The Federal Government yesterday signed six contracts totaling US$155,659,212 million with six companies for the expansion of the Global System for Mobile (GSM) network of the Nigerian Telecom-munications plc (NITEL). The signing ceremony followed the last year’s Federal Executive Council approval of the award of contracts totaling about N26.6 billion for the expansion of NITEL GSM network.

The contracts would be implemented in three phases with a completion period of 18 months. The expansion programme as expected to increase the number of NITEL GSM lines from the present 118,574 lines to 1,200,000 lines. Ericsson, which won the contract for the provision of 400,000 lines at a cost of $53,649,000.00 in the first phase of the programme will roll-out the first 20,000 lines immediately.

Motorola USA would be responsible for the provision of another 400,000 lines in the second phase of the programme under a "fixed and final" contract awarded at the cost of $49,899,110.00 million. ZTE Telecommunications will also provide another 400,000 lines in the third and final phase of the contract at a cost of $51.5 million. Each contractor has a four-month completion period.

Other NITEL contracts signed last week were between the Federal Government and Alcatel for the construction of the Gboko - Aliede - Makurdi digital radio relay optical fiber network at a cost of N71.5 million. The project will be completed in two and half months. Another contract with L3 Communications Satellite company for the testing of the (code Divisional Multiple Access) CDMA equipment for satellite channels was also awarded at a cost of $543,377.37. Huawei Technologies also signed the contract for the provision of 200 lines/240 trunk digital exchange at Gboko for N130, 660.374.50 million.

, At the siging ceremony, Minister of Communication, Dr Haliru Bello Muhammed said: "I implore all companies who want to do business with us to give rock bottom prices so we don’t spend time negotiating and re-negotiating," Muhammed stated. He further warned that "any offer found to be out of tune with international standard will not be entertained"

The Minister also stated that it was wrong to blame Ericsson for the poor performance of NITEL GSM in its maiden rollout. He noted that Ericsson was also involved in the rollout of MTN and ECONET GSM networks both of which "have done well". "That NITEL did not acquire right of way for the installation of base stations until after the contract has nothing to do with Ericsson. That others asked for one million lines while NITEL asked for 118000 only is not Ericsson’s fault," he explained.