There is no doubt that Nigeria has one of the largest Telecom markets in Africa as the sector attracts considerable foreign investment. Over The Top Players, OTTPs, such as WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, Telegram and many others, have significantly affected the average revenue per user of Telecom subscribers and this has adversely affected the overall revenue of the industry. Questions that are begging for answers includes, ‘where does the industry go from here, having invested billions of dollars?’ ‘How does the Television compete with OTT players who have very little investments in overheads?’
I recently had a chat with Jane Egerton-Idehen, Country Manager, Avanti Satellite Communications and our discussion centered on her thoughts on the way forward for the Telecom industry in Nigeria.
Jane, who has been in the Telecom industry for a while now, thinks that the industry is currently at the threshold of an evolution, where it is about to enter into a transformation phase. She observed that the growth of the industry is slowing down globally, with declining revenues, although the customers are becoming more savvy and aware in the face of technology that is daily becoming more sophisticated.
In terms of returns on investment, however, Jane thinks that it is not coming in as it should be. She also observed that, one good thing that is currently happening in the industry, is that, there is ample room for growth. “It is also at a point where we are about to access a new layer of countries on the continent of Africa. Places that we haven’t been before”, she stated. She further observed that, all this while, the Telecom industry had concentrated in the cities, but now, gradually moving into the rural areas.
Jane is of the opinion that investors should be interested in investing in rural telephony because, that is the next phase where the billionaire subscribers will come from. “And that is where technology hasn’t really accessed untapped potentials”, she observed. She, however, stressed that, for efficient return on investment, the infrastructures used in the cities cannot be used in the rural areas because, the cost model for rural areas has to be lower as the expected revenues from there will not be as much as we currently have in the cities. “Yes, the technology in the sense of base stations or switches have to be the same, but how can we make the costs lower? How can we make them cheaper? How can we use lower cost models to access them? So, we really have to rethink all these”‘, she posited.
Government can compel investors to invest in the rural areas, through policies and regulations as well as complement the efforts of the investors, In Jane’s view, even though, they might be reluctant to do so because of the lower returns they are likely to get from there, coupled with the projected higher cost expected to be used in running the facilities in the rural areas.
To Jane, technology is capable of positively affecting the growth of the rural areas as this is where most of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SME’s, are located, so, the government should be interested in this. She emphasised that the government can assist in facilitating the process for the investors in areas, such as site cost, customs clearance, swift right of way approvals, etc. She also suggested the use of Satellite KA band of a low cost model for accessibility in rural areas.
Jane believes that the OTT players are making a huge impact in the Telecom industry, even though, they are eroding the revenue accruing to the Telcos. In her opinion, therefore, players in the Telecom industry should be thinking about what to do about it, instead of whining about it.
In Jane’s view, we should take a look at relaxing some of our policies and regulations to encourage Telcos that have physical infrastructures, pay tax and are helping to reduce the unemployment in Nigeria by employing Nigerians to work in their companies. This is in contrast to OTT players who do not have or do these things in Nigeria but take a chunk of the revenues that would have accrued to the Telcos. “We can demand for things, like they should have physical presence in the country. We can demand that they invest in certain sectors of our industry as a way to give back, for the kind of revenues they are making from our country”, she concluded, in respect of the foreign OTT players.
This article was written by CFA