Lagos: Nigerian telecom regulator Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has threatened to fine an Indian firm’s subsidiary, Airtel Nigeria, and two other companies if they fail to improve the quality of their mobile services and prevent them from registering new subscribers.

Airtel Nigeria, a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel, South Africa’s MTN and locally owned Globacom would pay a fine of $6,216 per subscriber if the sanctions take effect, the NCC said here in a bid to improve quality of telephone service in the oil rich country.

Nigerian men check their text messages on their mobile phones. Photo: Bloomberg

The directive followed customer complaints of poor services by some telecom companies.

NCC spokesman Reuben Muoka said the Commission has given the operators 30 days to improve their service quality or face sanctions. “This follows a dismal performance by the three operators on quality of service from the result of an independent monitoring exercise carried out by the Commission across the country." Muoka said.

Meanwhile, Airtel Nigeria’s managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO) Rajan Swaroop had earlier urged the government to issue a National Policy on Communications (NPC). At the 3rd West African Information and Communications Technology (WAFICT) event, he urged the policy makers to incorporate broadband in the framework of their strategies.

Swaroop’s comments and the regulator’s warning came amid some experts saying that the quality issues can be liked to under-utilization of landline network.

A telecom expert Monday Ogbe told a local newspaper that the poor services could be linked to poor fibre-utilization. Ogbe said there is over-dependence on mobile technology to the detriment of fixed lines - a situation that has led to congestion and poor quality, adding that in Nigeria most of the calls are routed through mobile phones unlike in other countries.

Bharti Airtel embarked on the largest-ever telecom takeover by an Indian firm on 8 June 2010, when it completed a transaction to buy Kuwait-based Zain Telecom’s businesses in 15 African countries for $10.7 billion. The same year, the company invested $600 million in Nigeria’s mobile market.

The three companies involved are yet to issue a statement on the NCC directive.

Use of mobiles became popular in the country after the government deregulated the sector, which was formerly controlled by state owned Nigeria Telecommunications Company (NITELS), in early 2000.