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5G technology and what it holds for Nigeria

Over 22 billion IoT devices already connected as at 2018 and expected to reach 100 billion connections by 2030. Technology is no longer rated by speed but by latency or instant response and 5G was designed for massive intelligent connectivity of things

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With expected 100 billion connections by 2030, there questions about what 5G holds for Nigeria especially as it recently marked 20 years of telecom revolution with 200 million connected lines. Government has also fixed December 13 for official auctioning of 5G licence.

A number of stakeholders bare their mind as regards what the future holds for Nigeria in the emerging next generation technology at e-Business Life 5G/GSM@20 Forum in Lagos recently.

Migration to IPv6

Engineer Ikechukwu Nnamani, President of ATCON, said that discussions around 5G deployment should not neglect the need for telcos to migrate to IPv6 as most of their current equipment are on IPv4.

“For us at ATCON, 5G should be discussed in readiness of telcos to migrate to IPv6. Presently, most of our networks are on IPv4. The networks have to be compliant to the global trends.

“There is also need to ensure the security of the networks as 5G is discussed with Spectrum management. There is also need to note that we will need more base stations; and what different States charge is quite exorbitant. For instance, in Lagos, our members are writing us to complain about the charges.

“IoT should be considered where almost everything will be connected. And issues around privacy must not be neglected.

Cost, Adoption, Infrastructure, Service as critical elements

Chief Project Manager, Digital Encode Limited, Simileoluwa Oyediji, spoke on the need for the government to find ways of reducing cost, especially knowing that operators will spend so much more in deploying 5G across the country.

He further harped on the need for security, stating that aside the security features embedded in the 5G technology, further care should be taken as cybercriminals are not resting, but devising ways of breaking through the security features. He advised all stakeholders to use multi-layer security architecture, and users to maintain security consciousness, while the government and operators must engage in constant enlightenment campaign to inform and educate the masses.

Veteran journalist and publisher, Mr. Aaron Ukodie said InfraCos are expected to be the legs through which 5G can be deployed across the country. “For instance, we expect them to take fibre to our homes, public spaces or metropolitan networks for more seamless signals. But the inability of the InfraCos to rollout services should be looked into”. 

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On the price of Spectrum for 5G deployment, he argued that the Nigerian market is hungry for data hence the regulator and the operators should reach an agreement on the bidding price benchmark. He recalled that similarly scenario played out in 2001 when the GSM license and spectrum were auctioned, there was outcry against the $100 million price cap, however, those that eventually purchased the license have not regretted it. 

Mr. Emma Okonji agrees that infrastructure is key. He said that from the telcos’ point of view, they declared readiness to deploy equipment for 5G.

“However, the issue is whether other stakeholders like the States are ready too, because without infrastructure, it will be difficult to achieve 5G deployment. We want to give them the benefit of the fact, because honestly we need to get the internet services to the hinter lands.

“From the regulatory point of view, NCC also has been doing its beat. We should recall that in 2019 they conducted the trial in three cities – Lagos, Abuja, and Calabar and the results show 5G will work effectively in Nigeria.

“We also need to consider the readiness of different State governments like the time GSM was introduced as they are critical stakeholders with regards Right of Way and other issues”.

“Innovation also comes with its own disruptions; therefore, service providers need to develop their own skills. We shouldn’t rely solely on international vendors for deployment. We need to groom local talents because 5G will drive IoT, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, etc.

“Also, we need to look at the power issue because the mini-cells distributed close to the consumers will require such capacity to achieve the end-goal. It boils down to government’s ability to support the telcos and other service providers to ensure consumers can afford the rates.

“For security, we have to continue to improve as the innovations are launched”, he concluded.

Speaking at the e-Business Life 5G/GSM@20 Forum on the theme of the forum, “Setting the Stage for 5G Journey – Requirements, Deployment and Challenges”, the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, spoke of the successes recorded in the 20 years of GSM evolution, and enumerated the need for 5G technology in the country.

The EVC, said that before the 5G wheel is set in motion, certain milestones are expected in place and like other countries, the NCC is setting the stage for 5G roll-out in Nigeria.

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From telegraphic submarine cable connecting Lagos to London in 1886 till date, Nigeria has experienced various telecommunication technologies and telecoms industry has become a formidable arm of the economy, so strong to boost the GDP and bring the country out of recession.

Tracing the evolution of generation of mobile network from 0G to 4G and now 5G, the EVC defined 5G as new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G networks and was designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together.

Danbatta, said that the new technology is meant to deliver higher multi-GDPs peak data speed at ultra-low latency; more reliable and massive network capability.

He said that consumers should expect higher performance and improved efficiency in user experience and connection to new industries.

He however, listed 5G requirements from the administrative angle to include; availability of adequate spectrum, regulatory policy, stakeholders awareness programme, conducive atmosphere for investments and reasonable regulatory charges.

Expatiating further on the need for 5G, the EVC said it will lead to huge boom in mobile usage, stressing that the huge growth of wireless network equipment and machines with communication-enabled capabilities attest to this fact.

“Already, over 22 billion IoT devices already connected as at 2018 and expected to reach 100 billion connections by 2030. Technology is no longer rated by speed but by latency (instant response) and 5G was designed for massive intelligent connectivity of things. 3G and 4G networks cannot meet these demands. So, 5G is to meet the demands that 4G, 3G and 2G cannot provide, particularly in areas of latency and massive connections”.

He also disabused the minds of telecom consumers who thought 2G, 3G and 4G must give way for 5G; adding that 5G will co-exist with its predecessor generation of wireless networks.  “In most parts of the world, successor generation of mobile networks does not supplant, until when it becomes very necessary to decommission the oldest generation network”.

With specific focus on challenges to 5G deployment he said that in other to fiberize the towers/base stations, the issue of Right-of-Way (RoW) must be well addressed; also inflation and increasing exchange rates should be addressed; and subjecting the barrage of IoT devices to Type Approval process within limited timeframe should be considered.

“The current tower capacity of 1 Gbps (for 2G to 4G services) does not match the 20 Gbps peak speed required for 5G. This calls for the urgent need to increase fiberization of network, and the reliable energy supply to power the base stations.”   

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Despite the challenges, Prof. Danbatta said that 5G was designed to meet the very large growth in data and connectivity needs of today’s society, the IoT with billions of connected devices, and future innovations.

With regards to the proof of concept post-trial of 5G in Nigeria, he said that relevant stakeholders such as the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (MoC&DE), security agencies, operators, equipment vendors and others have been engaging on the modalities for 5G deployment in the country.

“Auction committee for 5G is also developing deployment plan. Federal Executive Council approved 5G network deployment policy for Nigeria at its recent meeting; 500MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band identified for 5G NSA; 5 Slots of 100MHz planned (3.4GHz – 3.9GHz); 2 Slots already earmarked for auction with reserved price of $197.4m per slot and Auction planned for December 13, 2021”.

Concluding his keynote speech, the EVC said that every new technology comes with improvement with far better capabilities and efficiencies over the previous version adding that 5G comes with better capacities and efficiencies over the previous generations.

“Electromagnetic radiation emission rom 5G networks are far safer than preceding generations of mobile network. 5G networks will provide enormous economic benefits to the citizens by providing more jobs opportunities, creative and innovations.

“We recognize the need for sensitization of the public before deployment of 5G in the country. The support of the NASS is highly desirable and critical”.   The EVC said that despite the challenges, 5G is going to be awesome.

A new horizon beckons for telecoms Industry

“Before the GSM rollout in 2001, Nigeria had a combined subscription of about 400,000 lines, which were built on the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) network and few other existing Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, from the time of independence in 1960 to 2001. As at November 2020, active telephony subscribers stood at 208 million with teledensity standing at 108.92% while active internet subscriptions were 154.9 million and a broadband penetration of 45.07% , among others.

“Chief among these contributions includes increased contribution to GDP, addition of nearly $80 billion in foreign and local direct investments; and the ability of Nigerians to communicate through the mobile phone and the opportunity to carry out several transactions/activities on the mobile phone, while on the move”.

Twenty years after GSM, a second generation mobile technology, Nigeria has stepped up to 3G, 4G and is moving on to 5G technology”.

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