On the 25th of November 2019, Nigeria beat other West African countries to trial 5G. Spearheaded by MTN, the telecom giant basked on the technical platform provided by the regulator, Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), to put the possibility of fifth generation network in Nigeria to the test; and it worked out fine.
The world has been pushing for a faster internet speed, an alternative to 3G and 4G, and China and the U.S have been in the forefront of the quest. With this trial, Nigeria has shown its readiness to take advantage of modern technologies to promote efficient communication and faster internet services.
The benefits of 5G have been measured and its weight is expected to have a positive impact on businesses, healthcare and general services enabled by the internet. The 20 Gigabyte per second speed is a life-saving alternative to the crawling speed of 3G that is mainly available in Africa, and has been immobilizing innovative ambitions.
The impact is also expected to spur efficiency in the manufacturing and agricultural sector, creating smarter and faster ways of doing things. It is also a fundamental platform for the Internet of Things (IoT)- a collection of devices collecting, connecting, transmitting and sharing data via the internet.
However, Nigeria’s 5G ambition has not come without its challenges bordering on the availability of the spectrums and licensing needed to foster the establishment. Though in November 2018, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Umar Garba Danbatta, said that the regulator has made adequate provision for the infrastructure needed by operators to execute 5G related tasks. He told BusinessDay:
“We have taken steps to preserve the 26GHz, 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 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 also stated in Abuja recently, during the trial of 5G that NCC will involve many stakeholders by consulting widely so as to ensure that the measures taken cover the security aspect of the framework.
“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 cyber security of 5G networks,” he said.
The Commission has been praised for its efforts in providing the needed infrastructure and support for operators who are willing to go 5G. The president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said:
“In the case of MTN, the NCC allowed the operator to use 100MHz of spectrum to enable them to 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.”
But there are other concerns, while the Commission has been lauded for the steps it took so far to implement the 5G network, transitioning from 2G to 3G to 4G and 5G, analysts are concerned that the provision may not be enough. There is a need to create enabling environment to accommodate foreign investors who would want to establish 5G networks in Nigeria in the coming few years.
“There are other factors that need to be taken on board to be able to commercialize 5G technology. We need to ensure that government is able to support the roll out of significant fibre across the country. We also need the support of government to ensure that the number of base stations deployed is at least doubled within the next two to four years. Currently, we have 39,000 base stations. We need 80,000 as minimum,” Teniola added.
Another concern has been the availability of 5G devices. GSA reported 15 new 5G devices addition in the last month, making it 48 in total. But that excludes regional variants and prototypes not expected to be commercialized. For Nigeria, the availability of these devices is going to take longer due to regional factors and product priority.