According to the 2016-2017 global competitiveness index (GCI) report released by the world economic forum (WEF), Nigeria was ranked 127 of 134 countries, three positions down the country’s 124th position in the previous 2015-2016 report. One of the reasons for this poor position as pointed out by experts is the poor state of telecommunications infrastructure in the country.
In November 2016, Prof. Umar Danbatta, the executive chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) stated that provision has been made in the 2017 budget to cover the extension of telecommunications services to 40 million Nigerians in 2017. He said that results of a survey taken by the commission showed that 200 communities in Nigeria still do not have access to telecommunications services. In a recent publication released by the commission in January 2017 to newsmen, Danbatta reiterated that with the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) being managed by a department under NCC, the commission would ensure that the 40 million Nigerians in these 200 underserved communities would be covered in 2017.
This proposed extension may not be possible as telecommunications companies have slowed down the expansion of network coverage and capacity. Reports show that only a few base transceiver stations (BTS), also known as cell towers have been built in the past year. According to a tower operator, the demand for additional towers by GSM operators to extend services to new areas has been very low and only a few internet providers offering 4G LTE services have requested for towers in commercially viable areas. In response to this, David Venn, the chief executive officer of Spectranet said
Operators need equipment to build towers. In the last one year it has been difficult for us to access dollar to import equipment for network expansion as well as adding capacity, the ones we are doing is from the equipment we imported before the new policy on FX, for big operators it has been very difficult for them to import equipment which has affected their efforts in adding capacity
According to communications experts, Nigeria needs 60,000 BTS for telecommunication services to be available in all parts of the country. Geographically, Nigeria has a total land mass area of 923,768 square kilometers and at least one BTS is expected to be available within a 5km radius for an effective and improved quality of telecommunications services. Judging by these numbers, Nigeria needs 11,760 BTS, if one is to be placed within the supposed radius. One BTS can only handle a particular amount of calls so more than one may be required in a 5km radius depending on the area. As of 2016, Nigeria had a total of 25, 396 cell towers and judging by the reports of lower demand for towers within the year, this number has not changed much.
If the dream of the proposed extension would be realized in 2017, the NCC has to find a way around the foreign exchange policy to enable tower operators import equipment to be used to build BTS. Although this challenge should have brought about the necessity of building Nigeria-made equipment that can be used, it doesn’t seem likely.