Feelers from the industry show that the only thing left between Nigeria and Fifth Generation (5G) network deployment is the Federal Government’s nod. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN reports.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Nigeria’s final journey into the deployment of 5G technology should begin soonest, hopefully in another month.
Feelers from the industry showed that the only obstacle against the deployment of the technology in Nigeria is the Federal Government’s nod, as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has tightened a supposed loose end that could have derailed or stopped the transition.
According to The Guardian checks, the earlier misconception about the technology has been dealt with, 5G technology trials have been conducted, spectrum for deployment is now available, a committee to auction the spectrum has been inaugurated, and the country is upbeat to have 5G provide huge support for FG’s digital economy drive.
The 5G Revolution
G, which is the fifth-generation technology network, is the advanced form of 2G, 3G and 4G, which Nigeria currently operates. Large numbers of advanced countries of the world have adopted the 5G network, while others are considering its adoption in the next few years, because of its high connectivity speed that will drive new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoTs), among others.
5G is designed to be a system that will bring flexibility to mobile, fixed and broadcast networks and support more extensive data requirements. The technology will impact the way interactions are done by enabling in some cases, unforeseen business models, enhanced lifestyles all resulting in increased productivity.
Slow deployment in SSA, adoption ticks in five years
Despite its identified benefits, Ericsson Mobility Report for June 2021, showed that 5G network remains slow in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), but it is expected to tick in the region over the next few years.
Although 5G subscriptions were still below one per cent of total subscribers in SSA at the end of 2020, Ericsson expects “discernible volumes of 5G subscriptions” by 2022, reaching about seven per cent in 2026.
The report, however, noted that 3G will remain the dominant tech on the continent – with a share of over 40 per cent of mobile subscriptions in 2026. It predicted that 4G will grow to be about 28 per cent of the region’s subscriptions by 2026.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, commercial 5G deployments are happening faster and 5G subscriptions exceeded one million at the end of 2020. Significant 5G volumes are expected in 2021 and the region is likely to reach around 150 million 5G subscriptions in 2026, representing 18 per cent of total mobile subscriptions.
Globally, 5G is expected to be the fastest deployed mobile communication technology in history and is forecast to cover about 60 per cent of the world’s population in 2026.
At the end of 2020, 4G accounted for around 15 per cent of subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa while 3G was still the biggest portion at 43 per cent, followed by 2G at just under 42 per cent.
Nigeria’s Senate approves technology
After two trials conducted by MTN and Ericsson in 2019 with the supervision of the NCC, and misconceptions about the technology adequately dealt with, on May 18, Nigeria’s Upper Legislative Chamber, the Senate approved the deployment of the 5G network in Nigeria. This is following the outcome of investigations by a Joint Committee mandated to look into the Status of the 5G Network in Nigeria and its technological impact on Nigerian citizens.
The approval was sequel to the consideration and adoption of the report of Joint Committee on Communications, Science and Technology, ICT and Cyber Crimes, and Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, presented by the Chairman, Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
The Senate agreed that the technological impact of 5G will revolutionize Nigerians’ way of life from education to agriculture, security to entertainment, and governance in general if the technology was deployed.
It explained that its decision to recommend the deployment of the 5G technology was based on information provided by government establishments such as the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the NCC, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the National Information Technology Development Agency, and other telecoms professional organisations such as the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) and the Global System of Mobile Communications Association (GSMA).
NCC reaches agreement on spectrum
Also in May, the NCC and Nigerian Communications Satellite (NigComSat) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will facilitate the release of contiguous bandwidth in one of the most suitable frequencies spectrums bands for early deployment of 5G network services in Nigeria.
The MoU signing was the high point of discussions by the two organisations on how to relocate the NG-1R satellite of NigComSat to the standard C-band 300MHz (3.9GHz – 4.2GHz) portion of the band, which is considered more suitable in terms of satellite service offering because of the advantage of cheaper terminal devices for end users.
Accordingly, such relocation will leave the non-standard C-band 400MHz (3.5GHz – 3.9GHz) portion of the band for 5G use while the cost of relocating the NG-1R is expected to be offset from the proceeds of the auction of the 5G spectrum.
Speaking at the signing in ceremony, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said the Commission initiated negotiations with NigComSat to make some adjustment to its satellite operation and release part of its spectrum holding in the band to facilitate the deployment of 5G in Nigeria.
“Among the Frequency Spectrum bands used for 5G, the C-band (3.4GHz – 3.9GHz) stands out because its balancing point between coverage and capacity provides the perfect environment for 5G connectivity. The C-band is most suitable and appropriate for immediate deployment of 5G services taking into consideration availability of device ecosystem with 60-70 per cent of global commercial 5G network deployment currently in the band, thus the importance of this Spectrum for early deployment of 5G services in Nigeria cannot be over emphasized.
“For optimal 5G service performance, an average of contiguous 100 MHz of spectrum in the C-band is required by an Operator. However, in Nigeria, only 120 MHz of the band (3.4 – 3.52) GHz is available for mobile services while the remaining 680 MHz (3.52 – 4.2) GHz of the band is used by NigComSat (NG-1R) satellites,” he said.
Spectrum auction begins soonest
Danbatta has inaugurated the 18-member Committee in Abuja, with NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Ubale Maska as Auction Adviser while the Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC, Oluwatoyin Asaju, is the Committee Chairman.
Speaking during the inauguration, Danbatta said, apart from developing the IM for auctioning of C-band spectrum for 5G deployment in Nigeria, the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the committee will include the development of an award process to be used pursuant to which the grant of Spectrum licenses may be made.
The Information Memorandum (IM) defines the process that the Commission has decided to adopt for the auctioning of the 3.5GHz spectrum band. It will provide information on the Nigerian telecommunications market, details of the Spectrum to be made available, the pre-qualification process, the Auction process and indicative timetable.
Other ToRs reeled out for the committee by Danbatta include, the auctioning of the C-band spectrum for 5G deployment in Nigeria in line with the award process; as well as reporting regularly/fortnightly to the EVC through the Office of the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services of the Commission on the progress made by the Committee.
While expressing delight at the current stage of the 5G deployment process in Nigeria, especially with respect to established mutual understanding among stakeholders that 5G service poses neither security nor health risk to users, Danbatta said the outcome of the work of the Committee is a major step towards realisation of 5G services in Nigeria.
According to him, the NCC, in line with its mandate, has committed enormous resources to ensure harmonised spectrum is secured and released in a timely manner for present and future deployment of services that will underpin the fourth industrial revolution, including International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT-2020) services.
The Chairman, ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, said 5G remains a technology that the country should embrace.
According to Adebayo, if these technologies are not harnessed and embraced adequately in Nigeria, “neighbouring countries would adopt, and slow down our own progress. It will push Nigeria back because there is no kind of service you will need on the 5G networks that is not there. Globally, part of the progress made is the acceptance of technology as they evolve.”