Stakeholders Advocate Unlicensed Spectrum Band

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Emma Okonji

Telecommunication stakeholders have called on the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to set aside unlicensed spectrum band that will be used free of charge by smaller operators who have the capacity to provide clusters of telecoms services in remote areas, but could not afford to participate in spectrum auction because of the heavy cost implication.

The operators made the call against the backdrop of the recent sale of 5.4GHz spectrum band in Abuja, by NCC, where it raked in N55 million from the auction of two slots of 25MHz in the 5.4GHz spectrum for the delivery of wireless broadband in Lagos State. At the conclusion of the auction, where six bidders participated, only two eventually won, Cobranet Limited and Swiftnetworks Limited.

The stakeholders who faulted the NCC for auctioning the 5.4GHz spectrum, spoke at a technology forum in Lagos, organised by the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON). They stated that the NCC was supposed allow certain spectrum as unlicensed, to enable smaller operators use them free of charge to provide services in remote parts of the country.
The former President of ATCON, Mr. Lanre Ajayi said regulators in other jurisdictions have unlicensed spectrum, and wondered why NCC decided to auction all available spectrum, without reserving any as unlicensed.

According to him, NCC should have cleaned up the spectrum and make it more viable for auction, since it is interested in selling all available spectrum. He said the 5.4GHz spectrum has a lot of interferes that would affect speed of business, and that those that bided and won, did so because they did not get the right spectrum to buy. He wondered why the NCC has refused to license the 2.6GHz spectrum, which he said is a better spectrum for delivering broadband services to the people.

Addressing the issue of spectrum hoarding, the stakeholders called on NCC to introduce spectrum trading, where operators who may have bided and won certain spectrum licences, but could not rollout the services for various reasons, could trade such spectrum to other operators that are willing to buy and are equally ready financially to rollout the service.

President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola, was however worried about the situation where smaller operators who participate in spectrum trading would be able to meet the rollout obligation.
Responding, the Director, Spectrum Administration at NCC, Austin Nwaulune, defended the sale of the 5.4GHz spectrum, insisting that the spectrum was sold on purpose and in a very transparent manner. “The 5.4GHz spectrum was not sold because NCC needed to make money for government. It was sold because NCC wanted to encourage smaller operators who needed the spectrum to rollout services, hence it was sold at N55 million, which is far lower that previous licences auctioned by NCC,” Nwaulune said.

He further explained that the same spectrum was put out for auction some ten years ago, but operators were not interested in it because there were no telecoms infrastructure and devices that could drive its rollout. He said such infrastructure and devices are now readily available, hence NCC decided to auction it. He insisted that devices are key factors to spectrum rollout and that where there are no devices to boost rollout, the spectrum becomes unattractive for auction.

Responding to the issue raised on spectrum trading, Nwaulune said NCC has done its feasibility studies and would soon make its position known, as it relates to spectrum trading.