All is well that ends well. Finally, the Federal Government of Nigeria found a way to tame the MTN Nigeria shrew that has now offered to settle the legal suit it filed against the Nigerian Communications Commission out of court. This must have come from the recent behind closed doors “whisper” that MTN’s management had with the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu.
According to reports by Reuters international news agency, MTN had apologised to the NCC, admitted its error in failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards, and was willing to pay the fine. Also, top guns of MTN in Nigeria and South Africa were compelled to resign, as trading of its stock, whose value took a dive, was temporarily suspended on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. By the way, no telecommunications company is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
The NCC had requested telecoms in Nigeria to register mobile telephone SIM cards, to compile bio data and other details of the owners, for security purposes. The telcos, including MTN, seemed to have complied. Or so everyone thought. But alas, the records were not faithfully archived, or something like that. MTN had either failed to register, disconnect unregistered, or lost the data, of about 5.1 million subscribers.
Many currently undergoing the registration or re-registration complain loudly that this will be the second or third time of registering their SIM cards. Other networks, that some claim allegedly stoked the embers of the NCC punitive fire to gnaw at the 60 per cent market share of MTN, were culpable too, though to a lesser extent.
The NCC threw a $1,008 or N200,000 fine at MTN for each unregistered SIM card; a total of $5.2bn. But it appears that MTN regarded the NCC’s downward review of the fine to $3.9bn, and the shifting of the initial two-week payment deadline of the fine from November 16 to December 31, 2015, as a blink of weakness.
While the other networks paid without protest, MTN turned around to file a suit against the NCC, citing Section 70 of the NCC Act, and appealed to some flimsy wide-of-the-mark authorities in Sections 1(3), 4 and 6 of Nigeria’s Constitution. MTN argued that the NCC had usurped some legislative powers and judicial powers of the National Assembly and the courts respectively. Now that they may settle out of court, one may never know what the courts would make of the flippant drivel. Some mischievous people contend that MTN went to court to avoid being shut down by the NCC. Well.
A boastful MTN allegedly said: “All factors having a bearing on the matter have been thoroughly and carefully considered, including a review of the circumstances leading to the fine and the subsequent letters received from the NCC. MTN Nigeria, acting on legal advice, has resolved that the manner of the imposition of the fine and the quantum is not in accordance with the NCC powers under the Nigerian Communications Act, and therefore there are valid grounds upon which to challenge the fine.” Except for evangelists, none can sell hopes more than lawyers!
Some say MTN wanted to use the pliable Nigerian legal system to stall, until President Muhammadu Buhari and the NCC Executive Vice-Chairman, Prof Umar Dambatta, leave office. There are also unproved allegations that some intermediaries were going round media houses with “incentives” to either canvass a cancellation of the fine or “kill” stories related to it altogether.
Still waxing cocky, while yet buying up, and inheriting the customer base of, Visafone telephone network, MTN threatened to withdraw from Nigeria, and expand to other African countries. It should have. MTN will be the first to acknowledge that mobile telephone lines in Nigeria are in excess of 152 million units – about three times the 53 million population of its home country, South Africa, as generously projected by the United Nations for 2016.
MTN earns about 40 per cent of its global revenue in Nigeria, and there is speculation that its profit after tax for year ending December 31, 2015 should be about $955m or N1.9tn, if you convert by the N197.50 Central Bank of Nigeria official rate of exchange. If you convert with the black market rate that is in excess of N300, you will know that this is not small potatoes.
MTN’s South African proprietors who were initially conciliatory and polite, and anxiously angling to engage the Nigerian authorities in some kind of business diplomacy, also became combative and pompous. They alleged that the NCC acted in bad faith. MTN was no doubt, goaded by some with arguments like even the revised fine of $3.9m is more than double the average annual capital investment MTN has made in Nigeria in the last five years. What that argument is supposed to achieve is not so clear.
Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, thinks the fine “will cripple the entire industry.” Na lie! Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, who agrees that MTN is not altogether without fault, argued that the fine would discourage Foreign Direct Investment into Nigeria. He thinks that “the fine… gives (investors) the impression that Nigeria is in desperate financial situation due to sudden drop in crude oil prices…” Well, everyone knows that Nigeria needs money, and fines are always arbitrary, anyway.
The NCC claimed to have consistently engaged the mobile telecoms companies on the importance of registering subscriber SIM cards. You should therefore appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari’s plea that telecoms companies should help the security agencies by registering SIM cards. After America’s National Security Agency intercepted a call from a “marked” Pakistani mobile telephone number, it was only a matter of time for them to trace its leader, Osama bin Ladin, to his lair.
Lower level Al Qaeda operatives generally travelled hundreds of miles to make calls, and regularly destroyed their SIM cards, to avoid leaving an electronic trail. But Abu Ahmed Al Kuwaiti, an elite courier and bodyguard of bin Ladin, was not required to destroy his SIM card. His call, from a mobile telephone number that the American Central Intelligence Agency had identified by Pakistani authorities as registered to Al Qaeda activated the tracking and killing of bin Ladin.
Registration of SIM cards is a matter of national interest and national security, and government must be gung ho and insist on ensuring utmost compliance. Whoever flouts it must have the law book thrown at them. There is even no guarantee that MTN, like a wilful elf, will not change its mind again. Nigeria does not need a corporate citizen that may be a trans-border serial offender that allegedly failed to pay its taxes on games and gambling services in Cameroon.
You may recall that in the early days of mobile telephone in Nigeria, the telco sold a SIM card, which now goes for N100 or so, at astronomical costs, well above N20,000; zapped unused credits after a certain number of days that it arbitrarily fixed; charged a higher fare for SMS to other networks; and insisted that per second billing of telephone calls was impossible, and made subscribers suffer per minute charges even if their calls lasted a few seconds. It took a Globacom network before Nigerians could escape from that Egypt of oppression.
1. Apple will unveil a new Watch and a new iPhone
One artists’s concept of the upcoming iPhone 7. (Photo: Yahoo News)
This is the easiest prediction in the world, which is why we started with it (guaranteeing that at least one of these will be right). Apple is expected to release Apple Watch 2.0 sometime this spring, we hope with an improved interface and a lot more apps. And next fall will see the release of the iPhone 7, which (if rumors are to be believed) will include a fingerprint sensor on the screen, wireless charging, multiple cameras, and a USB-C port instead of power or headphone jacks.
2. Apple’s dominance of tech culture will decline
Since the Second Coming of Jobs in 1997, interest in all things Apple has been climbing at a steady rate, going into hyperdrive with the release of the iPhone (2007) and then the iPad (2010). Lately, though, the products coming out of Cupertino have been less than magical and life-changing.
And for all of Tim Cook’s many fine qualities, he can’t generate a reality distortion field the way his predecessor could. Until Cook manages to pull another rabbit out of his iHat — an Apple Car? a fully integrated smart home? — the Apple mystique has clearly peaked. Nowhere to go but down.
3. Virtual reality will finally be real — and most people will go ‘meh’
Yahoo Tech’s Dan Howley tries out an early version of the HTC Vive. (Photo: Yahoo Tech)
After nearly four years of teasing us, the Oculus Rift VR headset will finally reach consumers this year, probably some time in the early spring. HTC’s Vive and Sony’s Playstation VR (formerly Morpheus) will likely appear a few months after that. And no matter how awesome they are — and odds are they will be pretty awesome — very few people will buy them.
Why? They’ll likely be expensive, require vast amounts of computing power, and be limited mostly to games and porn (ewww). The fact is, after four years of hype, VR headsets can’t possibly live up to expectations. And then there’s the whole after-15-minutes-you-feel-like-puking factor (10 minutes if you’re watching porn). VR will find a niche audience, at best, for a long time to come.
4. AR will beat up VR and steal its lunch money
While the world oohs, ahhs, and hurls over VR (but doesn’t buy it), Augmented Reality (AR) will infiltrate all kinds of industries, from design and engineering to architecture, education, and medicine. Why? Being less immersive — you can actually see the world around you, as well as virtual objects — makes AR much more practical.
What the world of HoloLens looks like when you’re wearing one. That coffee table is real; the Minecraft house sitting on it is not. (Photo: Yahoo News).
Microsoft just released a new version of its HoloLens and will begin shipping $3,000 HoloLens development kits this spring. Google Glass will also emerge from the rock it’s been hiding under since its ill-fated debut, most likely aimed at industrial use.
5. Comcast will try to acquire Netflix — or possibly vice versa
Whether or not you’re a cord-cutter, streaming media is the future of entertainment — and nobody streams bigger than Netflix, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of all Internet traffic last year. Since big cable can’t beat the streamers at this game, the only thing left is for it to join them by acquisition; Comcast ($192 billion valuation) and Netflix ($42 billion) are the most logical candidates for an arranged marriage. While it stands to reason that the larger company will swallow the smaller one, it’s not inconceivable that the reverse will happen — not unlike AOL’s acquisition of Time Warner 15 years ago, but perhaps with better results.
6. Antidrone technology will rise
Battelle’s antidrone gun uses radio waves, not buckshot, to take drones out of the air. (Photo: Battelle)
The only thing people love more than reading about drones is hating them — witness all the cheering when a Kentucky man blasted one out of the sky with his shotgun last July. (Not to mention all the animals that love to attack drones.) Look for companies to come up with antidrone technology that use nonballistic methods of ridding the flight zones of these pests. Let the games begin, and let the odds be ever in the antidrones’ favor.
7. Facebook will continue to eat the world
The Facebook juggernaut will continue, though most of its membership growth will be overseas. However, expect a public backlash as Facebook assumes just a bit too much control over the media it arbitrarily delivers to everyone’s feeds. How many autoplay videos of bacon, egg, and cheese breadboats can one person watch?
How to make a bacon, egg, and cheese breadboat was Facebook’s most popular video in 2015. Anyone else hungry? (YouTube)
8. Cyberterrorists will attack the Internet
We’ve seen targeted hack attacks on a massive scale, and we’ve seen state-sponsored cyberespionage. In 2016 we will see them converge, with a direct attack on the Internet infrastructure motivated by politics, not greed or misplaced juvenile aggression. Time to back up your data, encrypt your hard drives, and stock up on beef jerky and tinfoil.
9. There will be an Uber for friends
Need a date for a party or someone to hang with at a ballgame? Just share someone else’s. Frog Design predicts the rise of “friendship as a service” in 2016. We liked that prediction so much we decided to borrow it. Isn’t that what the sharing economy is all about?
10. Your next boss may be an algorithm
The Ethereum platform allows bots to post jobs, find qualified workers, and pay them when the work is done using virtual currency — no puny humans required. (Image: Ethereum Frontier)
Artificial intelligence will continue to be baked into an increasing number of devices and services. More than that, though, entire companies may be built around self-running programs, with business decisions made without any human intervention. Think we’re joking? The first decentralized organizations are already being developed for the Ethereum Frontier network. We have met our robotic overlords, and we’d like a 10 percent raise and more flex time, please.
Dan Tynan predicts he will be moderately hung-over on Jan. 1, 2016. Commiserate with him on Twitter.