Vandalism cost may be passed to phone users

The rising cases of vandalism on telecoms infrastructure in the country would impact negatively quality of telephony services and slow fresh investments into the sector, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) has warned.Speaking on the recent attacks on telecoms infrastructure belonging to MTN and Airtel in Damaturu, Yobe state on Monday by the Boko Haram sect, the Chairman, ATCON, Olusola Teniola, said persistent cases of vandalism in the telecoms sector must be stopped now if the country really wants to go digital.

Teniola said it has become imperative that all telecoms facilities in the country are deemed critical national assets and are protected by Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) law, so that Quality of Services (QoS) is not degraded beyond the point whereby citizens in the impacted areas are not able to make a voice call in order to reach their loved ones or even carry out day-to-day business.

The ATCON president said damage to the facilities will cost more to repair and “inevitably these associated costs are passed onto the consumers in affected areas.”With such cases becoming frequent in the country, Teniola said: “It makes it even harder for government to achieve the 70 per cent broadband penetration target for 2025 and makes it a particular challenge by operators to keep services ongoing under tough circumstances.”

On his part, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) described the attacks on telecoms facilities by as very unfortunate. The Chairman, ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, said efforts must be made by the Federal Government and security agencies to protect lives and properties in the country.

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Adebayo, who recalled that operators had suffered same experience some years back in some part of the North East, stressed that “sadly this happened again.”

The ALTON president appealed to the Federal Government to kindly provide special protection for Critical Telecommunications Infrastructure across the country, and especially in the North East. Adebayo said the operators are concerned, “but as an industry, we will continue to work with the authorities to minimize the effect of this willful damage in the public. We will continue to work with relevant authorities to minimize the impact.”

In response to The Guardian enquiry on the matter, the Chief Corporate Services Officer, MTN Nigeria, Tobechukwu Okigbo, said: “We are working with security agencies on ground to ascertain the true situation of things, and determine how to respond.“Our primary focus at this time is the safety and security of our staff and securing the delivery of uninterrupted services to our customers.”

While it is expedient for the Federal Government through the country’s security agencies to act fast on the various activities of the Boko Haram sect, fibre cuts, theft, and over regulation remained some of the threats the sector faces.About 24 months back, The Guardian had reported the sudden rise in fibre cuts and thefts of generating sets at telecoms sites across the country.

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It was gathered that fibre cut menace increased by 60 per cent in 2016. Besides, about 10,000 generating sets were said to have been lost to miscreants in the year. In 2015, report had it that the industry recorded about 1,200 fibre cuts.While the industry still grapples with shortage of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), which is currently put at about 31, 000 and spread across the country, The Guardian gathered through ALTON that these sites are powered with about 50,000 generating sets.

The Guardian gathered that a direct operator, like MTN, Globacom and others, use a 15-20KVA generating set, while those on co-location run a 27KVA set, which are changed sometimes every two years depending on wear and tear forces.

Commenting on the Monday development, a telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, who described the development as an affront on the country’s development, said the proliferation of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), also known as base stations, telecom masts or cell towers, is one of the visible features of the rapid growth of the sector.

These base stations facilitate effective wireless communication between user apparatuses, for instance, mobile phones and networks.Aluko said the traditional threats to the integrity of telecom facilities such as base stations, generators, and fiber cables have been vandalism, with the intent of stealing valuable parts, accidental damage due to road construction and maintenance work, and natural disasters such as flooding.

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However, targeted attacks on this critical infrastructure by members of Boko Haram are now a major threat to the operation of the sector.According to him, attacks on telecom infrastructure obviously leads to network outages and poor services delivery, which manifest in the form of increased dropped call rates, poor connections and lack of voice clarity, now, especially in the affected area, and other adjoining cities.

He explained that apart from voice calls, data services are also impaired such that the use of modems to browse the Internet will not be effective. This disruptive effect cascades through the entire national system (such as banking services) that rely on voice calls and data services provided by the telecom sector.

Sadly, he said affected operator would be made to bear another cost, “as network operators will spend money initially earmarked for network expansion and optimising existing infrastructure on replacing the damaged facilities.”He beckoned on the Federal Government to try as much as possible to protect lives and properties in the country.

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