Last week’s launch of 4G LTE technology across the networks of telecoms operators, speaks volume of the determination of telecoms operators to achieve the country’s broadband target in record time, writes Emma Okonji
Nigerians, last week, witnessed the launch of the fourth generation long term evolution (4G LTE) technology across the networks of telecoms operators, MTN, Globacom and Etisalat.
Although the three operators launched in various capacities within a space of one week, MTN’s revolutionary 4G LTE platform represents a significant leap towards achieving the country’s objective of attaining the 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, as captured in the country’s National Broadband Plan from 2013 to 2018, due to its position as the largest network operator, covering the entire Nigerian space with over 62 million subscribers actively connected to its network.
4G LTE launch
MTN Nigeria, in a groundbreaking ceremony in Abuja, the federal capital territory, launched its 4G LTE service. The event had in attendance stakeholders from the telecommunications sector including the Chairman Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Gilbert Nnaji; Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Telecommunications, Emeka Ujam; top ranking officials from the Nigerian Communications Commision (NCC) among others.
MTN’s 4G LTE launch comes on the heels of the recent announcement from the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, that Nigeria has reached 21 per cent broadband penetration. The figure is a significant jump from the previous 14 per cent broadband penetration recorded as at January this year.
With more than 62 million subscribers signed on its network, MTN’s entry into the 4G LTE space has turned out to be a game changer in Nigeria’s quest for 30 per cent broadband penetration. Indeed, industry experts are of the opinion that the new development will accelerate the pace of broadband penetration even beyond the 30 per cent projection.
Speaking during the launch, MTN CEO, Ferdi Moolman, who was represented by the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Mohammed Siddiqui, reiterated MTN ‘sdesire to contribute to the NCC’s targeted 30 per cent broadband penetration.
“Beyond enhancing the browsing experience we are excited because this service is sure to stimulate the drive towards the 30 per cent penetration. With the acquisition of the 2.6GHz spectrum earlier this year, our objective was clear: to build capacity to accommodate 4G LTE for the benefit of Nigerians because it is the fastest wireless internet connection available today. By leveraging on our network, it promises to be the widest LTE coverage in Nigeria so this is a win-win situation, not just for the subscribers but also for our country,” Moolman added.
According to him, while MTN officially announced her membership into the 4G LTE exclusive club last month, concerted work commenced towards the successful launch earlier this year. Back in May this year, the company was granted the frequency spectrum license for 2.6GHz band after emerging the successful bidders in an auction exercise conducted by the NCC.
Although MTN intends to achieve a nation spread of the service, the service provider is apparently adopting a phased strategy that will see the deployment of the 4G LTE service in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos before expanding it to the other parts of the country.
At the moment, over 200 optimised sites in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt have been optimized for 4G LTE deployment and the projection is to hit more than a 1000 sites across the country.
For subscribers on MTN Network, the 4G LTE platform, which is an upgrade of the 3G broadband, would certainly redefine mobile and internet connectivity beyond the previous experience. Today, the 4G LTE platform is acknowledged as the most advanced wireless broadband connectivity both for voice and data usage offering hi-speed data for users. Now, subscribers on MTN’s network service can enjoy optimised wireless broadband experience and high speed browsing via the platform.
Beyond the benefits to subscribers, the country also stands to benefit from the introduction 4G LTE. Nothing demonstrates the importance of a functional and virile broadband base than a 2010 World Bank report that states that a 10-percentage point increase in broadband penetration will lead to a 1.38 percentage point increase in GDP growth. Already, economic analysts are linking corresponding growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to improved access to functional internet and broadband connectivity. For instance, the 2014 report by Deloitte on ‘Value Of Connectivity: Economic and Social Benefits Of Expanding Internet Access’, states that as many as 130 million people could be lifted from the dredges of poverty if only they have access to the wealth of information from the internet. The report also adds that the “long run productivity could be enhanced by as much as 25 per cent in developing countries like Nigeria.” Little wonder, the Senate Committee Chairman on Communication, Senator Nnaji, while commending MTN for investing in LTE, added that the roll out of the technology would further give impetus to the National Assembly’s drive to provide legislature that will leverage technology to accelerate the growth of businesses in the country.
Interestingly, the benefits of a strong broadband base extend beyond the economy. For instance the Deloitte Report further stated that “evidence on the link between health literacy and mortality rates suggests that internet access could save 2.5 million people and 250,000 children while 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients could increase their life expectancy”. Also, it could significantly change the education sector as about 640 million children in developing countries could benefit from e-learning.
Allaying fear of the end of 3G network
With the launch of 4G LTE across most of the networks of telecoms operators, some Nigerians are of the view that it might gradually erode the era of 3G network service, but MTN has said that its 3G network would not be laid to rest.
When the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was first launched in 2001 by MTN and Econet Wireless, now rebranded as Airtel Nigeria, they were offering services on the 2G technology, which was later upgraded to 2.5G and 3G in subsequent years. But does the introduction of 4G LTE on the MTN network mean the end of 3G service on the network? The Corporate Services Executive of MTN, Amina Oyagbola, has allayed fears that MTN’s 3G platform will be laid to rest. Rather she insisted that the roll out of 4G will decongest the space of 3G and make it more efficient in providing digital services.
She said: “Basically, as more people migrate to 4G in the areas it is available, people on 3G will enjoy their experience on it more. Ultimately both 4G and 3G will enhance broadband experience and that’s why we are excited about this.”
Migration process to 4G LTE
Oyagbola further stated that MTN has put in place a number of measures to make the switch to 4G from 3G as seamless as possible for subscribers. According to her, subscribers seeking to move over to 4G would need to visit MTN customer service centres in any of the designated cities with available 4G LTE network to get a special Subscriber Identification Module (SIM), the U-SIM, for free, in order to log on to the network. She also added that the subscribers would also need to verify if their mobile phones are 4G LTE enabled before using the service.
She said: “Due to the fact that 4G LTE is much more advanced than the 3G, subscribers will need to change their SIM cards to a 4G LTE compliant SIM card which is called the U-SIM. We are giving these SIMs out for free in all our MTN centres in cities where we have the 4G LTE running. Also, MTN subscribers can check if their phones are 4G LTE compatible by simply sending 4G to the number, 131.”
Oyagbola also stated that migration to the platform will not attract any addition cost neither will it fall under any new tariff plan.
For subscribers seeking to enjoy the service from the comfort of their homes, 4G LTE MIFIs can be bought, fixed at home or office and users will enjoy the services through the connected devices.
Now that most telecoms operators have launched the 4G LTE network, subscribers, no doubt will begin to enjoy high speed internet connectivity, for which 4G LTE technology is known for.