Nigeria’s State of Readiness for 5G Rollout

The readiness of Nigeria to join the league of nations in 5G rollout by 2020 will enhance speed in technology growth across the country, writes Emma Okonji

Last week, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, raised the hopes of many Nigerians, when it announced the state of readiness of Nigeria to roll out 5G services across the country by 2020.

5G, which is the fifth generation technology network, is the advanced form of technology of 2G, 3G and 4G, which Nigeria currently operates. Most advanced countries of the world have adopted 5G network, while majority are considering its adoption in the next few years, because of its high connectivity speed that will drive new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoTs).

Although robust infrastructure, regulation and spectrum management are key factors for a successful 5G rollout, NCC has assured Nigerians that those factors would be addressed, since trial testing of the 5G rollout plan has commenced in the country beginning with the Eko Atlantic project.

Nigeria’s 5G rollout plan

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, who announced the 5G rollout plan in Abuja, during a collaborative meeting with GSMA for 5G rollout in Nigeria, said the country would begin 5G rollout in 2020, with the 26GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz spectrum bands, which are the available spectrum bands at the moment. According to Danbatta, 5G networks remained the next generation network of connectivity in the telecommunications industry, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices than ever before. He therefore encouraged mobile network operators to be more innovative to take advantage of the opportunities that 5G will bring to Nigeria. He challenged the operators to develop smarter ways of utilising available resources in order to maximise the gains of 5G technology.

“It is pertinent that the issue of telecommunications development must be taken with all seriousness to foster innovation and growth in the industry. Statistics had shown that for every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration, there is a corresponding 1.3 per cent increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a nation. In another research carried out by GSMA in 2017, telecommunications contributed about $3.6 trillion to the global GDP, which is about 4.6 per cent of global GDP. This is estimated to reach $4 trillion by 2025. In Nigeria, telecommunication has already contributed 10.43 per cent to the GDP in the second quarter of 2018,” Danbatta said.

Benefits of 5G

It is projected that 5G rollout would increase speed of Internet connectivity, and that the commencement of the trial testing of 5G rollout with the Eko Atlantic project, will further drive broadband data and internet connectivity that will allow humans to interact with connected devices to check their health status, and remotely control home appliances without physical contact. Head, sub-Saharan Africa for GSMA, Mr. Akinwale Goodluck, said although Nigeria still operates 2G and 4G networks, they will gradually give way for 5G as the demand for 5G increases among the millennials who are the digital natives.

Impediments to 5G rollout

Danbatta, who identified lack of infrastructure, spectrum and regulation as impediments to 5G rollout, said NCC was already working to address the issues, ahead of the 2020 rollout date. According to Danbatta, the factors that affect growth and innovation in the telecoms industry are government policies, regulation, and performance of the network.

“To promote innovation and growth in the telecoms industry, we must develop strategic policies, provide essential infrastructure, enhance competitive market, robust regulatory frameworks, focused compliance monitoring and enforcement mechanism, reform spectrum access mechanisms, improve capacity development, increase universal access, increase liberalisation and competition initiatives in network development and facilitate the exchange of ideas, views and experiences among members through appropriate avenues for regular participation in relevant conferences, fora and workshops,” Danbatta said.

“The mobile network operators must develop a culture that encourages and rewards innovation, identity and design novel business models and enrich their insights from other regions and industries. It is important that they integrate their technological and business infrastructure to create next-generation networks and operations that will provide the flexibility required for growth and innovation,” Danbatta added.

According to him, “The first transformation is the redesign of today’s core network business as a ‘consumer trust network’ that maximises its resilience, while simultaneously supporting its ability to offer bespoke and carrier-grade services. The second transformation in the creation of specialised growth engines that leverage the restructured core business to deliver tailored network services such as network/as-a-service, to meet emerging public, private enterprise, consumer and wholesale customer needs.”

GSMA’s Position on 5G

GSMA used the occasion of the collaborative meeting with NCC in Abuja, to launch its latest report, which focuses on ‘Spotlight on Nigeria: Delivering a Digital Future’ for 5G rollout.

According to the report, modernising regulation and policy reform would be crucial to boosting Nigeria’s digital economy and accelerating internet access for millions through increased mobile broadband penetration.
GSMA research shows that the mobile market in Nigeria makes an important contribution to the economy.

“The mobile industry contributed $21 billion to GDP in 2017, representing 5.5 per cent of Nigeria’s total GDP. In addition, the growth of Nigeria’s digital economy resulted in the creation of nearly 500,000 direct and indirect jobs,” the report said.

Addressing the issue of spectrum to drive 5G rollout in Nigeria, GSMA identified support for and release of harmonised spectrum and a modernised licensing framework as fundamental building blocks for Nigeria’s digital future.

The harmonisation of 1427-1518 MHz and 3.3–3.6 GHz makes them critically important bands for mobile operators seeking to offer new mobile services to consumers and businesses. Making these bands available for assignment to mobile operators will be a core component in reinforcing Nigeria’s position as Africa’s leading mobile market, according to GSMA report.

Speaking on connectivity, Goodluck said: “Mobile connectivity has already improved the welfare of millions of Nigerians, opening the doors to new digital possibilities and powering the country’s economic development.” He added that for Nigeria to take full advantage of the next phase of its digital transformation, through 5G rollout, it’s vital that collaboration between industry and government enables the right policy environment for millions more to benefit from ultra-fast mobile broadband.”

According to Goodluck, “If policies don’t keep pace with the needs of society and technological innovation, there is a risk that citizens will be left behind and productivity and competitiveness will suffer.”
However, the report concluded that there is still broad scope for Nigeria to increase its mobile penetration. Although more Nigerians are getting access to mobile broadband, the country lags regional peers in 4G adoption. Helping to accelerate adoption would enable more advanced services and create bigger societal impacts.

The GSMA report pointed out that with increased spectrum harmonisation and licensing reform, the country’s mobile penetration is forecast to rise to 55 per cent of the population by 2025, with 70 per cent having 3G connectivity and 17 per cent having access to 4G networks. Currently, only 44 per cent of mobile subscribers in Nigeria are using 3G technology and 4 per cent are using 4G technology, compared to over 18 per cent 4G penetration in South Africa and 16 per cent in Angola.

Global 5G projection

Meanwhile, Ericsson, a global technology solution provider, with operations in Nigeria, has released its latest edition of the Ericsson’s Mobility Report, which projected that 5G would reach more than 40 per cent global population coverage with 1.5 billion subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by the end of 2024.

According to the report, this would make 5G the fastest generation of cellular technology to be rolled out on a global scale.

The Ericsson Mobility Report projected that cellular Internet of Things (IoT) connections would surpass four billion in the next six years. This is just as global mobile data traffic grew 79 per cent year-on-year in Q3 2018.

Key drivers for 5G deployment include increased network capacity, lower cost per gigabyte and new use case requirements.

The report said North America and North East Asia are expected to lead the 5G uptake. In North America, 5G subscriptions are forecast to account for 55 per cent of mobile subscriptions by the end of 2024. In North East Asia, the corresponding forecast figure is more than 43 per cent, the report said.

In Western Europe, 5G is forecast to account for 30 per cent of mobile subscriptions in the region by the end of 2024.

Analysing the report, Head of West Africa at Ericsson Middle East and African operations, Nora Wahby, said of the 4.1 billion cellular IoT connections forecast for 2024, North East Asia is expected to account for 2.7 billion, a figure reflecting both the ambition and size of the cellular IoT market in the region.

With Nigeria’s readiness for 5G rollout by 2020, coupled with the benefits of 5G and its global projection, Nigerians would be excited to experience 5G rollout in the nest two years.

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