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NCC And The Quest To Secure Nigeria’s Future With 5G, Broadband

The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the nation’s telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NigComSat) has proven to be a step further in NCC’s quest to ensure ubiquitous broadband deployment in the country.

The milestone MoU was with regards to the release of Spectrum in the C-Band to enable the deployment of the fifth generation of mobile technologies (5G) across the country.

In the past, the NCC had stressed on the need for 5G technology adoption in the country, a move it insists will propel the country to advanced digital prowess and growth.

The NCC has a clear ambition to ensure that the Digital Economy Policy of the Federal Government is accomplished and one of the instruments for the realization of this Policy is the availability of a robust information and communication network in the country. The Commission having identified the unique benefits and the role 5G can play in accomplishing the objectives of the digital economy, has outlined a Plan that will facilitate the deployment of 5G Technology in Nigeria. The 5G communication technology is the next evolution of the mobile communications technology, which is capable of creating new opportunities for growth in the economy by enabling new and dynamic business models and opening up new opportunities and markets. It also provides tremendous improvements in interpersonal communications with several innovations and services.

5G is expected to connect people, things, data, applications, transport systems and cities in smart networked communication environments. It should transport a huge amount of data much faster, reliably connect an extremely large number of devices and process very high volumes of data with minimal delay.

5G technologies are expected to support applications such as smart homes and buildings, smart cities, 3D video, work and play in the cloud, remote medical services, virtual and augmented reality, and massive machine-to-machine communications for industry automation. 3G and 4G networks currently face challenges in supporting these services.

In 2019, Nigeria undertook 5G trials in selected locations within the country in collaboration with an operator and some other stakeholders.

According to the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, the trial, among others was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present. “The Commission also has an ongoing engagement with the academia while at the same time funding 5G related research projects, all in a bid to ensure the nation is provided with the best in terms of research findings and policy input to drive the implementation and deployment of 5G technology in Nigeria.”

These efforts have gradually introduced 5G technology into the country, and in its tradition to assure Nigerians of the importance, as well as the safety of the technology, the NCC has been carrying the public and other stakeholders along in its developmental initiatives.

It will be recalled that at the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, many Nigerians and global pundits got stuck on the notion that the introduction of 5G technology was the reason behind the spread of the novel COVID-19 Pandemic.

This misconception was even made worse because those saddled with the responsibility of informing, educating and enlightening the average Nigerian telecom consumers were also bereft of the knowledge of this new technology and hitched a ride on the band wagon of doubters.

The story now has been seen as a silly old ladies’ tale.

NCC’s efforts at making bare the truth about 5G helped to convince Nigerians of the importance of the new technology in growing the nation’s economy and aligning with global trends.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami had, at a forum in Abuja, acknowledged the role of NCC in spearheading the implementation of critical ICT policies, such as the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2020-2025 and the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria (2020-2030), all geared at developing the country’s broadband and digital economy growth.

The 5G consumer market could be worth USD 31 trillion by 2030 globally, according to the ‘Harnessing the 5G Consumer Potential’ report from Ericsson ConsumerLab.

The report estimates that communications service providers (CSPs) could earn USD 3.7 trillion of that total – a figure that could increase further as new adjacent digital services opportunities arise.

The report also estimates that CSPs could generate up to USD 131 billion by 2030 from digital service revenues alone, by proactively bundling and marketing 5G use cases.

About 40% of these revenue projections are attributed to consumer spending on enhanced video, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and cloud gaming over 5G networks. The report projects that AR is likely to drive more than half of all consumer spending on immersive media by 2030 – starting with gaming and extending to other areas like shopping, education and remote collaboration.

5G intends to accelerate the achievement of all global 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from affordable and clean energy to zero hunger.​

When deployed, 5G networks should deliver more speed and capacity to support massive machine-to-machine communications and to provide low-latency (delay), high-reliability service for time-critical applications. Based on trials to date, 5G networks are starting to demonstrate high performance in different scenarios such as dense urban areas and indoor hotspots.

As at July 2020, there were already about ninety-two (92) commercial launches of 5G networks in Thirty-Eight (38) countries spread across all regions of the world.

The NCC has set things in motion to include Nigeria on the global progressive map. One of the major steps, aside the recent freeing of spectrums for 5G deployment, include policy formulation and setting up of blueprints that will guide the implementation of 5G and Broadband  in Nigeria.

Such documents include the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020-2025, which is without a doubt, an ambitious document with targets set that was developed jointly by critical stakeholders of the Telecoms and IT sectors of Nigeria. These stakeholders comprising of Government and private sector Executives, Experts, Managers, Associations and MDA’s in the Telecom & IT Sectors.

The NNBP 2020-2025 targets, among others, achieving 15Mbps & 25Mbps internet speed in rural and urban areas respectively by 2025, interconnection of 90% of all LGA’s by fibre, 70% Population penetration, 100% of Tertiary Institutions to be within 5Km of a fibre PoA, 60% of all telecom towers to be connected by fibre, connection of 1 major hospital or General hospital per LGA via fibre, reduction of average cost of data to N390/Gb or less and establishment of at least one (1) local assembly or manufacture of smart devices and reduction of RoW to N145/m.

The Commission has also licensed infrastructure companies (InfraCos), which have been giving marching orders to commence immediate roll-out of optic fibre cables (OFC) as contained in their license agreements to all the LGA headquarters, while also collaborating with State Governments to adopt the N145/m Right-of-Way (RoW) agreement or outright waiver.

Having set the 5G ball rolling, the NCC set up the NNBP 2020-2025 with clear-cut direction for implementation.

With the NNBP 2020-2025, Nigeria envisages a two-stage 5G deployment approach with the phase one deployment based on the Non-Standalone approach and the Phase two based on the Stand-alone approach. Phase one is planned to commence in 2021 and the Phase Two deployment which will rely on new spectrum allocations is planned to commence in 2022.

The Plan on 5G focuses on creating an enabling environment for operators to plan and deploy 5G infrastructure and roll out services as efficiently as possible.

With the Plan, 5G Spectrum Allocation should commence in Q2 2021; 5G Spectrum Auction in Q4 2021; 5G Spectrum Assignment in Q1 2022 and Commercialisation of 5G Spectrum in Q4 2022.

The NNBP 2020-2025 has objectives that include ensuring efficient assignment of spectrum for deployment of 5G technology; creating an enabling environment for additional investment in the industry; collaborating with relevant stakeholders to ensure nationwide availability of fibre and other backhaul infrastructure; and ensuring effective deployment of 5G to cover major urban areas by 2025.

Other objectives are to ensure the security of the 5G ecosystem and the protection of data; to ensure that international best practices and globally accepted standards and specifications are entrenched in Nigeria’s 5G ecosystem; and to create an enabling environment for innovation, digital entrepreneurship, and the proliferation of impactful 5G use cases.

According to estimates published in Statista’s new report, ‘A Mobile Connected World’, global 5G adoption could is expected to reach the one billion user mark within 3.5 years compared with 4 years for 4G and 12 years for 3G. The rapid spread of the technology is due in particular to its relatively affordable cost, the ease of its deployment (use of the 4G core network) and its numerous applications for technologies like connected objects, AI or autonomous vehicles. By comparison, older, non-mobile technologies took much longer to reach one billion users. For example, debit cards were off to a slow start and reached the one billion mark 41 years after their introduction, while online banking and smartphones took 19 and 16 years, respectively.

North America, Europe and East Asia are on the forefront of 5G implementation. Investments in the technology are being made in almost every country in South and South-East Asia as well as South America as well. South Korea is the country which deployed the first 5G network and the country is expected to stay in the lead as far as penetration of the technology goes. By 2025, almost 60% of mobile subscriptions in South Korea are expected to be for 5G networks.

The NCC is trying to put Nigeria on this global map, riding on the market and population strength of the country, plus its innovative ecosystem.

There is a need for all stakeholders, and Nigerians, to latch onto the initiatives, plans and programmes of the Commission to accelerate the deployment of 5G and its services in the country. This will in no doubt boost growth in all sectors of the nation’s economy, while also creating a veritable platform for innovation to thrive. And with innovation comes investments in startups, tech hubs and ICT industry. The NCC must be supported by all to further create an enabling environment for 5G and broadband to bloom.

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