Two Nigerian operators have stated their opposition to Visafone transferring its licences and assets – including a holding of 800MHz spectrum – to MTN Nigeria.
9mobile and Airtel Nigeria argued against the move at a public inquiry held by the Nigerian Communications Commission as part of its stated goal to “hold regular consultation with the industry stakeholders which include operators and consumers”.
Chidozie Arinze, Head of Regulatory Affairs at 9Mobile, was quoted by newspaper Vanguard as saying: “If MTN is allowed to monopolise 4G, it can be priced anyhow. MTN has 4G spectrum already and it wants to get this - in essence, it will be controlling 50% of the available spectrum in Nigeria.”
Airtel’s Lucky Ubani cautioned that granting MTN the spectrum could foster a monopoly by allowing the operator to increase its market dominance in other segments aside from voice. However, the NCC said that it considered the transfer to correspond to “the spirit of participatory regulation.”
MTN’s Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs, Johnson Oyewo, countered the operators’ claims by arguing: “given that the market is effectively competitive, the utilisation of spectrum resources in order to provide the Nigerian telecommunications consumer a better data experience and ensure that the country meets its national broadband targets should be encouraged.”
In 2015, MTN Nigeria acquired 100% of equity in Visafone, which delivers CDMA services. Its 800MHz spectrum holding has been a bone of contention in Nigeria ever since, as while spectrum in higher bands is available for rival operators to acquire, they cannot offer the same level of coverage using these frequencies.
The NCC’s executive chairman, Umar Garba Danbatta, stated that demand for spectrum was escalating due to the increased range of services available. To this end, he noted that the inquiry intended to deliver “an informed decision consistent with the Commission’s mandate to create an enabling environment for effective competition in the industry, as well as to ensure the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country”.