The COVID-19 lockdown is making telecoms operators laugh all the way to the bank as consumers including religious organisations increase their use of services.
An investigation by The Guardian showed that the Federal Government’s declaration of a sit-at-home order resulted in increase in traffic for both data and voice services. This means service providers, especially Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), are set for a boom in revenue.
Specifically, through the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN), the country’s Internet gateway, The Guardian learnt that Internet services through the telecoms operators have seen a 15 per cent spike in traffic in the last four weeks.
But while the operators boasted of increased capacity to manage the traffic, a larger percentage of the country’s 186 million subscribers to telephony services have decried persistent drop calls and snail-speed data services.
Nigeria’s Internet speed, according to Speedtest Global Index, has been low and slow in the last six weeks. Against the global download speed of 30.47mbps, Nigeria recorded 15.53mbps. Also, while the world’s upload speed is 10.73mbps, Nigeria had 7.25mbps.
A subscriber to the four operators in the country, Teslim Alimi, buttressed these claims. He complained that the services have really been very bad lately. “At times, especially between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., you can’t just explain it…from drop calls to calls not getting connected. The worst, at times, is depletion of data. I remember buying Airtel’s 3GB, which is N2000 for 30 days but the data finished within a week! I just can’t fathom it.”
Another subscriber, Ngozi Opara, queried why her N1000 1.5GB data from MTN disappeared within three days. “This was supposed to be a 24/7, 30 days offering. I think this COVID-19 period has deepened the fraud perpetrated by operators. Something should be done very fast about this by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC),” she said.
The subscribers’ complaints confirmed the details by Speedtest Global Index, which claimed that COVID-19 largely impacted the Internet speed of countries negatively. It revealed that Nigeria’s Internet speed depreciated by minus five per cent (-5%) within this period.
But explaining the spike in Internet traffic, the Chief Executive Officer, IXPN, Muhammed Rudman said operators saw an increase of between 10 and 15 per cent in the last few weeks of the sit-at-home.
According to him, the figures fluctuate, with a larger percentage of the spike seen in urban areas. But to him, “the operators, which have benefited the more, are largely the MNOs, which serve end users directly. These are MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and 9Mobile.”
Rudman said Internet Service Providers (ISPs), especially the Tier 2 operators, which service corporate bodies and enterprises had not seen any rise in Internet traffic “because companies are not currently operating.Their customers are not at work because of the lockdown.
“Some ISPs, like MTN, have direct end user customers.Ofcourse, they have enterprises they service as well, but they concentrate more on the end users. Others like Spectranet, Internet Solutions, which deal with corporate bodies, are the ones experiencing lull in traffic. For some of them, traffic has dropped. But for those dealing with end users, the traffic has been rising. The 15 per cent is the aggregate increase in traffic monitored by IXPN in the last few weeks.”
He said the spike in traffic would definitely translate to revenue increase for operators because people want to keep their lines of communication active, even if they cannot meet face to face.
While other MNOs shied away from disclosing individual spike in the traffic seen during the last few weeks, 9Mobile was confident. Responding to The Guardian enquiry, Chineze Amanfo, the Lead, Public Relations, 9Mobile, said the telco’s data traffic grew by about 24 per cent within few weeks of the lockdown.
Amanfo said the lockdown influenced the way customers use telecommunications services.Voice traffic dropped as service-related interactions, and the need to make voice calls reduced to the barest.
“However, increased social media interaction, as well as the Work-From-Home (WFH) phenomenon, has spurred data traffic growth across the country. Our data traffic has grown by about 24 per cent,”Amanfo said.
According to her, the firm understands the role high-quality telecommunications services play in the dissemination of information and staying connected, and “we reassure users of our strong commitment to providing fast and reliable services at this time.
“Our recent efforts in expanding our LTE capability across the country will enable us to provide robust broadband services to keep our customers and Nigerians connected with family and friends. Our network is purposely set up with adequate redundancies and buffers to ensure the seamless continuity of services.”
For Ajay Awasthi, Chief Executive Officer, Spectranet, the telco has a fair mix of enterprise, retail 4G LTE and HomeFiber( FTTx) customers. Though there has been a drop in the traffic from enterprise customers, Awasthi said: “We have seen an upsurge in traffic from retail customers. Overall, the data traffic in the network has increased over 30 per cent.
“While this is a happy situation to be in, the sudden increase in traffic poses a challenge in terms of keeping up with the quality of service. In order to ensure that our customers’ experience is not compromised, Spectranet has acted fast and invested significantly to enhance capacities on the access and backhaul network.”
IXPN boss, Muhammed Rudman, had further said he hoped the traffic would rise as more and more people sustained the momentum. He said this was because more people were now seeing opportunities online, working remotely from home, and getting more entertainment at the same time.
According to him, the surge at 15 per cent is still a bit manageable for the ISPs. “However, with trends projected to rise, most ISPs are putting in place facilities to be able to manage all unanticipated surge of traffic. For example, at the exchange point, we have the entire capacity to accommodate all members even if they want to double their capacity 100 per cent. We have the capability to handle the traffic. I believe ISPs are working on that, too,” Rudman added.
The president, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), OlusolaTeniola, said the increased traffic referred to by IXPN was mostly based on new connections and increased connection bandwidths requested at the local peering interfaces.
According to him, this demonstrates that the traffic management and Quality of Service (QoS) are focus points in the industry’s ability to improve the amount of data originating from high usage of OTT apps and other collaborative tools and adoption of virtual e-learning systems from homes generating the requests and some uploads of content and mostly downloads from heavy data content providers offering video and/or live streaming services.
He said the spike in traffic contributed to an increase of usage on the YouTube platform where most live church or mosque programmes were hosted for viewing. “However, the spikes would occur in a particular period on a particular day. The spike during those periods causes congestion in the networks towards the edge of the network (wherever this is physically located),” he noted.
He said the change in consumer behaviour and the ability of consumers to continue purchasing data would limit the height of any spike and the duration.
Corroborating Teniola’s claims on spike through religious activities, Chief Executive Officer, Family Booster Ministry, Pastor Bisi Adewale, said telecom and technology had helped so much in reaching his members.
Adewale, who gathers singles and married people together every last Sunday of the month, said because of the government’s stand on COVID-19, there was no assembly, “but (we) still meet almost everyday now online through technology.”
He said the situation had turned many people to online ministers. “Pastors, who are not social media compliant suddenly become outdated as they could not reach their members.”
Adewale, who revealed that lots of funds had gone into Internet subscription, disclosed that he made use of platforms like Mixlr.com, Zoom.com, Twitter.com, Facebook.com and Instagram.com.
The Special Adviser to Enugu State Governor on ICT Nnaemeka Ani said the impact of the pandemic had been phenomenal, because it had spurred people to work remotely and move online.
“Working remotely, especially from home, means you cut so many expenses, including fueling, transportation, no eating out, rentals, among others. It is less risky.Looking at Enugu, for example.It might be difficult to project how much government must have saved through remote, virtual operations, but for companies, especially SMEs, I will say about 70 per cent reduction in cost, apart from salary and allowances, which are germane,” Ani said.
On the service challenge, the chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said operators were doing their best at ensuring networks were optimal. He said operators were also deploying more capacity to provide higher headroom to cope with demands.
“By and large and so far so good,we thank the subscribers and we thank government for their continuous support and understanding.We appreciate all subscribers for their patronage and consistency. If there were no subscribers, the telecom sector would not exist. The challenges in the telecom industry are not isolated from the larger industry: the issue of power and security, vandalism, theft, right-of-way hike, over-regulation and multiple taxations.
“The problems we face are like those faced by any other sectors of the economy, and we would continue to assure telecom subscribers that these problems are gradually passing, as we continue to work with all stakeholders for better service quality.
It must be mentioned that we need to work together to protect telecoms infrastructure because that is what other sectors rely on, and by extension the economy as a whole. Telecom is infrastructure of infrastructure,” Adebayo said.
Meanwhile, search giant, Google, is making Google Meet, its premium video-conferencing solution, free for everyone, everywhere. Google explained that starting from early May, anyone with an email address could sign up for Meet and enjoy many of the same features available to G Suite’s business and education users. These include features like scheduling and screen sharing, real-time captions, and layouts that adapt to your preference, including the expanded tiled view.
Vice president of G Suite, Javier Soltero, said: “With the lines blurred between work and home, Google Meet can offer the polish needed for a work meeting, a tiled view for your online birthday party and the security needed for a video call with your doctor.”
According to him, Google has invested years in making Meet a secure and reliable video conferencing solution that’s trusted by schools, governments and enterprises around the world, and in recent months has accelerated the release of top-requested features to make it even more helpful.