By Momodou Jarju
The Gambia’s GSM Operator has raised a red flag calling for a bail out on its current serious and precarious situation or risk stopping operation.
The General Manager of Gamcel, Elizabeth Johnson, made the clarion call yesterday at the National Assembly Public Enterprises Committee (PEC) while presenting their activity report and financial statement for the year 2017 together with its sister institution, Gamtel.
She said Gamcel is already limited in its network coverage and any additional loss of coverage could necessitate a halt in its operation as a service provider.
“Gamcel needs a bail out to continue to serve as a service provider. It needs a bail out through capital injection from government or help to secure concessionary financing to quickly upgrade and stabilize its infrastructure. I believe Gamcel has great potential as a national service provider that needs to be harnessed,” she added.
She further said Gamcel continues to be at a cross-road and needs urgent intervention on the serious challenges it is grappling with.
Operating in a very stiff competitive and dynamic industry where technology trend is constantly changing to meet the needs of the people, the company’s manager said for the company to continue as a service provider, it needs capital investment to expand and modernize its infrastructure to effectively operate in the market.
Ms. Johnson said the company has serious financial constraints and therefore she is unable to expand her network coverage from internally generated revenue alone.
“The billing system has adverse limitations and continues to limit the company’s ability to maximize revenue generation as it can only provide basic voice services. The dynamics of the industry has gone beyond voice services,” she said.
She noted that the company has and continues to suffer high staff attrition rate due to unattractive remuneration compared to the private sector, saying it would be impossible to achieve anything with poor and dilapidated infrastructure, an obsolete network and unstable billing system in place.
The lack of a robust billing system that can provide proper billing and value added services, she went on, has caused a loss of customers to the competition and the company’s network coverage is partially located around the country with a considerable part of the network being 2G.
“The network is currently at a stage where if any of the sides goes down it cannot be restored and all customers in the affected sides will be without communication services. A breakdown will not only cause a significant loss of revenue but a national blackout for communication for that specific region,” she noted.
Johnson said in 2017 they engaged in operational and preventive maintenance of its infrastructure as well as managing activities to promote and address customer needs to sell its products and services.
She said a network replacement project was started in 2016 and completed in June 2017 to replace the obsolete base stations with new stations and also replace old equipment that have lived their useful lives and did not add any coverage to upgrade the network.
Ms. Johnson said in 2017, Gamcel experienced a complete shutdown for its billing system which was at the time managed by MGI the International Voice Gateway Cable. She said the problem started when government terminated the contract with MGI that was managing the Gateway, as a result it affected Gamcel’s billing system as well.
“In order to make sure our customers enjoy interrupted communication services to retain them, management offered free on net calls, Gamcel to Gamcel, during this period. This situation resulted in a massive loss of revenue to the company. Prior to the problem, Gamcel was making daily sales averaging 1.5 million dalasis. But the period of the shutdown, the sales drop below five hundred thousand dalasis (D500, 000) and the trend is still the same today,” she said.
In a bid to restore the situation, the management resorted to reactivate its previous billing platform which was decommissioned due to its adverse limitations.
This billing system platform was able to normalize the situation to start charging for services and generate revenue, according to Johnson. Unfortunately, the temporal solution is still in place two years down today, she added.
“Gamcel is currently operating a network infrastructure with only second and third generation network elements while all its competitors have rolled out third and fourth generations countrywide,” she said.
Meanwhile, the session was adjourned till a later date for possible consideration and review to be communicated to both institutions. Both institutions have also made an undertaking to try and submit their activity reports and financial statements for the year 2018 in late July 2019.
Read Foroyaa tomorrow for detail report on the financial statement and related reports for both institutions (Gamcel and Gamtel) for the year under review 2017.