NCC On The Pathway To Animate Nigeria’s Telecom Industry With 5G Technology Launch

After much delay following unsubstantiated claim of health implications associated with 5G technology, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC has boldly set the path to deploy the technology, writes YEMISI IZUORA

The 5G technology is the current generation of mobile communications technology, and it is designed to exceed the preceding 4G networks with new capabilities and specifications equipping the technology to support new and innovative solutions and products.

The deployment of the technology has been resisted by some persons who have through a sustained campaign created fear in the minds of people.

The NCC, as a responsible agency frantically provided explanations allaying fears which had been planted in people’s mind.

Misinterpretation

In a deliberate campaign to discourage the launch, some campaigners linked the technology to the outbreak of Coronavirus.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), however, came out with a statement dismissing the reports connecting the 5G network to the outbreak  of Coronavirus.

NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, described it as “misleading” and with no proven evidence.

It said there is no correlation whatsoever between the 5G network and COVID-19, and went further to clear up other misconceptions that have circulated regarding 5G network in Nigeria. According to the Commission, there is currently no deployment of 5G in the country. Instead, the network was only approved for a 3-month testrun back in November 2019.

The NCC also reaffirmed that no license has been given to any telecoms operator in Nigeria to launch 5G network. Contrary to speculations, MTN Nigeria was only granted a trial spectrum.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) corrected reports that 5G services were up and running in the nation, stating licences for the next-generation networks were yet to be issued.

It said a “mischievous statement” appearing on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites “cannot be further from the truth”. NCC vice chairman Umar Garba Danbatta noted with no licences issued, MNOs “cannot switch on such technology”.

Danbatta explained the NCC was “technology neutral” and so doesn’t licence technology. Rather, the regulator assigns spectrum to operators once this is allocated by the National Frequency Management Council.

The NCC has been encouraging operators to deploy “the best technology that will meet the needs of the society in a secured [sic] and friendly manner”.

A three-month 5G test was approved by the NCC in November 2019, but the trial has since concluded and equipment decommissioned, the authority noted.

The Commission has a clear ambition to ensure that the Digital Economy Policy of the Federal Government is accomplished and one of the instruments for the realization of this Policy is the availability of a robust information and communication network in the country.

The Commission having identified the unique benefits and the role 5G can play in accomplishing the objectives of the digital economy, has outlined a Plan that will facilitate the deployment of 5G Technology in Nigeria. The 5G communication technology is the next evolution of the mobile communications technology which is capable of creating new opportunities for growth in the economy by enabling new and dynamic business models and opening up new opportunities and markets. It also provides tremendous improvements in interpersonal communications with several innovations and services.

Oriental News Nigeria reports that the 5G Technology will initiate several new changes in mobile connectivity with an enormous capacity to boost productivity and grow the economy.

These are the key reasons behind the Commissions drive to ensure the deployment of 5G in Nigeria. Mobile technology has not stopped growing since the commercial implementation of the first telephone system in 1876.

It is estimated that by the end of the year 2020, global mobile data traffic would reach a monthly rate of 30.6 exabytes, as compared to 3.7 exabytes in 2015.

That is a compound annual growth rate of 53 per cent.

Each mobile communications technology brings with it, new capabilities that ultimately transform both work and interpersonal communications.

In every consideration the 5G represents the fifth generation in mobile communications evolution and an incremental deployment is expected over the following decade. 5G is designed to be a system of systems that will bring flexibility to mobile, fixed and broadcast networks and support more extensive data requirements.

The technology according to experts will impact on the way interactions are done by enabling in some cases unforeseen business models, enhanced lifestyles all resulting in increased productivity.

Some of the technologies already being touted include automated cars and advanced manufacturing, Internet of things (IoT) which will enable thousands of connected devices, such as smart energy meters, work together and share information.

These changes and innovation have enormous economic benefits. IHS Economics estimated that 5G would enable USD$12.3 trillion of global economic output in 2035.

The goal of the Commission is that Nigeria becomes one of the leading nations with 5G technology deployed in a manner that is beneficial to all the stakeholders and contributes maximally to the Digital Economy Policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

To achieve this, Nigeria actively participated in the ITU-R study cycle under the Task Group 5/1 that dealt with the identification of the 5G spectrum in the mmWave band. Sequel to that, the Commission suspended an impending licensing of allocated spectrum in the 38GHz and 42GHz bands as well as suspending further licensing of the 26GHz band, due to the foreseen potential identification of some parts of these bands for 5G services.

Nigeria also participated in the evaluation of submitted/proposed Radio Interface Technologies (RITs) through the creation of Nigerian Evaluation Group under the auspices of the registered Independent Africa Evaluation Group within the ITU-R process. The 5G evaluation process was concluded in February 2020.

We Will Soon Deploy 5G Technology – NCC - Global Times Nigeria

The Gain Of 5G

Some Countries have already deployed the technology and in Africa, Kenya has moved ahead of Nigeria.

One of the most significant advantage of 5G is the higher bandwidths in some of the frequency bands identified for the technology. These high bandwidths will translate to its ability to transfer large volumes of data at extremely high speed and very low latency. These speeds are expected to reach 10Gbps which is ten times faster than the highest rates offered by the fibre to the premises networks. The most significant advantages of 5G are the sheer amount of data it can transfer and the extremely fast response.

A unique feature of the 5G which is the low latency will enable the utilization of 5G in critical control and remote health applications which were challenging with the 3G and 4G networks. The response time for 3G is usually rated for 100milliseconds while that of the 4G is rated for 30milliseconds.

Comparing this with the 5G response time rated as low as one millisecond, provides an enormous opportunity for the development of real-time control applications. This rapid response time is made possible by the higher available bandwidth and spectrum efficiency of the technology, as applications can complete their data transfer and allow other applications to access the bandwidth.

Critical applications which will benefit from these advantages include automation, particularly in the healthcare and mining sectors, massive Machine Type Communications, and the remote control of industrial processes such as oil and gas, farming and manufacturing.

Need To Fast Track 5G Deployment

While the contributions and achievements of the 3G and 4G technologies have been remarkable, the current and continuous increase in development of new technologies and devices with the accompanying new service requirements creates a need for the development of technologies that can meet these requirements. These requirements include faster connectivity, enhanced mobile broadband, higher data capacity, reduced latency and the infrastructure required to realize revolutionary innovations such as driverless cars etc.

The mobile data traffic in Nigeria is on an upward trajectory, increasing exponentially year on year. There is thus the need for an effective and cost-efficient network expansion to ensure optimal support for this traffic growth. Cisco predicted that by 2020, global mobile data traffic would have grown eightfold from 2015 to 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 53%. This assertion is based on the higher flowrate of data, the advent of new systems and technologies such as the IoT and smart cities.

A recent World Economic Forum report concluded that 5G networks would contribute $13.2 trillion in economic value globally and generate 22.3 million jobs from direct network investments and residual services

Accenture in a 2017 study concluded that 5G could create USD500 billion in additional GDP and 3million jobs in the US through a USD275 billion investment by telecom operators.

A similar study by the European Commission estimated that the benefit of 5G in Europe would reach EUR 113 billion per annum in four key sectors namely automotive, healthcare, transport and energy, creating 2.3 million jobs.

A global study commissioned by Qualcomm also concluded that 5G would enable USD12.3 trillion of economic output by 2035 with the 5G value chain supporting 22 million jobs.

Kenya Experience

As controversy trails Nigeria’s plan to launch the 5G technology, Kenya has taken a proactive decision to unveil the technology.

Mobile network operator Safaricom announced the launch of the 5G network in Kenya, making it the second country in Africa to roll out the technology.

This is after MTN and  Vodacom launched 5G in South Africa last year.

The company has started the rollout in four towns, and expects to expand it to nine over the next year.

Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa described the launch last week as “a major milestone for the country.”  The telco is implementing the project using technology from the Finnish company Nokia and the Chinese company Huawei.

However, other Telecommunications companies in five other African countries, Nigeria, Gabon, Lesotho, Uganda, Egypt and are still conducting internal trials for 5G, meaning it’s not yet available for public use.

While the new development makes Kenyans early adopters of 5G in Africa, questions remain over investor and market readiness for mass use of the technology across the continent. As a result, widespread adoption of 5G in the region, while a promising prospect, may be far-off.

5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks. It offers data speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and lower latency (the delay  an instruction for a data transfer and its actual transfer).

It can also support up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometer, compared to up to 100,000 for 4G.

Safaricom’s introduction of the technology in Kenya is “an important step in Africa’s 5G journey,” says Kenechi Okeleke, the lead author of a 2019  report on 5G in sub-Saharan Africa by GSMA, an organization representing mobile network operators worldwide . “This move will draw a lot of attention to the potential of 5G in the region and the benefits it can bring to society,” he tells Quartz.

The initial focus will be on how 5G will enhance broadband connectivity for Safaricom, says Okeleke, director at GSMA’s research arm, GSMA Intelligence. However, he adds, given the company’s track record in tech innovation, many observers will be on the lookout for potential new use cases that Safaricom could develop for Africa’s unique challenges and customer needs.

5G’s faster speeds bring fiber optic-like connectivity to homes—a broadband connection that can reach speeds of up to 940 megabits per second.

This would be a game changer for African businesses and schools that do not have access to fiber-optic internet, especially in a post-Covid-19 world where activities including work, learning, and entertainment are increasingly happening online, Okeleke says.

The technology could enable new and existing technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things—the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects—to have a transformative impact on business processes, helping drive productivity and efficiency, Okeleke says. This has the potential to spark innovative solutions, particularly in extractive sectors such as mining and oil and gas, he adds, and help financial services and logistics sectors in the continent.

Currently, only 3% of the world’s mobile phone connections are on 5G (Asia is in the lead, with 5% of mobile connections on 5G). But GSMA Intelligence estimates that by 2025, 5G will likely to cover a third of the world’s population.

It will take some time for Africa to catch up. Currently, around 51% of Africa’s mobile phone connections are on 3G, and GSMA Intelligence believes that it will remain dominant, with 5G connections making up only 3% of total mobile connections in Africa by 2025. South Africa’s 5G connections account for less than 1% currently.

Despite the expected growth and excitement over the potential of 5G in Africa, there are concerns about investor and market readiness for the technology. The investment outlay for 5G is very high for mobile phone networks, Okeleke says. Phones that can connect to 5G are also very expensive for consumers—the average selling price for 5G phones in the US last year was $730.

Uptake of 5G may also be slow, since 4G is enough to meet people’s data needs for day-to-day use. AI and VR, the strongest use cases for 5G because of the speed and lower latency it offer, aren’t yet common on the continent.

Still, Okeleke expects the need for 5G will grow quickly. “As these things become more commonplace in the region, then we are likely to see that stronger demand for 5G services in a way that saw that strong demand for 2G services in the early 2000s,” Okeleke says. “And it is that demand for 5G services that will improve the economics of investments into 5G networks.”

NCC Breaking The Jinx

Today it is clear that the NCC is ready to set the ball rolling having taken all measures and cleared all doubts about health concerns raised in the past and resistance by a segment of the people.

The indication emerged during the signing of Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, between the Commission and the Nigerian Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT on the use of C-Band Spectrum for 5G Services in Nigeria.

At the occasion, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Umar Garba Danbatta described it as historic event which will facilitate the release of contiguous bandwidth in one of the most suitable Frequency Spectrum band(s) for early deployment of fifth Generation Network (5G) services in the largest market in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Danbatta, amongst the Frequency Spectrum bands allocated to 5G by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU, 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% 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.

The Commission initiated negotiation with NIGCOMSAT whom in its estimate could 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.

He appreciated the Management of the NigComSat for demonstrating that the interest of the country is paramount to the Commissions organizational or personal interest.

It is on record that the two agencies have been in discussions on how to relocate the operations of NG-1R to the standard C-band 300MHz (3.9GHz – 4.2GHz) potion of the band, which is more suitable in terms of Satellite service offering because end user terminal are cheaper there, while leaving the non-standard C-band 400MHz (3.5GHz – 3.9GHz) portion of the band for 5G use.

The cost of relocating the NG-1R is expected to be offset from the proceeds of the auction of the 5G Spectrum.

The two agencies have developed an MOU detailing all the aspect of this undertaking.

He expressed the believe that the impact of this decision to execute the MoU, knows no bounds and will not only strengthen the relationship between both agencies but would also go a long way in making positive impact on the Nigerian economy.

In his view the Chairman Board of Commissioners of NCC, Prof. Adeolu Akande, the MoU will facilitate the release of spectrum for commercial deployment of 5G services in Nigeria.

Akande, said, “In recent times, precisely from the last quarter of 2019, several administrations have begun to license Spectrum for commercial deployment of 5G. As we speak today, 5G services have already been deployed in United States of America, South Korea, United Kingdom, China, South Africa, Kenya and many more.

Telecommunication evolution from inception to date has led to improvement in user experience witnessed from 2G, 3G and later 4G.

The global impact of 4G brought about increases in mobile usage and network performance. 5G will build on this momentum, bringing substantial network improvements, including higher connection speeds, mobility and capacity, as well as low-latency capabilities. In doing so, it enables new use cases and applications that will positively impact different sectors and improve efforts towards achieving Digital Economies.”

He said that it does not only offer enhanced broadband and ultra-low, ultra-reliable latency communications but also provide massive machine type communications, where a lot of devices will seamlessly connect and independently interact with the internet without human intervention, thus enabling several Smart City initiatives.

He acknowledged that the Spectrum plays a critical role in realising the full extent of

these new capabilities, adding that 5G’s full socio-economic impact is dependent on access to a variety of spectrum resources.

These Spectrum, he explained will play a key role in meeting the demand for many enhanced mobile data services as well as new wireless broadband use cases such as remote object manipulation, industrial automation, virtual and augmented reality and next-generation connectivity for vehicles.

These use cases will continue to increase the impact that mobile services have on societies and economies.

In China, UAE, Europe, Africa, India, Brazil and Australia, the 3.5GHz band glaringly featured amongst the spectrum that has been prioritized for 5G with prospects for early deployment, he said.

Akande, expressed confidence that the Management of NigComSat and NCC have taken a bold step in the right direction to release contagious quantum of Spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for early deployment of 5G.

He said the collaboration seeks to ensure synergy amongst agencies under the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy.

He commended the efforts of the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC)/CEO of NCC Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta and his counterpart the Managing Director(MD) of NigComSat Ms. Abimbola Alale for taking an informed decision in national interest which will consequently foster the deployment of 5G and enable Nigeria tap its full potential.

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