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Bridge Infrastructure Gap And Enhance Service Quality Across Networks

Few weeks ago, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), released guidelines on national roaming, collocation and infrastructure sharing, aimed at developing a regulatory framework for the implementation of national roaming services in Nigeria.

The primary objective of the guidelines is also to establish a framework within which access providers and access seekers can negotiate collocation and infrastructure sharing arrangements.

Before the guidelines were released earlier this month, telecoms operators were involved in building their individual telecoms infrastructure, instead of allowing telecoms infrastructure providers to develop such them across the country that will enable them collocate their services and focus on their core service provision.

The release of the guidelines was expected to open vistas of opportunities for both telecoms subscribers and operators alike, when fully implemented. While telecoms subscribers will be able to receive quality service from other networks when roaming, the operators will be able to offer quality service in areas where they do not have sufficient network capacities, since operators with sufficient network capacities in a particular location, can transmit voice and data signals from other networks and deliver same to subscribers of other networks, who are the call recipients.

With the release of the guidelines on national roaming and collocation, operators will be able to outsource network infrastructure rollout and concentrate more on core service delivery, thereby enhancing service quality, while infrastructure providers will focus on infrastructure rollout, thus bridging telecoms infrastructure gap in the country.

National Roaming

Roaming enables a mobile subscriber to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services when travelling outside the geographical coverage area of their home network, by means of using a visited network.

The national roaming guidelines, as released by the NCC, shall apply only to holders of licences validly issued by the commission, containing a condition that makes the holder eligible to enter into a national roaming service agreement. According to NCC, the national roaming services shall be provided within the geographical boundaries of Nigeria, and the guidelines are to be read in conjunction with the Act, the Collocation Guidelines, Interconnection Regulations, Quality of Service Regulations, Competition Practices Regulations, other subsidiary legislations that may be issued by the Commission from time to time.

NCC emphasised that duly authorised service providers shall request and negotiate national roaming agreements with each other on bi-lateral and non-discriminatory terms. A roaming seeker requesting for national roaming services shall forward a duly completed roaming request Form A contained in the guidelines to the roaming provider, and a roaming provider shall notify the roaming seeker of its approval or rejection of the roaming request in line with the procedure. Where the roaming seeker receives no response from the roaming provider within 15 days of its request, the roaming seeker shall immediately notify the commission in writing, and the commission shall take necessary steps to ensure the roaming provider responds to the roaming request.

The roaming provider shall within 15 days of receipt of the roaming request, notify the roaming seeker of its acceptance by completing the relevant section of the response to roaming request Form B contained in the guiidelines.

Parties shall thereafter enter into a non-disclosure agreement and commence negotiations of the terms of the national roaming agreement.

Parties shall also conclude negotiations on the terms of the national roaming agreement and execute same within 60 days from receipt of the roaming request.

The guidelines further said that parties shall ensure that the national roaming agreement is submitted to the commission for review and approval, prior to registration, within 14 days of execution by parties. It also stated that if within 15 days from the date of submission the Commission does not act on the national roaming agreement, such shall be deemed approved and registered.

NCC said it reserves the right to request for additional information or amendment of relevant parts of the national roaming agreement in order to comply with the provisions of the Act, the guidelines, and any other relevant subsidiary legislation or regulatory instrument.

NCC, however, warned that all negotiations for roaming must be done in utmost good faith, such that neither party shall obstruct or delay negotiations; refuse to provide information relevant to an agreement including information necessary for the required cluster; refuse to designate proper representative to expedite negotiation, and that national roaming services shall commence within 90 days from receipt of the roaming request.

Collocation and infrastructure sharing

In technical parlance, collocation is the process of sharing the same telecoms infrastructure by different telecoms operators in order to serve different telecoms subscribers within a given location. It is a wireless telecoms facility owned and operated by a service provider that is located on the same tower, building, accessory structure, or property, which accommodates several telecoms facilities that are operated by different communication service providers.

NCC described collocation is an element of the interconnection of networks hence it is essential that operators agree on terms of its implementation towards ensuring seamless interconnectivity. Collocation shall constitute part of the negotiations for interconnection and be governed by provisions of the Telecommunications Network Interconnection Regulations. NCC further said every incumbent operator, especially dominant operators as may be determined by the Commission should include in their Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) an offer for the facilities available for collocation, including a price list for the different components of collocation.

An operator desirous of interconnecting with another operator is at liberty to choose the type of collocation suitable for its operation, the NCC guidelines further specified.

The released guidelines on collocation, gave all access providers and access seekers, the liberty to negotiate collocation and infrastructure sharing arrangements in accordance with mutually agreed terms. The guidelines explain the commission’s role in achieving the most efficient use of facilities amenable to sharing.

According to NCC, the guidelines would ensure that the incidence of unnecessary duplication of infrastructure is minimised or completely avoided.

It will protect the environment by reducing the proliferation of infrastructure and facilities installations; promote fair competition through equal access being granted to the installations and facilities of operators on mutually agreed terms; ensure that the economic advantages derivable from the sharing of facilities are harnessed for the overall benefit of all telecommunications stakeholders; minimise capital expenditure on supporting infrastructures and to free more funds for investment in core network equipment. It will also encourage access providers and access seekers to pursue a cost-oriented policy with the added effect of a reduction in the tariffs chargeable to consumers.

The guideline stipulates that the commission shall encourage and promote the sharing of infrastructures under two categories, the passive and active infrastructure sharing. The passive infrastructure sharing include Rights of Way (RoW), masts, poles, antenna mast and tower structures, ducts, trenches, space in buildings, electric power, which include public or private source, and dark fibre. The active infrastructure sharing include: complete network structures, switching centers, frequencies, radio network controllers, and base stations. The guidelines, however, stated that where the sharing of an infrastructure such as RoW and electric power is precedent upon securing the necessary approval of a granting authority, such approval should be obtained before the sharing arrangement can be finalised.


According to GSMA, the body representing the interest of global telecoms operators, national roaming would allow SIM cards holders who are telecoms subscribers to use more operators in a country.

“This can be a big advantage to be certain of good coverage in a country. If your device is at a location with poor reception, it can switch to the best network. In case of a network outage, it switches to another network for continued service. Or if you use 2G hardware and your operator discontinues the 2G service, you can avoid problems. By having more networks available you can switch operator without any hassle,” GSMA said in a recent statement.
The GSMA statement also highlighted the benefits for telecoms operators, explaining that for all data services and voice calls, the visited network captures the details of every session in a Call Detail Record (CDR).

“These record information on the location, sending party, receiving party, time of connection, session duration and size, measured in KB or MB. The visited network operator then uses these details to calculate the wholesale roaming charge payable by your home network. The data records, including the applicable wholesale charges, will be saved in a Transferred Account Procedure (TAP) file. TAP files are sent from the visited network to your home network, typically by using the services of a data clearing house. A data clearing house acts as a ‘hub’ for the distribution of TAP files and provides the home network with services such as reporting to assist the home network in running its roaming business. Your home network then pays the visited network the appropriate wholesale charges, the statement further said.
Telecoms subscribers who also spoke on the benefits of collocation, said telecoms operators were still running parallel infrastructures within the same location despite the well documented benefits of outsourcing or collocation of infrastructure.

They were of the view that the practice of building individual telecoms infrastructure by telecoms operators, had resulted in the proliferation of masts and towers across the country, some of which, they said, were already posing threats to aviation safety.

According to NCC, with the ever decreasing average revenue per user (ARPU), operators have started to complain of high operating costs.

It has also been found that management of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) such as masts and towers by operators with the attendant challenges of theft, vandalism of equipment is diversionary to operators’ effort in delivering quality of service.

For instance, GSM operators spend as much as $5,000 on the average monthly to run a base station. This expenditure include, servicing of generators, fueling, and security among others. If operators outsource or rent base station it will take off them, the problem of vandalism.

Just like in other industries, the operations of telecommunications service providers could as well be outsourced.

Outsourcing the management of telecoms infrastructure to experts that will solely focus on collocation and managing of BTS, will eventually reduce overhead cost.

Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators can outsource a lot of their operations such as customer care, data hosting, base station management, sales outlets among others, in a bid to achieve collocation, as stipulated in the recent guidelines released by the NCC.

Conditions for infrastructure sharing

Giving the importance of infrastructure sharing, NCC, stipulated some guidelines that telecoms operators must adhere to during infrastructure sharing.

According NCC, an access provider shall make available, capacity to other operators on a “first-come, first served” basis, determined in accordance with the order in which the operator owning or having control over a facility, receives requests for infrastructure sharing.

“Every access provider shall reserve the right to refuse an application for infrastructure sharing on grounds of; Insufficient capacity, safety, reliability, incompatibility of facilities, general engineering considerations, and subsisting indebtedness of access seeker to access provider on similar infrastructure sharing arrangements, provided the ground for refusal shall not apply to Collocation in respect of interconnection.”
NCC further said the decision to refuse an application for infrastructure sharing shall be communicated in writing to the access seeker, specifying the reasons for such refusal.

“ Every infrastructure sharing agreement, including any prior existing agreement, shall be in writing and shall specify the contractual terms and conditions agreed on by the parties. All such agreements shall be registered with the Commission”, the guidelines further stated.

It said as a precondition for registration, every infrastructure sharing agreement shall be submitted to the commission for review and approval, and that the commission shall in reviewing infrastructure sharing agreements, ensure that the terms on which infrastructure sharing is offered are in compliance with the principles of neutrality, transparency, non-discrimination and fair competition.

Source: Thisday


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