is challenging local operators. Policy makers and regulatory agencies need to stimulate – including via tax incentives – the rollout of fibre networks for both international connectivity and backhaul.

Full Article

Liberalization and the ICT revolution Since countries responded to the WTO commitment on telecommunications reform which began in 1986, African countries have not been left out in the race for a global village. Thus, liberalization and privatization of the ICT sector have been deliberately pursued by African governments, save for the very few countries without an independent regulator. The liberalization is primarily centred on the mobile telecommunications market; as a result wireless is the default communication system in most African countries. In response to this, the mobile market has been growing at an exponential rate while the fixed wire market has been shrinking. For instance, in Nigeria, mobile now accounts for about 97 per cent of all connected telephone lines. These mobile connections ride largely on the 2G networks with little or no backbone infrastructure to accommodate the huge traffic being generated. Convergence and its drivers The world had moved on to the convergence of telecommunications, content and computing. Today, consumers demand a single mobile device that can deliver all services (voice, photo, TV, messaging and video). Manufacturers are busy trying to satisfy this demand, while operators double their efforts to market and gain more network subscribers with all manners of popular applications. Convergence and traffic The licensing of mobile operators in Africa has put communication tools in the hands of an increasing number of citizens. The culture of long greetings and the exchange of pleasantries produces tons and tons of call minutes. Work processes and procedures are being digitalized and delivered virtually. Mobile banking, payments and funds transfers, e-commerce, e-agriculture, e-government, e-everything, are all data driven. The film industry is producing loads of content. Teaching and learning is now available online. All these applications require robust networks and technology to deliver services end-to-end. Managing the traffic generated when delivering services involves providing the right technology for each layer of the value chain. Getting the right customer premise equipment, the hand-held devices, access points, air interfaces, transmission/transportation, switching, points of interconnection and termination to ease the traffic flow is an enormous challenge. Any narrowing of the chain would not only lessen quality, but also trigger public outcry and slow down the process. The software used must be highly effective, interoperable and built upon open standards to accommodate the services that converged environments demands. Network revolution Africa is caught up in the Web, unprepared for networks that deliver the quality of service demanded in this era of convergence. There are no fibre networks to carry the traffic generated by the explosion in mobile service uptake. The converged market, services, terminal equipment and even regulation, all arrived in Africa at a time when its communications infrastructure is analogue, its mobile networks run primarily on 2G and the supporting infrastructure is very weak. Lack of fibre-to-the-home, to the office, and exchanges is a major difficulty in the management of the data traffic generated by convergence in Africa. Metropolitan fibre rings, national optic fibre facilities are all underdeveloped in an Africa embarking upon a mobile and an ICT revolution. The existing legacy networks are not capable of handling the revolution, and 3G and 4G networks are far from covering the continent. ICT actors and their responsibility matrix Actor Role Result Manufacturers/software developers Technology Applications Markets/Operators Services Consumers Regulator Markets Services Government Policies Legislation While the Government defines policies that translate into legislation and define regulation, regulators turn policies and legislation into regulations that define markets and organise and control services. The policies, laws and regulations result in the licenses that determine how operators and market players provide the services the consumers need. Manufacturers and software developers produce the technology and applications so that operators and service providers can meet the desires and needs of ICT service consumers. If the data traffic generated in the converged environment is to be properly managed, actors in the ICT sector must play an active role and ensure synergy in the development of the sector. The reality is that policy and regulatory reform is proceeding at a slower pace than technology development and too slow to meet the needs of the new and growing markets and services in Africa. The challenge is daunting for all actors in the sector. The political responsibility to encourage expansion of networks at local, national, regional and international levels as well as universal access, lies with the politicians. The legislative instruments must be technically right and economically sound enough to attract the investment and players to build a sector that can meet the ever-growing demand for services and handle the huge traffic loads they generate. What, then, are the needs and how can policy makers and regulators stimulate investment in infrastructure to handle the demand for converged data services in Africa? • There is a need for an economic and political framework to encourage massive investment in infrastructure build out from the local access point through to the point of termination; • The information highway must be made broad enough for the new generation networks; • Regulations must be technology neutral, and competition must be introduced both for infrastructure and services provision; • Broadband technology and services need to be encouraged and promoted by authorizing undersea cable landing stations along Africa’s coast; • ‘Upland’ regional connectivity needs to be fostered. Regulators should license long distance operators in landlocked countries to string fibre to the borders of coastal countries in order to connect directly to submarine cables; • All authorizations for international cable connectivity should be simplified and subject to less stringent right-of-way restrictions and relatively low-cost licensing fees; and • A Public-Private Partnership programme should be introduced to build national fibre optic infrastructures for an African information super highway. In Nigeria, we have two strong initiatives aimed at providing transmission facilities and promoting broadband services. These are the Wire Nigerian (WiN) and the State Accelerated Broadband Initiatives (SABI) programmes of the Nigerian Communications Commission, the country’s regulatory authority. The regulator believes that these infrastructure projects are critical for the industry and should be subsidized by the state. The funding of the programme is from the Universal Access Provisioning Fund, which the Commission collects from the operators as an annual levy. Infrastructure sharing and co-location should be made mandatory for operators so as to reduce the cost and accelerate network roll out. The power lines could be utilised for the much needed fibre optic infrastructure. Co-locating electrical and telecommunications infrastructure will help speed Africa’s development. The development of human resources, and local research and development are necessary for growth; the government and private sectors need to allocate resources and develop the manpower needed for a sustainable ICT industry. Policy makers and regulators need to create policies and regulations that promote the installation of broadband and fibre optics in the cities, along highways and in rural areas, by offering tax incentives to prime movers in infrastructure development. Funding of ICT infrastructure in Africa is crucial to the development of convergence and data; this will call for collaboration among all the stakeholders and the availability of public or private equity, and technology development funds. Policy makers and regulators – through consistent and predictable policies and regulations – must assure local, national, regional and international market place funding agencies of the safety of their funds. Finally, Africa needs to develop regional Internet Exchange Points (IXP) and gateways to keep local traffic local and reduce the cost of bandwidth. Peering must be encouraged and each of the countries of the continent should develop their own national IXPs and gateways even to the local level. Governments should provide the seed funds for this project; Nigeria has adopted this model.