Nigeria Telecommunications Top Story

Nigeria ready to deploy 5G technology with impending auction of 3.5GHz telecom spectrum

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It is no longer a question of if but when Nigeria will unbundle the 5th Generation mobile network (5G technology).

This reality is coming with the impending auction of the 3.5GHz spectrum band.

On Thursday, a stakeholder engagement forum was held at the Marriott Hotel, Ikeja, on the draft Information Memorandum (IM) on the auction of the 3.5GHz spectrum band.

Isa Pantami, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy

In his keynote address on the occasion, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mallam Isa Pantami, said that to fulfil the mandate of the National 5G Technology Poilcy, there was need for the collaboration with relevant stakeholders and provision of the required spectrum and enabling environment to ensure the full deployment of the technology.

The deployment of 5G technology, the minister said, “will harness the social and economic benefits that come along with it and will serve as a catalyst for the successful implementation of our National Digital Economy Development and Strategy (NDEPS) for a Digital Nigeria.”

The Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMCDE) is vested with the responsibility of developing strategies, standards, guidelines, and frameworks for the deployment of the 5G networks nationwide.

Pantami said this could not be achieved “without proper collaboration amongst the various stakeholders of the industry.”

He then informed the forum that “the 3.5GHz spectrum band (the lower C-band), which is not effective in satellite operations, has been recovered from NIGCOMSAT and reallocated to the NCC in the first instance, for deployment of 5G technology based on terms and conditions agreed by both parties.”

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According to the minister, “The next step is auctioning of the spectrum which is under the purview of the regulator of the industry.”

But to ensure transparency and accountability in the sale of “this common national heritage”, the Federal Government had thought it wise “to involve relevant stakeholders in the process so that the general public is carried along.”

In his remarks at the forum, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, informed the forum that the Nigerian communications market “is one of the biggest in Africa and is also the largest contributor to the Information and Communications Technology sector of the Nigerian economy. The statistics are there for all to see.”
“Nigeria has an estimated population of 214 million, with an average growth rate of 2.6% annually. Approximately 76.46% of the population is under the age of 35. In line with these demographic changes, internet penetration grew from 3% in 2004 to 73.82% as at September 2021, and broadband penetration increased from less than 10% in 2015 to 40.01% in September 2021,” he cited.

Danbatta further said, “Arising from the significant growth of broadband penetration in Nigeria, which stands at 40.01% as at September 2021, it has become imperative for us to evolve to the next phase of global development of the sector, given the opportunities that abound for all stakeholders in the industry and the economy at large.”

Justifying the impending transition from 4G technology to 5G technology, the NCC EVC, said, “5G technology will leverage on this momentum, bringing substantial network improvements, including higher connection speed, mobility and capacity, as well as low-latency capabilities. In doing so, it enables novel use cases and applications that will positively impact on different sectors of the economy and improve our efforts towards achieving the Digital Economy objectives of the Federal Government as contained in the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS 2020-2030) and Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP 2020 – 2025).”

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“Given the importance of 5G technology and the critical role of Spectrum, the International Telecommunications Union Radio Communication Sector (ITU-R) conducted studies in its last two study cycles during the World Radio Communication Conferences of 2015 and 2019 (WRC-15 & WRC-19) and identified Spectrum for 5G technology including the 3.5GHz band, which stands out due to its excellent propagation characteristics which offer both capacity and coverage,” he added.

Danbatta informed his audience that the NCC had “committed enormous resources to ensure a harmonized spectrum is secured and released in a timely manner for present and future deployment of services that will underpin the fourth industrial revolution, including International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT-2020) services.”

He said the NCC had kept itself abreast of developments at international fora, including ITU-R study groups to enable the allocation of strategic spectra “to IMT services especially IMT 2020 which has been in the front burner in the last two ITU-R study cycles.”

“Through the collaborative efforts of the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) and Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited (NigComSat), the Commission was able to secure the necessary 3.4 – 3.9GHz C-band for deployment of 5G services in Nigeria. The C-band is globally accepted as the candidate of choice for 5G deployment due to its excellent propagation characteristics,” he explained.

The NCC boss said that having put in effort and resources to secure “the contiguous Spectrum in the 3.5GHz premium band (with about 70% of 5G global deployment so far), it has become imperative to immediately license the 3.5GHz band in Nigeria for the deployment of 5G services.”

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According to him, the stakeholders were gathered at the forum to deliberate on areas in the draft IM that may need improvements.

“It is expected that at the end of this forum, we all shall be part of the future in the management and utilization of this resource in line with global best practices,” he said.

The draft IM outlines the auction process for the two lots of 100MHz each in the 3.5GHz and specifies a reserve price of N75billion.

It also specifies the eligibility to bid, the features of the licences, the requirements, and the rollout obligations for the eventual licensees, which includes the timetable.

The improvements suggested at Thursday’s forum are expected to be incorporated into the final IM for the auction, which date has yet to be communicated.

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