Phase3 Telecom, an integrated long distance telecommunications firm has acquired the western axis of the High Voltage Telecommunication Infrastructure (HIVOTEL) belonging to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in a concession deal that is expected to last 15 years in the first instance. This followed a keen competition involving Phase3 Telecoms and 12 other companies after an earlier attempt by PHCN to run the facility in partnership with Eskom of South Africa failed.

The facility, an optic fibre backbone (OFB) embedded in the High Voltage Transmission Towers of the electricity corporation, has been largely dormant over the years but will now be deployed to enable mobile telecommunications firms in the country transmit voice and data across long distances without going through the rigours of buiying their own fibre optic network.

Presently only Globacom has attempted buiding its own optic fibre network by laying underground cables along major highways in the country, but experts say that the PHCN's optic fibre network has the advantage of greater national coverage and less prone to vandalisation because of its aerial location.

The concession granted Phase3 covers the North West, Mid West and South Western parts of the country. Major cities within this region include Kano, Zaria, Kaduna, Abuja, Sokoto, Benin, Ibadan, Lagos and other towns like Shiroro, Oshogbo, Ajaokuta, Akwanga, Keffi as well as a host of other remote locations along these routes.

Under the terms of the agreement, Phase3 is expected to design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) ancillary facilities as well as expand the optic fibre network which currently spans across a distance of about 1,500km. The contract also demands that the operator pay two and a half per cent (2.5%) of its gross earnings to PHCN annually while the concession lasts.

Managing Director of PHCN, Engr. Joseph Makoju at a brief ceremony held at the boardroom of PHCN in Abuja, endorsed the contract on behalf of his organisation while Stanley Jegede, CEO of Phase3 Telecoms signed on behalf of his company.

The development interpreted in the telecom sector as a new dawn in broadband service entails the splitting into two regions of PHCN's High Voltage Telecommunication Infrastructure (HIVOTEL) and leasing same to two different operators to expand and commercialise.

By its nature, this facility will undoubtedly facilitate higher quality service, competitive pricing, increased capacity, flexibility on capacity to cover fluctuating needs as it is designed to deliver cost effective service to supplement mobile operators' coverage and provide end-to-end solution for domestic traffic. Above all it will offer better confidentiality, cheaper bandwidth and security of transmission.

Jegede shortly after the contract was signed, disclosed that presently, over 900 kilometres of optic fibre exists along the Lagos-Ibadan- Oshogbo-Jebba-Shiroro-Minna-Abuja route.

This, he said, will be commissioned within the next 90 days while an aggressive plan to expand the network to 3000 kilometres within the next 18 months has also been launched.

According to Jegede, a fibre optic backbone within Nigeria is an essential need for a nationwide connectivity as it would boost government's universal access drive and improve the capabilities of regulatory and monitoring agencies such as the Nigerian Communications Commision and National Broadcasting Commission. Phase3, he said, would provide a reliable infrastructure for telecommunications operators including the PTOs, GSM and Wireless Operators. Other prospective beneficiaries of the new initiative are broadcast and entertainment outfits, health, education, hospitality, energy, Financial institutions and trans national business organisations.

"Our optic fibre network has been designed to accommodate large increases in demand for bandwidth, allow the introduction of new technologies for more cost effective transport, handle various types of applications with a range of reliability, availability and performance requirements such as voice switching, data connectivity and video broadcasting, while supporting a variety of service platforms such as Ethernet switches, IP routers and Next-Gen SONET/SDH. An estimated US$ 4million has been earmarked for the take off of the project.

"We will be deploying the latest Dense Wavelenght Division Multiplexing (DWDM) and Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) technologies which will provide an economical and fast way to install end-to-end fibre optic cable network. The unique right of way associated with overhead powerline infrastructure already in place is an important asset and gives a competitive advantage in deploying fibre network within Nigeria," Jegede said.

The Phase3 boss however noted that there were certain challenges which the company needed to tackle urgently.

These include the building of addititonal equipment along its concession routes; the reinstallation of the vandalised portion of the fibre optic cable for about 20kilometres between Lagos and Ibadan as well as the need to close the loop between its route and that of its competitor, Alheri Engineering, said to be a member of the Dangote Group.

Some 13 companies had previously expressed interest in the facility, but only seven were pre-qualified. These included Siemens Nigeria Limited, Suburban Telecom, Phase3, NITEL, Optic Networks Limited, Alheri Engineering and BCN/Wuhan Research Institute. Out of these only four companies met the technical criteria and had their financial bids opened while the two best (Phase3 and Alheri) financial submissions were selected as preferred operators.

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