By Omobayo Azeez
- Money needed to build 41,000 more base transceiver stations
- 3,000 of existing 39,000 cry for attention
- Operators react to 693 moribund masts marked for demolition
Nigeria is in dire need of N2.391 trillion to deploy more base transceiver stations (BTSs) if the current issues of access and connectivity gap must be addressed in the country, Business A.M exclusive findings have shown.
It has been established years ago that, for pervasive access and adequate connectivity, the vast Nigerian land and its booming populations must be served by at least 80,000 BTS transceiver stations.
Despite playing host to over $70 billion investment, latest disclosure by the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Umaru Danbatta, put the total number of base stations so far deployed in the country at 39,000.
This leaves the country’s telecoms sector in dare need of additional 41,000 BTSs for its dream of bridging connectivity and access gaps to come to fruition.
Further findings form industry experts revealed that on the average, to build BTS that will provide fourth generation long term evolution (4G LTE) in new build Greenfield site can cost USD$190,000 before it is fully commissioned and ready for service or go online.
Although, experts noted that a BTS imported into the country can cost in the region of USD$75,000 for a basic configuration and when the cost of erecting a tower to house the antennas and other items is included, the total cost can be USD$175,000.
Using a typical 4G transceiver station which cost $190,000 or N58.311 million against the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN’s) conservative exchange rate of N306.9 to a dollar, amount required to provide the missing 41,000 BTSs in Nigeria stands at N2.39 trillion.
The NCC last week restated to the National Assembly its commitment to increase the infrastructure from the current 39,000 to the needed 80,000 BTSs in order to bridge access gap and substantially address connectivity issues in the country.
According to the operators under the aegis of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), this number of towers can be met if the FGN can ensure that critical national infrastructure (CNI) is designated to cover ICT infrastructure in general and telecoms specifically.
Olusola Teniola . ATCON president, told our correspondent that “towers and the BTSs that they house along with the antennas, batteries, inverters, optic fiber, solar panels and/or generators will need to be protected from destruction and theft for further investments to be made by our members.”
In addition to this, operators charge the government to ensure the timely clearing of telecoms equipment imported into the country.
They urged the government to ensure that the foreign exchange (FOREX) required to import the equipment is readily made available to telecoms operators that all necessary permits are rendered to ensure quick passage through customs.
“Unless there is a conducive environment that allows for the security and safety of BTSs and other related items, it is very difficult to see how our members will be encouraged to invest in deploying more additional 40,000 BTSs required to fill the gap,” operators insist.
On the maintenance of the BTSs currently serving about 179 million active telephone subscribers and 123 million internet users in Nigeria, Teniola said the number of BTSs currently housed on tower infrastructure of circa 35,100, which give a ratio of 1.12 BTSs to every tower.
In reality, he said, there are a significant number of towers that are not housing any BTSs.
“With approximately all BTSs inactive and not decommissioned then, the number of towers in need of engineering attention is in the order of 2,500-3,000 towers which represents just under 8 per cent in the industry,” he said.
There seems to be no other way to quickly connect the population and regions that are at the receiving end of digital divide in the country.
According to experts, until the country can have a well developed fix-line network in place which includes both inter and intra-city backbone, and metro fiber alongside fiber-to-the-home/building, the main means of providing internet services remains via wireless technology.
According to them, this will continue to depend on tower installations across the country to facilitate the housing of BTSs and antennas to reach the 80,000 target because of a prevailing lack of high rise buildings Nigeria.
Operators counsel NCC on 693 towers marked for demolition
Meanwhile, the telecoms operators have counseled their regulator, the NCC, about a recent decision of the latter to demolish at least 693 mast towers that it wish to decommission.
The NCC had in a public announcement on its official websites notified that several telecommunication masts and towers have been abandoned in various parts of the country.
It says, “Failure to maintain these structures over long periods of time has resulted in their technical failure and constant vandalisation with negative consequences on public health and safety.
“In certain locations, it was observed that criminals took advantage of these abandoned structures to host illegal broadcast equipment for relaying subversive messages against the State.”
The Commission said it had that issued Guidelines on Technical Specifications for the Installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers in 2009 to provide for various issues including the appropriate maintenance of telecommunications masts and towers.
In line with the provision of the Guidelines, the NCC directed owners of the abandoned masts and towers to rehabilitate, commence usage or dismantle and remove the masts within 90 days of the publication of the notice.
Reacting to this, operators said it was not clear whether NCC has concluded this exercise as they have not publicly shared their intentions and status with all stakeholders.
“We highly recommend that NCC adopts these towers, using the funds under the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) to restore and secure these sites.
“The NCC should then carry out an asset disposal so that active operators in the industry have an opportunity to expand and extend their network using these facilities where viably warranted,” ATCON counseled.