• Monday, May 20, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Juwah: Fighting battles on behalf of mobile telephone subscribers

businessday-icon

Eugene Ikemefuna Juwah is in ‘battle’ mood. The mood only abates towards the close of this encounter when I ask how he unwinds at the end of his expectedly busy daily schedules. That’s when his animated perspectives on mobile telephony are matched by the way he expresses his passion for television documentaries. But more on this later.

“Telecoms companies are now on their toes,” he says of the revolutionary effects of the recent decision by the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), of which he is executive vice-chairman, to implement the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) initiative. “Competition has broken their move towards oligopoly.” I spoke to him just a few days after the MNP launch.

Juwah insists the battle he is fighting is on behalf of millions of Nigerians who, since the global system of mobile (GSM) telephony erupted here a little more than a decade ago, have felt the preferred service provider as a millstone around the neck. People who felt they were not getting satisfactory service from one provider simply procured another SIM card, resulting in people buying several handsets. Manufacturers of mobile phones came up with sets that had facilities for dual SIMs in order to satisfy the demands of subscribers who would rather carry two SIM cards than lose their original numbers.

Now, all you need do when faced with unsatisfactory service is, holding on to the same number, opt for another service provider. “If you move, you’ll keep your number,” Juwah explains.

According to him, NCC has done this to give consumers wider service choices, to ensure better quality services, fair pricing and competition, and in line with the provisions of section 128 of the Nigerian Communication Act (NCA) 2003, which vests the NCC with the exclusive right to regulate numbers and mobile number portability (MNP) in Nigeria.

The initiative came into effect last week, following the approval of the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) framework and the development of the regulatory, legal and technical structure for its implementation. And two days later, Juwah was already bristling with pleasure that between 4,000 and 5,000 requests for porting had been made by individual subscribers.

With Singapore as one of the first countries to implement the initiatives, Ghana and Kenya have also started MNP. Although the issue of mobile number portability was always on the cards of the organisation, Juwah gave it a big push when he assumed the NCC headship in August 2010. He set up a committee to, among other things, develop the specifications for the technology required and guide the selection of a suitable vendor to run the initiative. The initial call for bids attracted huge response, with companies from many industrial countries showing interest. Out of the initial eight that were shortlisted, two were finally invited to make live demos of their capabilities. In the end, Internet Clearing House, in partnership with a consortium comprising Interconnect/Saab Grintek/Telecordia, won the bid.

Juwah and his NCC team are not done yet with those who are bent on frustrating subscribers’ access to uninterrupted telecom services. They are now turning to those vandals who wreck telecommunication facilities either in the course of committing a common crime or under the guise of insurrection. To address this, a bill seeking a law to declare telecoms equipment as critical national assets is before the National Assembly. It will prescribe very severe penalties for persons who vandalise installed equipment.

To further Nigerianise the industry and ensure that the society continues to benefit from the latest innovations in telecommunications, NCC, through its New Media and Information Security department, is interfacing with Nigerian universities and other research institutions to initiate research into key areas in support of the fast-growing telecom industry.

He came to the NCC job ready-made, with tonnes of experience. He had been a network operations director with practical knowledge of pricing, billing, interconnection, licensing and regulatory affairs; he also has hands-on knowledge in network fraud control within the telecoms market.

Juwah, who holds a PhD in Systems Engineering (1981) from The University of Manchester, Manchester England, has over 30 years experience in information technology and telecommunication. More than 20 years of this experience has been on directorial level at the major players in Nigeria’s telecoms industry. He is knowledgeable in digital exchanges, base station, data communication and subscriber access networks construction and operations, having played coordinating roles in the setup of an ETACS, GSM and CDMA mobile networks in Nigeria.

He formerly headed Cititel Networks Communications Ltd, a telecoms services provider company he founded, that specialised on wireless infrastructure services provision, and was executive director (Network and Operations), MTS First Wireless Ltd (MTS), the pioneer private cellular mobile network operator in Nigeria which was among the first operational mobile networks in the country.

A member of Ikoyi Club 1938, he hardly finds the time for his favourite game of tennis these days, restricting his physical fitness routines to his exercise machines at home. When time permits, he enjoys watching the BBC Knowledge Channel. One of his favourite documentaries is the series that details how, indeed, life started from Africa.

If some of the criteria for serving one’s country include a combination of competence and courage, the soft-spoken Juwah has it all. And in his own genial and unobtrusive style, he is leading Nigeria’s telecom industry in the direction of sustainable growth, healthy competition and value for the hard-earned naira.

 

ABUJA DIARY

Tommy ODEMWINGIE

[email protected]/en

+2348033068074