It was a challenge to approve 5G network rollout, but a bigger challenge for Nigeria to successfully deployed the technology, writes EHIME ALEX
The move to implement the Fifth Generation Network, known as 5G, in Nigeria has begun. The Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof Umar Danbatta, has been told to roll up his sleeves and immediately commence work on the implementation plan for the country.
To successfully achieve the plan, not only will Danbatta and his men at the NCC face the challenges of poor state of fibre penetration, electricity supply, device unavailability, they will also have to devise plans to surmount the impending cost of deploying the 5G network.
The planned 5G rollout is expected to facilitate several emerging technologies, generate innovative use cases, spur significant socio-economic growth and create jobs. The Federal Government’s approval of the 5G national plan is “a development of unprecedented and profound historical significance to the commission, the telecom industry and other economic sectors,” Danbatta said.
The rollout, according to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, will be carried out in phases beginning with major cities in the country “where there is need for high quality broadband.”
More so, an implementation roadmap, with service rollout obligations, is expected to be published by the NCC and relevant regulatory instruments needed to address issues related to health, safety and others, to drive effective implementation of the rollout of 5G by Mobile Network Operators.
In line with the objectives of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 2020-2030 and the positioning of Nigeria as an early adopter of digital technology in the growing global digital economy, a “successful and timely deployment of 5G is crucial,” the NCC boss said as the commission gets down to work.
Financial Street recalls that the Nigerian government had embarked on the journey to roll out the superfast 5G when its communications agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding with communications satellite firm, NigcomSat, to allow 5G services to ride on its C-band frequency spectrum. This spectrum is said to account for 60 to 70 per cent of the commercial deployment of 5G networks globally.
Technology as an enabler
Technology is an enabler for any given society, according to the Managing Director of Cloudflex Computing Services, Remi Adejumo.
He added, “Technology makes tasks more efficient and faster. We are more and more reliant on data and, as such, any way the delivery and movement of data is improved is a welcome initiative.”
According to datal from NCC’s official website, broadband subscriptions and penetration dropped Year-on-Year to 75,952,406 (39.79 per cent) in July 2021, compared to 80,215,614 (42.02 per cent) in July 2020. While, in the last four years, broadband subscriptions and penetration have more than doubled from 37,762,660 (19.78 per cent) it was in July 2017.
As at July 2021, further analysis shows, active telephony subscribers were 187,805,237. But on the percentage of subscribers utilising telecommunications services per various technologies/standards currently deployed in the country, Global System for Mobile Communications has 99.80 per cent; Code Division Multiple Access, zero per cent; while Fixed Wired and Voice over Internet Protocol have 0.10 per cent apiece.
However, the total number of active Internet users from January 2017 to January 2021 moved from 97.2 million to 104.4 million, about half of the country’s population.
In 2020, Nigeria had 99.05 million Internet users. This figure is projected to grow to 131.7 million in 2023. Internet penetration amounted to 46.6 per cent of the population in 2020, and is set to reach 65.2 per cent in 2025.
“There is a demand and a need for higher bandwidth and movement of large amount of data. So, there is need for 5G and more,” said Adejumo.
The move to deploy the 5G network in Nigeria not only gained acceptance of many stakeholders, but also got the resolution and verdict of the International Telecommunications Union and World Health Organisation. Pantami said that these two global bodies confirmed that there were no adverse health effect of 5G and that it had not been proven to be harmful to human health.
The 5G network will open many opportunities economically and educationally, even in the health sector, Pantami said.
“It will also support our security institutions, particularly in areas where they need high quality services,” he added.
The advent of 5G technology has generated several concerns with many conspiracy theories that generated fear, especially with the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease. In the wake of the pandemic, while some saw a direct correlation between the virus and the 5G network, many others allegedly viewed the network infrastructure as a threat to security and health. Unfounded as these theories are said to be, records show that many countries have successfully deployed the 5G technology, as many more countries are planning to.
As of June 2021, over 55 countries had successfully deployed the 5G network from 44 recorded in May 2020, a report from the Global System for Mobile Communications Association had shown.
In adopting the 5G technology, there is the possibility that it will improve network connectivity and user experience, and further drive the country’s digital economy goal.
As highlighted by analysts at CSL Stockbrokers Limited, the coverage of optic fibre cable in Nigeria is poor, especially in most suburban and rural areas. The deployment will necessarily require 5G devices, which is expensive and availability is limited. They pointed out that the higher density 5G network would require improved power supply due to the need for additional equipment and 5G sites or base stations necessary for high-density coverage.
“The country’s poor power supply, which has hindered network expansion into the rural areas, will be a bottleneck to the successful deployment of the 5G network,” they said.
With the continuous depreciation of the naira, the cost of deploying the necessary technology would be exorbitant, the analysts said.
“Telecommunication operators in the country depend on foreign vendors for their equipment. This indicates that procuring and deploying this technology at the current exchange rate will be at a very high cost, which may need to be transferred to the final consumers.”
The 5G craze
The rollout of the 5G network is expected to take place in fits and spurts in the next few years in Africa. In 2019, Nigeria became the first West African country to initiate 5G network trials when its biggest telecoms provider, MTN, ran spectrum tests in its offices across several locations with support from Huawei and other MNOs.
Successful as the initial demos proved, the NCC thereafter began collaboration with stakeholders to create policies governing the commercial implementation of 5G. Last year, the government also began to actively dispel health-related concerns regarding the technology and conspiracy theories associating 5G with COVID-19.
“The security concerns are all false. Lagos State has a fibre implementation project ongoing, with discussions around the costs of Right of Way. Other states have fibre deployments and aggressive lowering of the RoW costs,” said Adejumo.
Nigeria has had low mass penetration of previous cellular generations, as 3G and 4G networks only overtook 2G in 2019. According to reports, the country did not attain a goal it had set for 2018 of reaching 80 per cent of 3G/4G penetration. In fact, a 2019 report by Jumia on the mobile market estimated that only four per cent of Nigerian mobile subscribers were on 4G, with 44 per cent still relying on 3G. But the government is aiming for 90 per cent of its population to have access to 4G and 5G by 2025.
On whether Nigeria maximised its usage of 4G to have warranted its approval for 5G, Adejumo said, “Unfortunately, we have a challenge in the infrastructural costs. In fairness to the MNOs, it is very difficult to justify the cost outlay for the infrastructure to support 4G, how much more the 5G.”
Not everywhere needs 5G, he added. “It is important to ensure that more places have 4G and 5G in the near future.”
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