For a vibrant Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/telecoms sector in 2020, stakeholders want governments at all levels to back policies, and ideas, with actions at the speed of light.To them, this has become so expedient, as many countries, including Africans are fast leaving the supposed giant of Africa, Nigeria behind in terms of innovations and developments.
According to those whom The Guardian sampled their positions on the way forward for the industry in 2020, it is becoming worse for the country because of the ‘consuming nation’ status tag on Nigeria.As such, they called on the Federal Government through the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, to be decisive in ensuring that Nigeria’s digital agenda is achieved as fast as the country can.
Growing a digital economy
Speaking with The Guardian, the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub (DSHub), Chris Uwaje, noted that since the change of name and mandate, the Ministry has put in a credible mileage in performing an enviable task.
In his opinion, Nigeria needs to build a capacity of 500,000 software stack skill sets. Uwaje wants the country to think less of marginal growth and concentrate more on constructive/sustainable development of indigenous skills and content anchored on software and science-driven innovation research programme.
The DSHub DG noted that the National Digital Policy is commendable and needs improved and supportive implementation. On this, Uwaje advised the minister to among others, lead the intervention in building massive software skills, by partnering and supporting the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON), secondly, establish a framework for National Intranet Plan as a strategic pathway for advancing the potential of the country digital gateway.In this regard, the former ISPON president, said government should encourage the country’s Data Centres to promote Edge-Computing and IPv6 migration.
“Actualisation of the establishment of a National Digital Transformation Day is a core and strategic vehicle for the advocacy and propagation of the diffusion of the national digital agenda into the 774 Local Government Areas,” he stated.
On his part, the Policy Advisor, New Tech Connection, Jide Awe, the launch of the National Policy for Digital Economy and Strategy is an important and major policy initiative to provide the roadmap for ICT/Telecoms, but diligent implementation is critical.
Awe posited that there must be an in-depth stakeholder awareness and engagement for top notch and effective policy impact. “It is about making a real positive difference in the quality of life of Nigerians. In view of the potential Nigeria’s huge youthful population offers for socio economic growth, youth innovation and entrepreneurship should be prioritised within the policy’s eight pillars. Review and feedback help to examine how the policy touches on priority areas for the people – cost of living, health, education, housing, job creation, poverty eradication and income generation, among others.”Awe, the Founder of Jidaw Communications, was however, quick to say that inadequate data protection frameworks hamper the development of a vibrant digital economy.
“How well is data protected from abuse and misuse in the data age?”, he asked. According to him, the development and implementation of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) 2019 by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is therefore an important development in policy/regulation.
He pointed out that the agency has made progress by licensing several Data Protection Compliance Organisations (DPCOs). To him, highlighting organisations that exposed personal and confidential information of data subjects in violation of the NDPR is a step forward, while awareness should be spread on an ongoing basis through public forums, stakeholder bodies and relevant communities.
Building of infrastructure
As the country moves to bridge access gaps, identified to be about 195 in the country, Awe noted that broadband penetration requires serious attention. With 37.8 per cent penetration in the country, broadband, according to Awe is fundamental infrastructure for innovation and meaningful participation in the digitally enabled era. He decried that despite significant improvements, many are still excluded from Internet access due to social and rural-urban divides, but noted that the set up of a new National Broadband Plan (NBP) committee is a welcome development.
“The status of broadband penetration requires urgent attention; boosting penetration from its present coverage of 37.8 per cent to over 70 per cent in the next five years is the right way to go. To achieve more than first NBP 2013 – 2018, the broadband committee, must ensure that new NBP 2020 -2025 addresses the frustrating barriers to rollout in the states and the promotion of smart states,” he stated.
According to him, growing interest in 5G comes from a realisation that it will distinguish and differentiate countries in this age of cyber. For Nigeria, he said leveraging on 5G can improve competitiveness and create immense possibilities in innovation and transformation, towards building a new digital economy. “Although, Nigeria still has serious challenges in telecoms infrastructure provision, 5G offers huge potential for new unexplored growth areas. The ongoing trial of 5G is a good start. The trial should be used to explore use-cases and applications in Nigeria, especially those that have not been practical due to limitations of existing networks,” Awe stated.
Awe posited that rollout of 5G and other infrastructure however, demands huge investment to design and invest in this new infrastructure. “It is therefore impossible to overemphasise the need to create an environment in the entire telecoms space (5G and existing networks) that enables investment and deployment. Critical aspects such as access of providers to equipment, support of investment, partnerships and facilitating infrastructure rollout should be addressed.
“The recent draft Executive Order declaring telecommunications infrastructure ‘a Critical National Infrastructure’ is a welcome development. Furthermore, in view of the society and economy’s acute dependence on telecoms assets, telecoms facilities should be considered and protected in the same manner as public power supply, transportation, financial services, public health, oil and gas, etc. Efforts need to be intensified with the National Assembly members to facilitate the passage of a bill to make telecoms infrastructure a critical national infrastructure that must be protected by law,” he stated.
Improving quality of telephony services
With 2020 declared by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as the year of 5G, subscribers experience will be a key determinant, especially in Nigeria where quality of service is still not satisfactory.On this, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, posited that supporting infrastructure such as energy, road, security and vandalisation of active elements on telecom sites remains a major challenge and “unless these problems are solved, sustenance of good quality of service will continue to be challenging.”
Adebayo stressed the need for the classification of telecommunication as Critical National Infrastructure and reduction in Right of Way charges, so as to expand and maintain the current infrastructure. He said the realisation of the new national broadband plan and also to sustaining the progress of the industry will require the minister pays adequate attention to infrastructure protection and reduction in charges.
Like his counterpact at ALTON, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said there is need for stakeholders to work in collaboration.With investigation showing that price was in the telecoms sector weighing seriously on service quality, Teniola called on operators to stop it. He stressed that price wars destroys value and robs the consumers of choice in the long run. “Stop the price war and invest in innovative solutions for the benefit of the over 175 million subscribers. Learn lessons from India’s data price wars and avoid the destruction of shareholder value,” Teniola stated.
He urged government should create an enabling environment that attracts Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and private sector investor confidence.In moving the sub-Sector forward, Uwaje said things must first be in analytic perspective, since ICT/Telecoms sector is an ecosystem that embraces totality of humanity and indeed defines modern society development and survivability.
Innovation and Local Content
According to Awe, the need to accelerate innovation is huge. He said the ecosystem of tech startups, hubs, investors and activities continues to grow and attract attention. He saluted the tech startups attracting local and global awards and investment. However, he noted many are still outside the loop.
“Even access to digital financial services is still quite low countrywide. Digital inclusion is a serious matter – the digital economy is for the whole country not for segments of the country. Stakeholders and partners are critical in driving inclusion through setting up innovation hubs and promoting innovation. Government has a major role play in creating the enabling environment – attracting investment, promoting local content and spreading the culture,” he stated.
Awe posited that the thinking behind the Executive Orders on Local Content is impressive; “however there is a need to thoroughly assess the implementation processes and outcome. It is essential to identify strengths and weaknesses in terms of increasing government patronage of local ICT products and services.”
According to him, a digital economy needs an innovation mentality and culture – which is beyond the possession of technology or the ability to exploit technology. This, he said entails embracing and driving innovation and change while also ensuring decisions and activities are based on merit, integrity and professional ethics.
“We must continue to develop digital skills in important, high demand fields in an inclusive manner as demanded by the future of work and future opportunities. Lack of talent will keep us behind. Changing the educational system – remote education, academia and research (quality, relevant, innovative, value adding, practical solutions) is imperative,” Awe stressed.