Achieving 70% Broadband Penetration

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The Nigerian Communications Commission is committed to lead Nigeria in achieving the 70 per cent broadband penetration target by 2025, writes Emma Okonji

The second broadband committee with a mandate to develop the 2020 – 2025 National Broadband Plan, targeted at achieving 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025 was recently inaugurated. However, most industry analysts are afraid that the mandate may be a tough one to achieve, given the state of telecoms and broadband infrastructure in the country.

Industry analysts are of the view that government needed to develop a national broadband backbone infrastructure that will transmit broadband capacities from the shores of the country to the hinterlands, where demand for broadband services is equally high, if the country must achieve 70 per cent broadband penetration.

But confident that the country will achieve the set target the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, has assured Nigerians that through the implementation of proper regulatory procedures, Nigeria could achieve the broadband target, just the same way it achieved the previous 30 per cent broadband target, which was the mandate of the first broadband committee to by December 2018.

Danbatta, who admitted that Nigeria needed to deploy more broadband infrastructure in order to achieve ubiquitous broadband access, however said the deployment of additional broadband infrastructure must be complemented with policy drive and regulation, in order to further deepen broadband penetration in the country.

Investment in broadband infrastructure has been described as a sure way to deepen access to internet and online activities among Nigerians. With ubiquitous broadband access, government activities could be accessed online real time, while businesses could grow much faster via online transactions in the area of e-commerce.

Having successfully achieved and surpassed the 30 per cent broadband penetration in 2018, the Federal Government, last year, set up another broadband committee, with a five-year mandate (2020-2025) to achieve 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025.

Before the committee was set up, the President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, had proposed another five-year broadband plan for the country, with 70 per cent broadband target. While stressing the importance of another broadband roadmap for Nigeria, Teniola said the country was able to attain and surpass the 30 per cent broadband target in 2018 because there was a roadmap.

According to him, “The general Nigerian economy is currently struggling between 1-2 per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP), but by the time we attain the proposed 70 per cent broadband penetration level, Nigerian GDP will reach 9.6 per cent, which is high in global ranking.”

Asked the rationale in attaining 70 per cent broadband penetration in spite of the country’s broadband infrastructure challenges, Teniola said: “What matters is the will of the telecoms regulator and that of the people and the government at all levels. Nigeria has talented youths that can maximise broadband opportunity to develop technology solutions that will address specific challenges and drive national development.”
He assured Nigerians that national development would be faster if the country gets its broadband priorities right, through the implementation of policies, which the NCC has long assured.

From the inception of the rollout of Global Service for Mobile Communications (GSM) in Nigeria In 2001, poor telecoms service had always been an issue affecting telecoms growth, including broadband penetration.

From the inception, telecoms operators and the telecoms industry regulator, have introduced different measures to address the issue, but it prevailed at different levels and at different years in the history of telecoms in Nigeria. NCC had in the past, introduced the Telecoms Consumer Parliament (TCP), where it brought together, telecoms operators and subscribers together to address the challenges faced by telecoms subscribers on the various networks.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) threshold was introduced and operators were compelled to expand their network capacities and maintain certain level of the KPI threshold in order to have stable network and improved telecoms service. But in all of these, the situation of poor service quality persisted over the years, despite the sanctions imposed on operators by NCC, for those that could not maintain the minimum standard of KPIs set by the NCC.

The telecoms operators however, were bold to tell NCC that challenges were above what they could handle, and blamed the situation of poor service quality on willful destruction and theft of telecoms facilities by social miscreants who often extort money from staff of telecoms companies and prevent them from carrying out network expansion along major roads and streets. The telecoms operators also identified fibre optic cable cuts during road construction as well as incessant closure of telecoms sites by government agencies over issues on Right of Ways (RoWs), which they said, were responsible for poor service quality on their networks.

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo had told NCC that the issue of poor service quality was beyond the control of telecoms operators, and called on NCC to address issues such as incessant closure of telecoms sites by state and federal government agencies and the willful destruction and theft of telecoms facilities, among others. Adebayo said unless telecoms facilities are declared as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), that will lead to protection of telecoms facilities by law, the issue of poor telecoms service would persist.

5G deployment
Another readiness index for the NCC is its ongoing plan to facilitate the deployment of 5G networks in the country. Already, Proof of Concept (PoC) trial has been conducted by MTN through the platform created by the Commission to test the speed, latency and capacity, which 5G offers ahead of other generational technology platforms such as 2G, 3G and 4G.

At the just concluded Social Media Week in Lagos, the commission restated its commitment to begin the auction process of 5G to enable Nigerians partake from its many benefits, but decried the poor state of power infrastructure in the country, which the Commission said, could hinder its deployment.
NCC therefore, called on the federal government to prioritise adequate power generation and distribution in the country to address the challenge.

The Director, Technical Standard and Network Integrity at NCC, Mr. Bako Wakil, said 5G remained a clear departure from 3G and 4G networks.
According to Wakil, “5G also known as IMT 2020 has been designed with huge capability and requirements for today and future need. Having carried out successful trial in the country, the next is commercialisation, but we have identified the erratic power situation and low fibre infrastructure as major limitations to 5G deployment on a large scale in Nigeria.”

While NCC can comfortably address the fibre infrastructure gap, Wakil said “power generation and distribution is not within our purview of NCC, but we are working with the relevant agencies to see what can be done.”

In his contribution, at the panel moderated by NCC Head of Online and Special Publication, Dr. Niyi Ibietan, the commission’s Assistant Director, Spectrum Administration, Mr. Kenneth Uzoekwe, said lots of spectrum have been identified by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Uzoekwe, who represented the Commission’s Director of Spectrum Administration, Mr. Austin Nwaulune, said about six spectrum at higher bands have been marked down, “they are available, but yet to be assigned.”

According to him, 5G’s importance and beauty also lies in the availability of spectrum. He stressed that whenever Nigeria is ready for commercial deployment of 5G network, there would be some re-assignment of some spectrum to fast track deployment.
On what 5G holds for Nigeria if successfully deployed, Uzoekwe said broadband would improve, leading to faster download and upload of contents; encourage financial inclusion, faster health care service delivery, smarter transport system and appliances.