Telcos Insist Market Forces Will Determine 5G Spread, Allay Perceived Fears of Interference on Aviation

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Emma Okonji

Ahead of 5G network rollout in Nigeria this year, subscribers are already calling on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to reduce the cost of 5G devices in order to encourage massive deployment and adoption of 5G network across the country.

The subscribers made the call based on the sudden surge in the demand for 5G devices in China in 2021, as a result of the drop in prices of 5G devices. China is one of the few countries of the world that has deployed 5G network.

Reacting to the call, telecoms operators (Telcos) in Nigeria, insisted that only market forces will determine wide spread rollout and adoption of 5G services in Nigeria, and not necessarily the reduction in the prices of 5G devices.

In China, government figures reportedly showed that shipments of 5G-compatible smartphones, rose to 266 million in 2021, significantly surpassing the global average as falling prices boosted demand in the country.

Xinhua News Agency of China, reported that the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), released data showing that shipments of 5G devices increased 63.5 per cent over 2020, as users were encouraged to take advantage of the drop in prices of average handset, falling below CNY1,000 ($157.41).

The authority’s data indicated the total number of smartphone subscribers for China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, reached 1.6 billion, of which 497 million were connected to 5G networks, up by 298 million compared with 2020 figure.

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, however said reduction in the cost of 5G devices would not necessarily boost the wide spread of 5G rollout and adoption in Nigeria, since acceptance and adoption of 5G services would be based on the needs of the subscribers.

He told THISDAY that market forces would rather determine the wide spread and adoption of 5G services across Nigeria.

According to him, “When the volume of 5G devices is high, the unit cost will definitely reduce. In Nigeria, it will be too early for subscribers to call for reduction in the unit cost of 5G devices, when 5G services have not been commercially introduced, unlike China. Again most of the current smartphones are 5G ready, and these devices are 3G and 4G enabled. So as market forces prevail, OEMs will begin to add cheaper chips to their devices that will be compatible with 3G, 4G and 5G networks.”

Adebayo who cited the early days of the rollout of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001 in Nigeria, said cost of devices and even cost of GSM services were very expensive initially, but later drooped based on market forces and not necessarily because of the reduction in the unit cost of mobile phone devices.

Adebayo also allayed the perceived fears that 5G network would interfere with aviation operations in the country.

Reacting to the recent restriction notice issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), restricting the use of radio altimeters in some locations, for the planned deployment of 5G network in C-Band spectrum, Adebayo said even in Europe where 5G has been rolled out, telecoms operators were allowed to deploy 5G services around airports.

“In Nigeria, there has not been any industry position on the perceived interference of 5G network on aviation operations. Studies are on-going and I do not think it is something that we should worry about in Nigeria, the reason being that mobile devices are built with certain intelligence to protect any form of interference on aviation operations. The kind of firewalls on aviation facilities that protect aviation signals are so high, just the way it is with any mission-critical sectors of the Nigerian economy,” Adebayo said.

In the US, restrictions were part of a series of FAA directives, which could also see some flights blocked completely, as the regulator and US aviation industry are at loggerheads regarding potential interference from 5G services in the C-Band.

Radio altimeters use spectrum in the 4.2GHz to 4.4GHz band, and telecoms operators in the US are on the brink of initial launches in the 3.7GHz to 3.98GHz range, after being delayed twice, due to concerns over interference with the altimeters.