Nigeria may become dumping ground for disused IT products – Wilsher, Etisalat boss

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Matthew Wilsher has disclosed that the continuous investment of Etisalat in 2G network against other evolving technologies, was informed by the fact that majority of Nigeri­ans still use 2G featured phones.

Many Nigerians, he attested, have not mi­grated to using smartphones and as such their interest also need to be protected.

Wilsher, who spoke extensively in Lagos, while unfolding the company’s score card hinted that Nigeria may become a dump­ing ground if the digital migration is not latched on by June 2015.

The Etisalat boss also boasted that the company is increasing its mar­ket share through continuous infrastructural investment.


Market expansion

We now have 20 percent more customers against the 15.3 percent we had last year (2013), which is a very good growth. We now have 19. 5 mil­lion from 15.3 million customers, which is a very good growth. The market is expanding really fast, and our proportion of the market is also growing at a steady pace. In the last six years, we have re­ally established ourself and we are very encouraged by the growth that we are seeing. This is because ours is a company built on great customer experience and satisfac­tion. It is very important that we continue to do so as this has endeared the increasing number of customers passionately to our network. We are not standing still but investing hugely in growth capacity, so that we can remain leader in their minds and maintain that experience. Luckily for us, the industry regulator, NCC has recognised the clarity and quality of our service.

QoS delivery

When we meet our custom­ers, they have never told us or use the word bad. I am not saying that we are perfect but we ensure that we deliver a robust service experience. Key Perfor­mance Indicator (KPI) is very important to us. We have made it quite clear from the begin­ning that we want to occupy two spaces: one is to be the best qual­ity network and the second space is to have a superior broadband experience. It is very easy to say as a mobile operator that you have the best quality network but what does this mean or impact on customers? What we want is for customers to have clear speech quality during calls. The call should end when the customer want it. There should no abnormal termination and the experience should not be frustrating. We have continuously invested in the network in order to ensure that it copes with additional customers as well as the existing ones.

Aside sizing the network prop­erly, we are aware of issues like power and other damaging ones and its very important for us to keep the network up as much as possible. Occasionally, things will go wrong but our strength is in the speed that we respond to. Things like this come up, when you look at our statistics in comparison to other operators. We are probably the only operator, who achieved in excess of 99.9 percent site uptime. We know this, because we collocate with other operators and the equipment that are hoisted by other operators, we know how they perform, compared with the ones we manage with some of our partners. It is quite a challeng­ing task in a difficult operating environment to be able to achieve what we have done. That doesn’t mean that, we will rest our oars, this is not the drive but the need to improve further on additional investments in the network. To continue to build on what we have achieved so far and increase users satisfaction, so that they can get value for their money.


In 2009, the entire capacity for international connection was equivalent to about 200mb. Today, the entire capacity that we have, which is still growing is about 10 gbytes per second that is a phenomenon amount of investment in long distance submarine cable between Ni­geria and the rest of the world.

This has been brought about by companies like MainOne deploying fibre. That capacity is important because the bulk of internet content that people access is hoisted outside Nigeria, so that is one aspect, aside linking the networks to other network ,how do we get customers connected from their mobile phone, tablets or dongles to a massive capacity that we have deployed. Again, we are the first in Nigeria to launch HSPH plus at a time it was the latest evolution of 3G technology, with the capability to support up to 42 mb per second. When we launched HSPH plus, the amount of capacity we put between the base stations and the rest of the network was permanent. A lot of people thought that it was too much. We knew what our plan was, it was to offer a superior user experience. We tried to achieve a scenario where one wants to ac­cess a movie, and play it without any buffering. That was our bench mark at that time.


There is a lot of investment that has gone into trying to build up on that quality and to guarantee the user’s experience for data. However, the money by itself is not enough and we have shareholders, who expect us to spend and manage the money in a sensible and intelligent manner. So, there is the people aspect, this implies developing the engineers that we have, so that they can extract data from the network that shows what the network is doing and how our customers are using the network across the whole country.

This has to be across all the country. So by extracting that data and conducting very detailed analysis, where do we see the traffic growing, slowing down and where do we see the performances going down or below what it should be? What additional investment that we need to take or is required? There is a team monitoring all these and Etisalat invests heavily to build the team. Both locally and internationally, they attend very sophisticated complex training courses. The attendance of those courses also give them exposure to fellow engineers from other operators, some in well developed and less developed markets. They also establish contacts, free flow and exchange of ideas because as engineers, they need to improve. That investment on people is a very key aspect of our operation. Looking at the combination of all of these, this year, on our exist­ing network, from existing base stations both 2G and 3G, plus new base stations, the scope of in­vestments affect over 2,100 base stations. In addition to expanding and deploying base stations, the traffic from the base stations, has to be carried from where ever it is originating to where it will be terminated.

Metro fibre

In a number of states, we have built extensive metro fibre networks and by building them, Etisalat has been able to connect some of its BTS directly to fibre to give a superior experience. But it is not enough ,to just build the metro fibre networks, because we have to build a national fibre backbone for the long haul traffic across the country. We have in­vested very heavily in this aspect.

Significant investment

Our combined investment for 2014 is in excess of $300 million. That investment has continued to help us to achieve our slated goals to offer best qual­ity on voice and data. We are the best quality network in the coun­try as adjudged by the NCC. It’s

clearly there on its website. NCC ask for data information from us at short notices and unannounced, even when we are not prepared. Consistently, we have performed by a significant margin more than all the other operators in terms of quality.


One of our competitors succeeded in South Africa with Long Term Evolution (LTE) on pre paid mobile. LTE or 4G (generation) is a very important development to the mobile in­dustry and not just to the industry alone but to the users as well. If you look at the statistics from the Statistician General of the Federa­tion, in 1990, telecoms accounted for zero percent of GDP while GDP was about $160bn. Last year, rebasing it accounted for 8. 5 percent of GDP, from $520bn. There were lots of recognition given to the telecoms industry for the impact it has on GDP. Improvement of technology has a direct impact on GDP. It also has a way of improving and enhanc­ing the well being of a country. 4G is very critical to us and the country.

From operators perspective, we are developing our people on 4G technology via formal and informal training in conjunction with leading vendors, who supply us today. We have designs in conducting 4G trials in location to be confirmed right now, but the biggest hurdle , we have to over­come ,which cannot be overcome by ourselves is spectrum.


There are two activities which the regulator is working on, one is the first and second digital dividend band in the 800 and 700Mhz band. Today, the 800 and 850 Mhz band is quite fragmented amongst mul­tiple players and is not distributed in a uniform manner. Somebody, may have a portion in Lagos, but a different entity in the South West and North. There is some action that is on going and we recognise that the regulator is working very hard on this.

There are some action to clean up while there is the need to re-harmonise other spectrum that have been re-allocated for a more sustainable development of the telecoms industry.

The second aspect is the digital dividend, which is the 700Mhz band ,currently occupied by the broadcast stations. Globally, the telecoms and broadcast industry have agreed that the switch over to digital will be concluded by June 2015. It is very important that Nigeria also comply with that time line. There are two reasons, one is that , so that we can con­tinue to be competitive in the tele­coms space and the second reason is that if Nigeria doesn’t comply between that time frame, Nigeria will become a dumping ground for obsolete televisions because it will still be the only place that is still analogue. We should not be left behind. I understand that the CBN has some criteria to have disaster recovery sites, same for the insurance companies.


We are seeing more online trading, transactions and shopping. Most Airline tickets can be booked online with Nige­ria’s credit cards.All these data will be carried on 3G or 4G going forward. All those transactions are usually time bound,which means a fast response time.

Long term loan

The loan we took was a long term loan and there was no need to pay back this year. In terms of profitability, we are not profitable but we are improving from two percent to 15 percent. There is still a long way to go, until our final net profit is positive. We are leading in the right way, because we are growing in size and controlling our cost to enhance productivity. It’s important to continue with some of the industry’s policy that NCC has started, which to a large extent is smart and sensible. The policy of dominance, which is not healthy for the country for a particular operator to hold the ace and it is important that such operator, do not abuse it, the focus on QoS and customer experience is vital and we know that we are going to keep improving.

Performance in rural areas

In terms of rural areas, we have a number of initiatives, some of them have been implemented in the country like the South South East. We have done a lot of work in that area to really deepen our operations.


There is a distinction be­tween number of sites and number of base stations. In terms of number of base stations, I will say it is in the range of 7,000 for 2G and 3G. We are just over 4,500 in the number of sites. A lot of our sites have the combina­tion of 2G and 3G. Before the end of this year, we should be cross­ing the 5,000 site mark.

As you know , we collocate with different people and we have sold our sites to IHS, so this will now become collocated sites.

Road coverage

We are sorry about such experience. We have also passed through Sagamu, Ore, Be­nin express way, while going to meet with customers and do test drive, which in essence is look at the data, how it is performing and make comparison with statistics.

Reasons for 2G investment

On 2G investment, spectrum that is one, if we have a spectrum for 4G. We would have done that by now. But until spectrum is available for 4G, then there is nothing that we can do. However,lots of people still have 2G enabled featured handsets, so we need to take it easy with them before we try to increase or ask them to migrate to smart­phones. Only a few out of 130m active phone users have 3G enabled handsets, and that is still an issue.


More than 4.3million Nigerians ported to our network shortly after the flag off of the Mobile Number Portability, MNP, scheme that was flagged off by the telecommunications umpire NCC.

We have over 50 percent of the total number of customers that have taken advantage of the MNP to port to our network, while only nine percent of the total number opted out of the network for reasons best known to them. The dearth of awareness and educa­tion about MNP have prevented subscribers who are obviously dissatisfied with the quality of services they get from providers from opting out as they still feel they may lose their numbers.

The 4.3 million who ported helped to boost our subscriber’s base from 15.3million to the current figure of 19.5 million subscribers. Going down memory lane, Etisalat Nigeria started op­erations five and half years ago after three other operators have taken a larger percentage of the market share and they enjoyed incentives such as zero duty on importation of equipment into the country and tax holidays, but we did not.

When we began operations in the country after other opera­tors had commenced, there were doubts as to whether there was need for a fourth global service for mobile (GSM) communica­tion provider. However, our in­novative products helped changed the industry’s landscape.

When the NCC imposed fines on the three other GSM operators and barred them from adding new subscribers, Etisalat was spared because it met the regulator’s Key Performance Indicators, KPIs.

NCC has consistently com­mended us for meeting key per­formance indicators (KPIs). will not rest on our oars because we will continue to invest on latest technology to improve on service quality.


Etisalat has been working with famous Chinese tele­coms equipment vendors such as Huawei, ZTE and others to ensure that customers keep getting value for their money. Our intending 2,800 kilometer (Km) optic fibre cable (OFC) that is currently being laid will soon be com­pleted. The level of the deficit in infrastructure in the country and particularly, the telecoms sector could only be bridged through constant investment.


In life, every journey em­barked upon always start with a small step, as such Etisalat has braced up to reach every nook and cranny of the country with an improved network.


Power continues to be a very big issue for all the operators. Irrespective of that, we continue to work very hard to making sure that we can deal and respond with power related problems. We have, as an organ­isation, done some trials in some areas with solar and we see that solar can help to reduce genera­tors fumes, diesel consumption and we have less outage. We’re committed to investing in alterna­tive power investment such as solar to help us realise some of those goals in terms of reducing the maintenance cost and up time of the sites.

The biggest issue we face is that of vandalism of communica­tion facilities. Some people feel that they are entitled to take the generator or diesel off the site for their personal use. However, lots of investments have gone in securing the sites but these issues still happen and in previous work­shop we had, it was something we raised. The local community need to have a sense of owner­ship of telecoms infrastructure because it enhances their lives and businesses. We hope that local communities, will somehow take steps to stop these nuisance.

Personal style

I believe in telecommunica­tions that you win with the best team because there so many elements and field of experience of what we do. We must have the right expertise to put a good team together and what I think that we have done well last year, is that we have a common understand­ing of what we tried to do and a passion about doing it.

Of course, the CEO plays a significant role in business coach­ing. Business coaching also work in two ways: learning from junior employees about applications and the CEO impacting his expertise. That is what makes a good team. The coach, just as the winning team in the last world cup, makes things happen.


Source : SunOnline

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