The Nigerian telecommunications space is agog with the recent clearance by the federal government to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the nation’s telecom regulator, to proceed with plans to introduce fifth generation (5G) technology in the country.
This news, long expected, gives impetus to the efforts of the stakeholders to bring about the latest technologies into the mainstream of the telecom space.
The honourable minister of communications and digital economy, Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) who announced the approval after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, also directed the Commission to commence immediate implementation of the 5G plan for the country.
The minister who said the roll-out of the 5G will be carried out in phases beginning with major cities in the country “where there is need for high quality broadband,” disclosed that the NCC will publish an implementation roadmap for the deployment of 5G across the country with service roll-out obligations.
At a townhall meeting which discussed ways to address the vandalism of power and telecommunications infrastructure last week in Maiduguri, Borno state, the minister who was represented by the executive commissioner, Technical Services, NCC, Ubale Maska, said 5G cellular networks will be deployed starting from January 2022.
He said that the 5G technology would boost surveillance against criminal elements vandalising public assets across the country, adding that other measures should be put in place to arrest them and bring them to book.
NCC and 5G Plan
The National Frequency Management Council (NFMC), chaired by the minister will, in no distant time, release the 5G Spectrum to the NCC for auction to mobile network operators (MNOs) that will need the spectrum for 5G deployment.
Nigeria’s promising 5G Plan has the objectives of ensuring efficient assignment of spectrum for 5G deployment, creating an enabling environment for investment in the telecom industry, ensuring effective deployment of 5G to cover major urban cities by 2025, among others.
The executive vice chairman, of NCC, Professor Umar Danbatta described the federal government’s approval of 5G national plan as “a development of unprecedented and profound historical significance to the Commission, telecom industry and other economic sectors,” Danbatta assured of NCC’s determination to diligently implement the 5G plan for the overall socio-economic benefits of Nigeria.
Spectrum from NigComSat
In May this year, the NCC and the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NigComSat) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to facilitate the release of most suitable frequency spectrum bands for early deployment of fifth Generation (5G) Network services in Nigeria.
The MoU signing ceremony was the high point of discussions by the two organisations on how to relocate the NG-1R satellite of NigComSat to the standard C-band 300MHz (3.9GHz – 4.2GHz) portion of the band, which is considered more suitable in terms of satellite service offering because of the advantage of cheaper terminal devices for end users.
Accordingly, such relocation will leave the non-standard C-band 400MHz (3.5GHz – 3.9GHz) portion of the band for 5G use while the cost of relocating the NG-1R is expected to be offset from the proceeds of the auction of the 5G spectrum.
According to him, the Commission initiated negotiations with NigComSat to 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. Among the Frequency Spectrum bands used for 5G, the C-band (3.4GHz – 3.9GHz) stands out because its balancing point between coverage and capacity provides the perfect environment for 5G connectivity.
Prof Danbatta said, “The C-band is most suitable and appropriate for immediate deployment of 5G services taking into consideration availability of device ecosystem with 60-70 per cent 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,” he said.
5G Committee Begins Work
In June this year, the NCC inaugurated a committee to develop the Information Memorandum (IM) for the auction of 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum band which will be used for early deployment of Fifth Generation (5G) services in the country.
The18-member Committee in Abuja comprises NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Ubale Maska as Auction Adviser while the Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC, Oluwatoyin Asaju, is the Committee Chairman.
Danbatta said, apart from developing the IM for auctioning of C-band spectrum for 5G deployment in Nigeria, the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the committee will include the development of an award process to be used pursuant to which the grant of Spectrum licenses may be made.
The Information Memorandum (IM) defines the process that the Commission has decided to adopt for the auctioning of the 3.5GHz spectrum band. It will provide information on the Nigerian telecommunications market, details of the Spectrum to be made available, the pre-qualification process, the Auction process and indicative timetable.
Other ToRs reeled out for the committee by Danbatta include the auctioning of the C-band spectrum for 5G deployment in Nigeria in line with the award process; as well as report regularly/fortnightly to the EVC through the Office of the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services of the Commission on the progress made by the Committee.
The Commission had, in line with the NCA- 2003, filled request for bulk allocation of 380 MHz bandwidth (3.52 – 3.9) GHz in the 3.5 GHz band from National Frequency Management Council (NFMC).
Telcos Prepare Business Plans
Mobile network operators in Nigeria are upbeat about the 5G network rollout. Some of them have already made their business plans and are looking forward to the 5G spectrum release. Operators such as MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9mobile as well as tier two operators are willing and waiting for the 5G auction modalities.
MTN on its part, said as part of its rural connectivity programme, it plans to connect approximately 1,000 rural communities to its network this year with additional 2,000 communities in 2022. For instance, MTN Nigeria has announced that it is ready to invest N600 billion in the next three years to upscale its network, provide Nigerians with high-speed mobile network service and expand broadband access across the country in support of Government’s Broadband Plan.
The CEO of MTN Nigeria, Karl Toriola, said, “In terms of coverage, we are currently at approximately 65 per cent of population that covered by 4G LTE services, approximately 82 or 83 per cent covered by 3G services, and 2G services somewhere close to 90 per cent now.
“We are looking forward working with the honourable minister and the NCC to launching 5G services in the near future. We ran a 5G trial with them and the authorities and we were very satisfied with the results of the trial and we are going to be right at the forefront of the technological development to continue to keep MTN at the global standards for technology.”