Is Nigeria Ready for 5G Technology?

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Business/TELECOMS PAGE

Emma Okonji writes that Nigeria, which still is struggling to launch 4G network, has a long way to go in 5G deployment, as developed countries of the world are already gearing up to launch the wireless technology

The global mobile industry is fast moving forward to 5G wireless technology deployment. In early April, South Korea’s three mobile operators launched services for consumers across most of the country, while in the US Verizon introduced 5G in three areas, with plans to cover 30 cities by year-end. Europe is not far behind, with Italy and Germany already holding 5G spectrum auctions.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), in June this year, issued commercial 5G licences to China Telecoms, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Broadcasting Network.

While other counties, especially outside of Africa are making moves to launch 5G network and services, Nigeria, which is the giant of Africa, is still far from 5G launch, even though the country’s regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) believes that work is in progress towards the launch of 5G network in Nigeria by 2020. Some industry players who commended the ambition of the regulator, however said Nigeria was still far from achieving 5G technology launch, owing to infrastructure deficit. A recent report from GSMA, the African regulator of mobile operations, showed that 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.

About 5G Technology

5G is the next generation of mobile broadband, also known as the 5th Generation Network that will eventually replace, or at least augment 4G LTE connection. With 5G, users will see exponentially faster download and upload speeds. Latency, which is the time it takes devices to communicate with each other wireless networks, will also drastically decrease. Unlike LTE, 5G operates on three different spectrum bands: Low-band Spectrum, Middle-band Spectrum and High-band Spectrum.

The low-band spectrum can be described as sub 1GHz spectrum. It is primarily the spectrum band used by carriers in the United States for Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, and is quickly becoming depleted. While low-band spectrum offers great coverage area and penetration, it has some major drawbacks.

The mid-band spectrum provides faster coverage and lower latency than the low-band. It does, however, fail to penetrate buildings as well as low-band spectrum.

High-band spectrum is what most people think of when they think of 5G. It is often referred to as mmWave.

High-band spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10Gbps and has very low latency. The major drawback of high-band is that it has low coverage area and building penetration is poor.

Benefits of 5G

The 5G technology allows increased usage and it comes with high speed connectivity. One of the advantages of 5th generation of wireless technology is that there will be more bandwidth on the data networks of companies, government agencies and individuals, including SME businesses.

The hype around 5G has been brewing for more than a year, but the technology promises to change people’s lives by connecting everything around people to a network that is 100 times faster than the cellular connection and 10 times faster than home broadband service.

The evolution to 5G is so much more that it combines speed, responsiveness and reach-out to a wider area network that could unlock the full capabilities of other hot trends in technology, offering a boost to self-driving cars, drones, virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoTs).

Evolution

Before the evolution of 5G technology, countries including Nigeria, operated the 2G technology, before advancing to 3G, 4G and 5G technologies. As smartphone technology has advanced, customers have seen multiple generations of data technology emerge in the past few years. It started with 2G and advanced to 3G, then progressed to 4G LTE, and now people are starting to hear whispers of a 5G version on the horizon. While it may still be a while away from becoming mainstream, it is important for people to start learning about 5G technology now so that they can decide if the features are right for them.

Nigeria as a country started with 2G for mobile connectivity, before advancing to 3G. Most of the mobile networks are on 3G but are gradually adjacent to 4G LTE. The hype about 5G technology is still far among mobile operators, citing infrastructure deficit across the country. But even at that, the NCC is optimistic that Nigeria will deploy 5G technology from 2020 and beyond.

Trends in 5G deployment

In early April, South Korea’s three mobile operators launched services for consumers across most of the country, while in the US, Verizon introduced 5G in three areas, with plans to cover 30 cities by year-end. In Europe, Italy and Germany are already holding 5G spectrum auctions.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in June this year, issued commercial 5G licences to China Telecoms, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Broadcasting Network.

The next-generation mobile technology is forecast to generate CNY10.6 trillion ($1.53 trillion) in economic value and more than three million jobs between 2020 and 2025, according to data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology showed. China’s operators are expected to spend $150 billion on 5G rollouts, local media reported previously.

Top Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of TF Securities says all three models of Apple’s 2020 iPhones will support 5G in order to better compete with 5G Android devices. In June, Kuo said only two models of Apple’s planned 2020 iPhones would ship with 5G support, while a third would offer 4G LTE to help keep costs down. But competition against Android in the low-cost segment will force Apple to add 5G, Kuo said in a note last week.

In earlier notes, Kuo said the iPhones would ship with 6.7-inch, 6.1-inch and 5.4-inch screen size and that all would have the newer OLED screens that are on Apple’s high-end iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS.

Vodafone UK, for instance, attempted to set itself apart from market rivals with the launch of unlimited 5G tariffs, an upgraded converged offering and claims it will not charge a premium for the new network technology.

At the operator’s 5G launch event in London, held more than a month after rival EE switched-on its service, Vodafone announced three new consumer and business plans all offering unlimited data.

Mobile World Live, in cooperation with Huawei, conducted an online survey of telecoms executives to assess their readiness to deploy 5G networks, the drivers behind the launches and the expected key benefits.

The survey found nearly half of operators plan to launch 5G service in 2019 and another 27 per cent planning rollouts in 2020.

According to the report, respondents agreed that cost reduction of about 46 per cent and coverage of about 22 per cent will be key 5G drivers, but ranked capacity third at about 15 per cent. The report also said 5G operators are putting a key focus on cellular IoT, FWA, eMBB and connected cars, and concluded that to adapt to the changes 5G networks would bring new business models, with 40 per cent of respondents saying network sharing will be required.

A recent GSMA report also stated that round 239 million people, equivalent to 23 per cent of the sub-Saharan region’s population, use the mobile internet on a regular basis, and that smartphones accounted for 39 per cent of mobile connections in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, with a forecast to increase to two thirds of connections by 2025.

The report said the region’s mobile operators were increasing investment in their networks and were expected to spend $60 billion capital expenditure (capex) on network infrastructure and services between 2018 and 2025 – almost a fifth of this total being invested in new 5G networks.

Expected 5G Rollout in Nigeria

Just as other countries of the world are bracing up for 5G launch and service rollout, Nigeria is equally optimistic of 5G rollout in 2020, even though mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) do not see the possibility of 5G rollout in the country soon, citing poor infrastructure.

The NCC, some months ago, announced the readiness of Nigeria to roll out 5G network with the 26GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz spectrum bands by the year 2020.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Pro. Umar Garba Danbatta, who made the announcement in Abuja during a collaborative meeting with GSMA for 5G rollout in Nigeria, said trial testing of the rollout plan had commenced in the country beginning with the Eko Atlantic project, where broadband data would drive connectivity and allow humans to interact with connected devices to check health their status, and remotely control home appliances without physical contact.

Although Danbatta identified the deficit in infrastructure rollout and spectrum availability in the country, he said NCC was already working to address the challenges and would begin with the available 26GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz to drive 5G rollout in the country.

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.

“NCC is already working on the three key factors that will drive 5G deployment, which include infrastructure, spectrum and regulation ahead of the 2020 rollout date. We will rely on existing policies and regulation, and still come up with additional policies and regulation that will address any hiccups,” Danbatta said.

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Although NCC is optimistic that Nigeria will roll out 5G network next year, the Managing Director, Bitflux Communications, Mr. Biodun Omoniyi, one of the ISPs in Nigeria that is currently rolling out broadband retail services on its 4G LTE network, said such optimism may be dashed by poor infrastructure layout across the country. “Based on our current state of infrastructure, Nigeria is not technically ready for 5G rollout. Our infrastructure is not there yet and we are far from readiness,” Omoniyi told THISDAY.

He, however, explained that apart from China and few other counties in Europe, the rest are only doing trial testing of the 5G technology that will change lives and boost digital transformation.

Managing Director, Spectranet, Mr. Ajay Awasthi, said as an ISP, Spectranet would continue to provide fast internet service to its customers on its 4G LTE technology, which he said was as good as 5G technology, in terms of speed of connectivity.

5G Regulation

Although counties from various parts of the world are already discussing 5G rollout, the issue of regulation across globe, has been posing some challenges to contend with. Ericsson for instance, has joined calls for a rational approach to spectrum licence fees for the 5G era, urging regulators not to sacrifice the long-term potential of the technology for short-term gain.

The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Ericsson, Mr. Erik Ekudden, told Mobile World Live Congress recently that governments must prepare an investment climate that enables all parties to profit from the next-generation technology. Key to this are light touch regulations which deliver the necessary spectrum, and give companies the confidence to invest in and deploy 5G kit.

“There is no meaning in having high upfront fees for spectrum when the real value of 5G infrastructure comes down the road in terms of benefitting all of society,” Ekudden explained.

In addition to a change in approach to licensing, Ekudden noted 5G is also changing the way Ericsson develops technology: “It’s less about competition”, he said, adding that Ericsson in more focused about how the technology can work .