Lack of fibre infrastructure delays Nigeria’s 5G stabilisation till 2025

Though Nigeria had on August 24, through MTN, joined South Africa and Kenya as countries that have deployed the Fifth-Generation (5G) network in Africa, an expert has said the country requires another three years for the network to stabilise.

The Chief Executive Officer, Spectranet, Ajay Awasthi, who gave the projection, attributed the position to the lack of fibre infrastructure in the country.

As at the end of 2021, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said there were 49, 579 towers by mobile and fixed operators as well as collocation and infrastructure companies. It added that the operators reported a total number of 38,288 base stations, while fiber optics deployment stood at 86,057km (terrestrial fiber and submarine cable)

Speaking in Lagos on Wednesday, at the unveiling of new product, WiTel (WiFi Router and Desktop phone combined), Ajay said the status of fibre deployment in Nigeria was still low compared to the population, which would hinder smooth 5G connectivity.

The Spectranet boss said 5G was needed for very high speed, low latency and its capacity to drive applications such as Internet of Things (IoT) among others “but to provide this high speed and low latency, there is need for greater fibre.

“If you look at the number of towers, which are connected to fibre, knowing full well that 5G would on the towers through the antennas, with backhaul and switches among others connectivity can only be achieved with fibre infrastructure not through microwave because of latency and capacity issues.

“There is hardly any fibre in Nigeria at this point. If you look at most of the European countries, the number of towers connected to fibres could be 50 to 60 per cent. If you look at the number of towers, which are connected to fibre in Nigeria, I am not sure it is up to 20 per cent and could even be lower. Unless that is sorted out, 5G will remain a pipe dream in Nigeria.”

Awasthi, who submitted that true 5G experience is going to be about two or three years from now, said tower companies have not started connecting their towers to fibre right now and unless that happens it may be difficult to push 5G.

He said that users will get it, but it is going to be compromised. “Then the latency will be high as it is with 4G because you are using a microwave, but your speed will still be an issue.”

The Spectranet CEO also picked a hole in the reliability of satellite communications to deliver desired 5G experiences, saying though satellite provides very wide coverage, don’t usually come with issues because it is up there in the sky, “but it also has its challenges. It has limited bandwidth and is very expensive. It is very expensive to operate satellites. It is good to offer coverage in areas, especially in rural areas because of coverage but you will not get a very high speed. Even if you get it, it will be very expensive. It is good to have speed but there are vast areas where there is still no coverage.”

MEANWHILE, Spectranet has somehow revived the dead fixed line services in the country with the launch of WiTel all in one magic box, which combines the services of a WiFi router with a desktop phone for home and businesses.

Awasthi said the new service would boost the chances of survival of small and medium-scale businesses in the country, stressing that it solves the problem of a landline telephone in Nigeria, whose penetration he puts at less than five per cent.

According to him, initial activation of WiTel with a seven-digit landline would see users get 100GB and 200 minutes of talk time.

While Spectranet is in four major cities of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan, the CEO said the WiTel service is starting from Lagos and Abuja for now and would be extended to other cities before the end of the year.

He, however, said calls could enter into the WiTel from other networks across the country without interruption to data services.


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