The recent trial launch of 5G technology in the country has proven that Nigeria is indeed ready for rapid economic development and that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), as the telecommunications regulator, is actively pushing the broadband revolution by modernizing regulation and policy reforms to boost the country’s digital economy and accelerate internet access for millions through increased mobile broadband penetration.
5G is the fifth generation cellular network technology. The industry association 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) defines any system using “5G NR software as, “5G”. it allows the seamless use of technologies like virtual realities, augmented realities, streamed Blu-ray quality video, driverless cars, drones, Internet of Things, etc.
On Monday 25th of November 2019, Nigeria became the first country in West Africa to trial 5G technology, as MTN, the largest telecommunications operator in Nigeria, rode on the regulatory and technical platform provided by NCC to carry out proof- of -concept trial of 5G.
Industry stakeholders and analysts acknowledge this to be a great step towards preparing Nigeria for the global launch of 5G in 2020. They are also of the view that the expected fastest internet speed connection (5G LTE) when launched will significantly boost economic development.
Key benefits of 5G
5G will enable billions of new connections with speed and security. It is expected to offer unlimited potential and vastly transform the way we live and communicate. With much higher data rates (1-20Gbits per second) which enables consumers to download content much quickly, lower latency – allowing users to experience less delay when requesting data from network provider and increased capacity as the network expands, this new technology will be of huge benefit to all sectors of the economy; enabling things like e-health, e-education, e-agriculture, e-commerce etc.
The launch of 5G is expected to further deepen penetration levels and position Nigeria as one of the fastest growing business economies in Africa, as 5G which supports fast data transfer rates of up to 20Gbit per second, will spur and support innovative ambitions and create new markets, transforming supply chain management and creating smarter, more efficient manufacturing. It is also a fundamental platform for the Internet of Things (IoT) – the rapidly expanding number of devices that collect, transmit and share data via the internet.
Reports show that by 2020, more than half of all new businesses will rely on IoT to cut costs, build efficiencies and grow their bottom lines. For the IoT to realise its limitless potential, 5G is critical.
Nigeria’s readiness for 5G
In November 2018, during the GSMA workshop in Abuja, Umar Garba Danbatta, executive vice chairman (EVC) of NCC told BusinessDay that the commission already had spectrum bands set aside for operators to purchase in order to roll out 5G services in the country as at when due.
“We have taken steps to preserve the 26GHz (gigahertz), 38GHz and 42GHz spectrum bands for 5G. There will be a number of slots in all these bands and the commission has also made provision for subsidy payment for infrastructure companies (InfraCos) who wish to deploy 5G. Public private partnership, infrastructure and the right regulatory standards are also necessary to facilitate deployment of 5G services across the country,” Danbatta said.
During the trial of 5G in Abuja recently, the EVC said that the commission will consult widely with stakeholders in developing the right regulatory framework for 5G rollout in Nigeria.
“We are not oblivious of the global concerns around 5G network security vulnerability, and we will be working with our parent ministry and security agencies to develop measures to ensure a high level of cybersecurity of 5G networks,” he assured.
The role of NCC in unleashing the 5G revolution
In transiting from 2G, to 3G, 4G, and now 5G the telecommunications regulator, under the leadership of Danbatta has succeeded in licensing infrastructure companies (InfraCos) to solve the issue of deficiency in last mile infrastructure, hindering the expected penetration levels to the hinterlands. The NCC is actively taking steps to ensure the regulatory structure and technical infrastructure required for the successful roll out of 5G technology is available.
Also, the telecoms regulator is fully encouraging operators and internet service providers in the country to jump on the constantly moving train of IoT by continuously looking for solutions to upgrade accessibility and deepen penetration of broadband in Nigeria.
According to Olusola Teniola, president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), NCC has provided the spectrum required for this technology and is in support of operators willing to provide this service to as many Nigerians that want it.
“In the case of MTN, the NCC allowed the operator to use 100MHz of spectrum on the 3.5GHz spectrum to enable them demonstrate the capability of 5G. The commission has vowed to support other 5G trial with Airtel, Globacom, 9mobile and other service providers when they apply. This demonstrates the readiness and dedication of the regulator to ensure that as many Nigerians that want to experience very high speed internet and innovative technology are able to do so,” Teniola told BusinessDay in a telephone interview.
However, Industry analysts say that the regulatory body and the ministry of communications and digital economy, apart from infrastructure provision, need to create an enabling environment for service providers and enables new investors to come in and deploy 5G as private and public networks over the next two to four years.