5G NETWORKS AND THE CHALLENGE OF SECURITY
The deployment of 5G network will help in containing the prevailing security crisis, contends Sonny Aragba-Akpore
Despite the presence of an earth observation Satellite, Nigeria Sat-2, managed by the National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA) in orbit and in operation, no answer was found to the disappearance of Chibok girls on April 14, 2014. While everybody was having high blood pressure on this, Dapchi girls suffered a similar fate on February 19, 2018.
NARSDA has four satellites with very well-articulated ambition for earth observation and very high-resolution pictures but could not provide answers to the series of abductions and other bandit/terror activities across the country. And so we continue to run in a circle in this regard.
And when President Muhammadu Buhari launched a 5G Committee the other day with an advice to the security agencies to take advantage of the new technology when established to curtail security challenges we were brought the reality of the earth observation satellite whose primary objective was to address such challenges in collaboration with the security agencies but very little has come from that direction.
5G may be the magic wand if we harness the resources and the technology when established and as we await the rollout of the networks.
5G is not a government project, and the President is aware. How the operators manage their networks will be informed by their business decisions. The other day networks in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kaduna, and Borno States were shut down because terrorists/bandits were allegedly deploying them for their activities. Good as the move was, it had its negative sides. If this could happen how did the security agencies communicate with each other in a crisis of this magnitude? Communication was cut off completely from everybody in those regions. So how will 5G networks be different?
Communications and Digital Economy Minister Dr. Isa Pantami spoke so much before and after the December 13, 2021 auction for 5G licences which bids were won by MTN Nigeria Communications Limited and Mafab Communications limited.
The auction mid-wifed by national telecommunication regulator the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was seen by many as successful. It was likened to the success recorded by the commission in 2001 when it achieved a globally acclaimed Digital Mobile Licence (DML) auction that changed the communications landscape in Nigeria.
But while the 5G auction brought excitement to the government not necessarily because of its success alone but by the reality that in the face of dwindling government revenue and mounting expenditure $546m will be paid by the licence beneficiaries into government coffers while the winners of the bid return to their drawing boards to source funds to beat the deadline for the payment and actualise the conditions of the licence. And while the minister is doing all the talking and boasting that Nigeria will have the largest 5G network in Africa by 2022 the companies have said very little in this regard. The minister spoke and still speaks louder than the bid winners who have not said anything including their strategies to roll out and how much impact they will make with 5G that is expected to make a difference in communications and the business environment.
The minister as a government official should limit his speeches to policy issues and allow the regulator, NCC, bother about how the licensees plan to actualize their rollout obligations and provide services that will serve as game-changer.
After all, the licensees are going through their private battles on how to pay the bid fees and begin the process of the rollout.
5G services will not be cheap, but the cost of acquisition of the services by individuals may not be prohibitive just like the experience of the Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM) in 2001.
In 2001 Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card sold for as much as N20,000, and the handsets as well, but today handsets are in various categories and Sim card are almost free.
The first game-changer for GSM was Glo mobile after it won the Second Network Operator (SNO) licence in 2003 and against all odds, introduced per-second billing, a platform which earlier operators thought impossible.
So the minister’s statement that Nigeria will have the largest 5G coverage in Africa has been faulted by the Association of Licenced Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) insisting that market forces will determine the cost and spread of 5G services provided by the operators.
ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, an engineer explained that scaling down prices for 5G services would not lead to a quick spread of the services since it will be subject to the need and acceptance of subscribers. The spread will be determined by market forces and the price of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) terminal equipment and devices.
The government should be interested in the bigger picture of the 5G service especially as it affects the insinuation of interference with aviation services. But even when the Chief Executive of NCC, Prof Umar Garba Danbatta says there is nothing to worry about, it is not enough to gloss over it. The NCC and the critical stakeholders should put a working strategy in place to comfort the operators and sign on subscribers. Adebayo is quoted as saying that there is no industry position yet on the perceived interference of 5G services on aviation operations. “Studies are ongoing and I do not think it is something to worry about. Although the investors have not spoken out about their fears, we should believe Adabayo and Danbatta.
Nigeria is not the first country in Africa to introduce or attempt to initiate 5G services. Twenty-four operators are in various stages of testing and actualizing 5G services in 18 African countries.
South Africa has three – MTN, Vodacom, and Rain, covering the country according to the mandate issued to them by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). There are also Telma in Madagascar, Safaricom in Uganda. Kenya, Gabon, Mauritius, and others are already testing, and Nigeria is yet to test. So we should talk less and do more.
Nigeria will join the 176 countries that have launched public 5G services for mobile or fixed wireless. These have over 500 million subscribers in 1,336 cities as of August 2021. The coverage is also widespread. For instance, 76% of the North American population has 5G services while 28% of East Asia are covered.
Indeed 30% of the Global population has 5G services in America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and African (EMEA) countries. China has coverage in 341 cities, the USA in 279 cities, South Korea (85), the UK (54), Spain (53), Canada (49) Australia (37) Saudi Arabia (37), Italy (35) France (24) Thailand (24) and Sweden (21) in that order.
We must acknowledge that better infrastructure is necessary to provide good access. And it costs a lot to build if we must reach the rural populace. If the government advocates for this all-important broadband spread which 5G will provides, it will solve several problems including security challenges.
Pantami thinks that 5G will harness the social and economic benefits that come with it and serves as a catalyst for the successful implementation of National Digital Economy and Strategy (NDEPS). But while other countries are providing incentives for connectivity, policymakers here dissipate energy on long speeches that have never cushioned the pains of the people. Will they do anything different for 5G?
Aragba-Akpore is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board