This article was originally published in June 2005
Tayo Ajakaye’s article titled Value Added Services: Who Uses Them? took a critical look at the value-added services being provided by network operators in Nigeria. I found it interesting reading, and also quite agree with him that more often than not those services leave a lot to be desired. I know. I have been at the receiving end of poor delivery of those services.
However, that article gives the impression that the right thing for those operators to do is to ignore value-added services altogether until they are in a better position to make them work right. I may be wrong on that impression, and stand to be corrected, but I am of the opinion that there is a better approach. Permit me to comment on a few things touched in that article, as someone who has used a number of those services regularly for years.
Mr Ajakaye says:
During the early stages of its operation in Nigeria, MTN in collaboration with a IT solution provider launched the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). The service did not really fly. Not many people could perform the smallest task online, like checking e-mail, through the system. The fault might not be that of the telecom operator.
It just is not true that not many people could use MTN’s WAP and CSD platform. It was (and still is) rather a case of many people not being able to afford to use it. The tariff was (and still is) madness, in my opinion. However, I used it consistently, browsing WAP and managing my office mails at home and on the move. As a matter of fact, MTN’s CSD service is one value-added service that was (and still is) more reliable than the core services of many ISPs in Nigeria that I know of.
Mr Ajakaye further says:
What Okoruwa did not include is that the problem might be with the inefficent way these VAS are offered in Nigeria. And after trying one out with money gone and no results found, Nigerian subscribers are learning to restrict themselves to just the basic use of the phone as much as they could.
Inefficient service delivery is not news to Nigerians, and so Value-added services should not be singled out when this is concerned. Many institutions and sectors are inefficient in the delivery of both their core areas of competence and value-added services: banks, insurance companies, ISPs, press and media organisations, religious organisations. It has been a general problem our society needs to address.
For example, when VSAT and other internet access technologies were first introduced to Nigeria, those of us who are in the know can attest to the fact that internet access inefficiently delivered to end-users. Terribly long downtimes were (and in a number of cases, still are) the order of the day. Internet access is not a value-added service for ISPs, who were licensed for that purpose, yet they delivered poorly. We did not condemn internet access in Nigeria to the graveyard because of those experiences. Today, things are slightly better. I submit that service delivery of value-added services will get better with time, with experience, and as competition grows.
Like I mentioned earlier, I have tasted of the bitterness of disappointment from some of these operators, but I must admit that my life and work has had real value added to them because those services exist at all. That’s why I say, Let the show go on.
I liken this issue of value-added services (and all modern services in general) to the relationship called marriage. In the early years, those involved may have to do a lot of shaving off the rough edges of each other, and with some tolerance, balanced confrontation and determination to make things work, the relationship not only lasts but gets better… and better… and better.
Mr Ajakaye wrote:
A telecom consultant who spoke with THISDAY on phone Tuesday night said “I cannot immediately think of one that has added value to what service.”
If THISDAY had spoken with me, they would have had a different answer. I have a fast-growing list of a number of people who are able to work better, more efficiently and more conveniently as a result of the value-added services on both GSM and CDMA networks in Nigeria. These crop of people see an opportunity and are taking advantage of it daily. And that, I believe, answers the all-important question that Mr Ajakaye asked, “Who uses them?”