That morning I had some work to do online, so I decide to credit my Multilinks modem (my favorite) as quick as possible. Since it controlled a relatively minute share of mobile subscribers the recharge voucher was not sold around my area (like other mobile networks). Within a bus ride away, I head for their office to get the vouchers – for a week’s connectivity. On getting there the gate was locked, I beckoned the gate-man and asked if the office is not yet open for the day – ’cause I went pretty early that morning. To my surprise he said Multilink was no longer functional and the office was closed till further notice. ‘What other notice would I be expecting in such a situation’, I though to myself. My world came crashing down like a wild storm in a cold morning. There was nothing I could do of course. I had to go home and find a way of fixing my internet issues – which I did not that day anyway.
When connecting to the internet I preferred to use the CDMA internet service provider (Multilinks) for very attractive reasons as opposed to the generally common GSM services. The first and most important attractive feature was price (is it not obvious?); under the service I could get connected to the internet with unlimited data/bandwidth for just N6,000. In fact Multilinks was the only ISP in the country with unlimited data, for GSM operators that would only get you about 4GB per month. Another reason I loved the CDMA ISP was the fact that there was little or no network glitch regardless of the number of people (PC users) connected or the severity of the weather condition unlike the GSM counterparts. After comparing their service with other ISPs, I had to find out why it offered such excellent service at a relatively cheap price. I found out that it was based on a technology called “CDMA”. I was shocked too, let me explain.
CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is a mobile communication technology where several transmitters can send information simultaneously over a single communication channel. CDMA allows many users to occupy the same frequency allocation in a given and space. Though CDMA is globally recognized as a better technology, it was not well nurtured in Nigeria. It is interesting to note that in the early days of the telecoms industry revolution, Multilinks was the first to start operation in 1998 using CDMA technology to provide telephony services before other CDMA peers later came. But many of us can still remember with resentment, that when GSM operators entered the country they came with exorbitant call rates, with their SIM cards selling as high as N35,000. In those early days. CDMA operators dominated with quality services, but now only fossils bones of them can be seen.
One of the major reason that have been attributed to their extinction has been that almost all the CDMA operators where locally developed with very little or no international investors or technical partners involved. While many GSM providers (like MTN, Etisalat, Airtel) had large international affiliations which were able to attract financing and support from foreign banks/investors. Another popular reason espoused by many communication experts is that many of the CDMA operators were restricted to the urban city centres, extending their services to wider regions and areas would have meant additional cost for additional spectrum allocation by the communication regulator. This was a competitive disadvantage when compared to their GSM counterparts that were able to spread easily and massively to the remotest of areas.
I hope that a favourable license and investment environment can be created by the NCC (Nigeria Communication Commission) to attract investments into this portion of ICT industry. A proliferation of CDMA ISPs would be good for the overall ICT development of country, which would in turn be a plus for the Nigeria Linux/FOSS community presently at the mercy of GSM operators.