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Saturday 10th April, 2021

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Smile Completes Latest Upgrade, Strengthens Network Capability For Optimum Service

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A Smile Konnect store.........Photo credit: Brand Spur

Smile Nigeria, a premier 4G LTE Broadband service provider, has just completed the latest upgrade of its Core Network ExpansionEvolved Packet Gateway (CNEEPG) aimed at giving vent to the practice of regular upgrade of its network capability.

DigitalTimesNG understands that this upgrade is significant in its far-reaching modernization of the Smile Network leading to increased capacity which will enable Smile to serve more customers and improve the experience of existing customers’ usage experience.

Akinola Alayoku, Chief Technical Officer of Smile, while throwing more light on the upgrade, stated that the Radio Network Expansion commenced in January 2021 and added that the expansion will greatly improve the internet experience of customers on the Smile network giving them SuperFast internet experience.

Abhulime Ehiagwina, acting Managing Director of Smile Nigeria said, “the upgrade was strategically timed to coincide with the period of high traffic on the network,” disclosing that the CNEEPG aligns with Smile’s global vision and mission to be the mobile broadband provider of choice in its all markets, whilst enabling its customers to do and achieve more.”

He further enthused that having the best network in its class “is something we have a passion for, and we are excited about this latest upgrade as it will enable us to redouble efforts towards providing continued access to SuperFast, SuperReliable and affordable 4G LTE services to all Nigerians.”

Abdul Hafeez, Chief Marketing Officer of Smile, noted that the network upgrade reaffirms “Smile’s commitment to creating opportunities that will enable our customers to enjoy the best broadband internet experience by providing differentiating solutions that will enrich their lives.”

Explaining further, Hafeez said that the upgrade was done “partly with the aim of enhancing the overall quality of service on the Smile network, to extend connectivity and access to the internet to more Nigerians, and to make quality internet access more affordable and empower our customers to do more and succeed in their respective endeavours.”

Delighted by the development, a cross-section of Smile subscribers have confirmed the remarkable improvement that the upgrade has engendered.

John Okosun, a Lagos- based Company Executive, is among the numerous Smile subscribers pleased by the upgrade.

He confirmed being on the Smile Network for about five years and applauded the company for “lots of new ideas and new ways to deliver what customers really need- super-fast internet that you can manage and use to improve your business or your experiences at home.”

Hassan Umaru, an Abuja- based Civil Servant is happy with the “fast pace and reliability of the Smile network.”

To Dagogo Whyte, an entrepreneur in Port Harcourt, Smile’s constant upgrade of this network continues to set it apart from the others. To him, “it is thumbs up for Smile for always thinking right and doing the right thing.”

Acclaimed as the pioneer of 4G LTE technology in West Africa, Smile Nigeria is famous for continuously enhancing services to beat the existing industry benchmark and expand on the existing market offers in a bid to provide real value-adding products and services.

Smile launched the first 4G LTE network in West Africa in Nigeria in 2014, revolutionizing the way people access the internet.

It was the first to launch VoLTE on its network and has continued with its innovation, having introduced SmileVoice, which is a free mobile app that enables customers with any Android or Apple handset (including those which are not VoLTE-enabled) to make SuperClear voice calls over Smile’s 4G LTE networks.

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Pantami @ATCON Virtual Meeting Says Broadband Is Massive Contributor To National Economic Growth

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Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Nigeria's Minister of Communications & Digital Economy during the ATCON Virtual meeting on Thursday

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami has described Broadband technology as not only a contributor to economic growth at several levels but supports the development of the digital economy, consequently improving the nation’s traditional economy.

Pantami, who spoke on Thursday at a Virtual Structured Engagement with Key Stakeholders in the Nigerian Telecom & ICT Sector on the New National Broadband Plan 2020 – 2025 organised by the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) stated further that Broadband enhances financial inclusion, security, education and is a key enabler for all the other sectors of the economy.

The minister recalled that it was in recognition of the tremendous economic growth opportunities afforded by the deployment of broadband technologies, that he inaugurated a Presidential Committee on the 16th of December 2019 to draft the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) for Nigeria (2020-2025).

The Committee he said was made up of a wide range of stakeholders including Nigerians with expertise across the public and private sector, adding that the NNBP was unveiled and launched by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, on the 19th of March, 2020 who also provided the mandate that was included in the Plan.

“The Plan outlines a trajectory for significantly improving the broadband penetration in Nigeria over a period of 5 years. It replaced the initial Broadband Plan which expired in 2018.

“The new broadband plan seeks to deliver data download speeds across Nigeria at a minimum of 25Mbps in urban areas, and 10Mbps in rural areas, with effective coverage available to at least 90% of the population and penetration rate of 70% by 2025 at a price not more than N390 per 1GB of data (2% of median income or 1% of minimum wage).

“The Plan targets the deployment of nationwide fibre coverage to reach all State Capitals, and provision of a point of presence in at least 90% of Local Government Headquarters. It also targets tertiary educational institutions, major hospitals in each state and fibre connectivity at statutory rates of N145/meter for Right of Way (RoW),” the minister disclosed.

A cross-section of participants at the ATCON Virtual meeting on Thursday…

Pantami, who titled his presentation, “Enhancing the contributions of Stakeholders towards the Nigerian National Broadband Plan through enabling policies,” noted that in order to achieve these targets, the plan focused on recommendations in 4 focus areas of Infrastructure, Policy, Demand Drivers, and Funding/Incentives, with 55 initiatives towards the actualization of the targets.

He said that bearing in mind the need for continuous engagement with Stakeholders, he had a number of strategic engagements with key stakeholders to ensure the smooth implementation of the Plan, including the meeting with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the National Economic Council.

Giving a report on the progress so far made in the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, the Minister said “As at the time we commenced I started supervising the Ministry in August 2019 and we began the process of drafting the Broadband Plan, our broadband penetration in the country was just over 33%. As a result of the implementation of the new plan, broadband penetration significantly increased to 45.07% by November 2020.

“Our engagement with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum in January 2020 has inspired several state governments to adopt the N145/meter and a few of these States have even waived the fee altogether.

“The average cost of 1GB of data has reduced from the January 2020 cost of N1,000 to N487.18 in November 2020, surpassing the target of achieving N700/1GB by 2023.

“Furthermore, the telecommunications sector recorded a growth rate of 15.90% in the year 2020 from 11.41% in 2019 and 11.33% in 2018, making it the highest growth rate in the last 10 years. This performance is unprecedented.

“His Excellency, President Buhari, has directed the security agencies to protect all Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) across the country and I have directed the Nigerian Communications Commission to engage stakeholders in order to have a legislation that criminalizes anyone that vandalizes equipment identified as a CNI.

“An Open Access Model has been developed to support fibre connectivity across the country with the aim of achieving the 120,000km fibre reach. We have had an increase from 47,000km to 54,725km.

“The 3G/4G Base Station Transceivers (BTS) have increased from 30,000 to 53,460.

“Also, regarding the deployment of National Satellite Broadband, NIGCOMSAT is in discussion with some operators to provide mobile backhaul solutions to about 1000 sites in the remote underserved areas and the process for getting a backup satellite for Compensation has been initiated.

“A policy has been developed in line with the Duct Network Development/Dig Once initiative to greatly reduce the downtime that results from fibre cuts. There is also a plan towards engaging with other relevant Ministries in this regard.

“We are promoting the efficient use of assigned Spectrum through the enforcement of the “Use it, Trade it or Lose it” Policy on Spectrum.

“We have developed draft guidelines on Television White Spaces (TVWS) and the document is undergoing legal review The journey is encouraging and significant progress has been made in realizing some of the targets set in the new Broadband Plan.

“Most of the challenges are being addressed. However, there is a critical need for deliberate efforts by all stakeholders towards ensuring that the targets set in this plan are realized.”

Pantami described the stakeholders’ engagement as a good step in the right direction towards achieving the actualization of the broadband plan “as we strive to position our country to enjoy the benefits that ubiquitous nationwide broadband will provide.”

He said he looked forward to the insightful solutions which will be proffered at the engagement and hoped that the support of stakeholders will culminate into a speedy realization of the broadband target for Nigeria.

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Report: Over 300m Users Benefited From Free Mobile Internet During Pandemic

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Mobile Internet users........Photo credit: Applift

A total of 314 million mobile users across eight developing countries benefited from free internet access during the hardest months of the pandemic, despite having run out of credit or not being physically able to top up.

Free access to news, weather reports, healthcare, educational resources, government services and various online sources of information were provided via Upstream and its ad-funded internet portal, Zero-D.

In Africa, more than 103 million users throughout South Africa, Ghana, Tunisia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had access to the platform, which, as well as helping to bridge the digital gap, also aims to increase operators’ level of engagement with users while providing more convenient ways for them to purchase data.

More than 147 million users in Brazil and a further 63 million in parts of Asia such as Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates also benefited from free internet access via Upstream’s service.

In total, Upstream provided more than 3.4 petabytes of data to communities in developing markets during the first year of the global crisis, when physical mobile phone top-ups had been difficult to access, much less afford.

That’s equivalent to 41 million hours of regular internet browsing or 6.9 million hours of video streaming.

Upstream, has now deployed the free mobile internet portal with over 10 operators across Brazil and parts of Africa and Asia. In developing markets, a lack of fixed-line infrastructure combined with comparatively high mobile data costs often leaves users digitally stranded.

Upstream has managed to provide a solution to this problem and keep communities connected without increasing the burden on operators.

In fact, mobile operators that deploy the Zero-D platform are far more likely to increase engagement with customers in developing regions, providing them with a welcome opportunity to top-up their data digitally instead of resorting to a physical purchase.

More than 95 per cent of mobile users in Kenya said they believed their mobile operator “cared more” for them after deploying Zero-D.

“Free internet access has an essential role to play in bridging the digital divide. Last year was one of the most challenging years on record, made more challenging for those who found themselves digitally stranded and unable to interact with basic online services due to not being able to access or afford a top-up.

“Through the Zero-D portal, we’ve established a way for mobile operators to provide an essentially free service to their communities whilst also increasing engagement and providing new opportunities for users to top-up digitally if they choose to do so.” Upstream Deputy CEO, Kostas Ktanis, said.

When asked about the role free internet should play, he said: “Nobody should be without internet access in 2021. Like water or energy, it’s a utility, and a vital tool for interacting with the world and keeping in touch with friends and loved ones, particularly during trying times such as these.”

 

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Google Strengthens Africa-Wide Programmes To Keep Internet Users Safe Online

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Google has announced a number of initiatives across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, bolstering its continued efforts to keep children, young people and families safe online.

Aligning with the theme of this year’s global Safer Internet Day, “Together for a better Internet”, Google has teamed up with several organisations across the continent to boost education efforts and develop programmes around online safety.

“With an estimated 346 million internet users that came online for the first time in the last year, and 376 million new social media users, there is no better time for us to help people stay safe online,” says Juliet Ehimuan, Country Director, Google Nigeria.

“We are working with nonprofits and social enterprises to advance their work through Google.org’s Africa Online Safety Fund, while also working with educational institutions and governments across sub-Saharan Africa in order to have a greater impact.”

Administered as part of the Africa Online Safety Fund, Google.org gave a grant to Impact Amplifier and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, to run an open call across the continent to find the most innovative and impactful nonprofit organisations operating in this space.

26 social impact organisations across nine African countries have been selected to receive grants of up to $100,000 each. The five selected in Nigeria include Epower, LagosMums, Velma Foundation, Hive Creative Guild and Teens Can Code.

This funding will be used to boost projects that work to combat online vulnerabilities, disinformation and extremism aimed at children, the youth, families, schools and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Google has also collaborated with Nigerian author Nomthi Odukoya to create the children’s online safety book ‘How to be Safe Online’. Physical copies of the book will be distributed to 30,000 learners in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa this month, which is also available online on the Read-Along app.

“With more children, young people and families increasingly using the internet to learn and work in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, online safety is a priority for everyone,” continues Juliet Ehimuan.

“We look forward to the continued empowerment of teachers, parents and guardians with tools to keep children safe online. Continued collaboration with government bodies like Kenya’s Communications Authority, Nigeria’s Public and Private Development Centre, and South Africa’s Department of Social Development, among others, will ensure that we have the necessary backing to make the internet better for all users, especially young children and families across the continent.”

 

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