Addressing Broadband Challenges with 60GHz Spectrum

Umar Danbatta
Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta

 Last week’s move by the Nigerian Communications Commission to issue the 60GHz spectrum band will help address the shortfall in the spectrum band, as well as boost the country’s broadband penetration, writes Emma Okonji

Shortly after the licensing of 2.3GHz spectrum band in 2014, which Bitflux Communication won, and the licensing of 2.6GHz spectrum in 2016, which MTN won six slots and another six slots sold to Intercellular, NCC had planned to auction yet another spectrum band, the 700MHz spectrum. The move was to cushion the effect of the scarcity of spectrum in a bid to drive broadband infrastructure and penetration.

However, the NCC was unable to licence the 700MHZ spectrum because the spectrum was still in use by broadcasting organisations. Their plan however was to release it when Nigeria switches from analogue to digital in the ongoing digital switchover process.

The inability of NCC to licence the 700MHz spectrum has further deepened the challenges created by spectrum scarcity in the country, and telecoms operators have since then been calling on the agency to seek new ways of auctioning additional spectrum licences.

Therefore, the move by the NCC last week to auction the 60GHz spectrum, brought huge relief to telecoms operators, who explained that it would go a long way in addressing the scarcity of spectrum band and also boost broadband infrastructure rollout by licenced InfraCos and telecoms operators.


Spectrum scarcity 

Spectrum band, no doubt, has become a scarce commodity in the telecoms sector, a situation that was confirmed by the Director of Spectrum Administration at NCC, Mr. Austin Nwaulune.

According to him, “Spectrum is scarce and the operators need spectrum to rollout services. It is true that it is the duty of the regulator to seek  more spectrum allocation from the International Telecoms Union (ITU) at international fora. The international forum to seek  spectrum allocation is the World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC), which are held every three to four years. It is the job of WRC to review, and, if necessary, revise the radio regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits. Revisions are made on the basis of an agenda determined by the ITU Council, which takes into account recommendations made by previous world radio communication conferences.”

“We have three ITU regions and if any spectrum is adopted in any region, countries within that region will share it and this will enhance economy of scale within countries in that region, which will lead to reduction in the cost of spectrum.

NCC is looking at auctioning the 700MHz spectrum next, but the spectrum is still being used by the broadcast industry and we are hoping that by the time Nigeria fully migrates from analogue to digital broadcasting, the spectrum will be freed and auctioned to mobile operations, to cushion the effect of spectrum scarcity.”


Planned auction of 60GHz spectrum band 

In line with global best practice, the NCC, last week, said it would licence the 60GHz band designed to open up spectrum licences that have been relatively scarce.

Addressing stakeholders at a consultative forum in Lagos to announce the opening of the 60GHz spectrum, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta ,who  was represented by the Director, Reseach and Development at NCC, Mrs. Abigail Sholanke, said frequency spectrum is the fundamental resource for the provision of wireless communication services and has increasingly become scarce due to the emergence of new technologies and the growing demand for wireless services.

“In order to facilitate strategic collaboration and partnership with relevant stakeholders, facilitate broadband penetration, optimise spectrum usage and its benefits, as well as ensure regulatory excellence and operational efficiency among others, the Commission has decided to provide an avenue for stakeholders and users of telecommunication resources, to converge and make inputs to be considered in the opening up of the 60GHz spectrum bond,” Danbatta said.

“At present, radio spectrum in the 60 GHz band also known as the V-band, is yet to be opened for deployment of services in Nigeria. The Commission recognises that to boost the eminent advantages that are coming with the 5G abs to also support indoor short range machine to machine communication, there are advantages in the opening of the band for unlicensed applications,”Danbatta added.

Features of the 60GHz spectrum

Giving detailed presentations of the planned licensing of the 60GHz spectrum band, Nwaulune said it is an unlicensed band, allows operators the opportunity to control it the way they want to in offering various services and in carrying out various operations like backhauling, last mile services, fixed and mobile broadband, among others.

He, however, said the use of the spectrum must come under the regulation of NCC.

Nwaulune further explained that the 60GHz spectrum would be subject to approval by the National Frequency Management Commission.

According to Danbatta, the spectrum would allow operators and enterprise sectors of the telecom Industry to effectively meet their broadband needs. The band also possesses characteristics like the lcense-free 60GHz radios that have unique characteristics that provide operational advantages over other solutions; Narrow beam antennas: associated with 60GHz radios enable multiple radios to operate on the same rooftop or mast, and provide interference immunity from other 60GHz links;   Easy to install and align by non-expert installers with the use of a simple visual alignment tool provided with the product; High data transmission security that allows small beam sizes coupled with the oxygen absorption properties of 60GHz spectrum, make the signal highly secure.

“The growth in broadband  traffic as well as the scarcity of available spectrum to meet this need is eventually leading to a congestion of wireless delivery medium. This could degenerate to a point where it will become highly challenging to entertain new requests for such resources,” Danbatta said.

The benefits 

Speaking on the benefits, Nwaulune said the 60GHz spectrum comes with socio-economic benefits through the enhancement of broadband service delivery, such as ease the pressure on currently utilised public spectrum bands used for WiFi, Utilisation of Green Field Spectrum band, its utilisation would bring moderate revenue for the government through equipment type approval.


Overview of the 60GHz band 

According to Nwaulune, the V-band is ideal for small cell backhaul with high capacity from wide channels and interference reduction from the oxygen attenuation.

It has both short range and wide area application! and desirable for applications requiring high transmission bandwidth. It is largely uncongested compared to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz public bands currently used for WiFi, and the band is suitable for point-to-point connection. The application of 60 GHz band comes in Fixed and mobile network backhaul; Fiber extensions/metro networking; High speed indoor short distance machine to machine communications; HD video streaming, wireless Gigabit ethernet; Wireless docking station and desktop point-to-multipoint connections.

Nwaulune listed the different models of the 60GHz band to include licensed spectrum, light licensing and license exempt.

He described licensed spectrum as operator specific frequency license and that the regulator will be responsible for planning, assigning, coordination, protection and spectrum pricing.

He described licence exempt as a model that enables the regulator only to be responsible for providing database for registration of users, while the light licensing requires operator specific frequency licence, and the regulator may or may not be responsible for planning, coordination and protection, but the operator will provide low pricing mechanism and data base for registration of users.

Operators’ excitement 

Pleased with the planned licensing of the 60GHz band, telecoms operators said they were thrilled by the commitment of NCC to address the challenges of spectrum scarcity in the telecoms sector, and indicated their interests to participate in the auction process whenever NCC is set to do so.