5G in Nigeria
On September 19, 2022, Ericsson announced that it had successfully launched 5G in Nigeria. The 5G hardware and software provider collaborated with Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) Nigeria to begin the first phase of deploying 5G technology throughout the country.

Phase one of the advancements has already started in certain parts of Lagos, one of the seven cities MTN aims to cover. Following this plan, MTN aims to roll out 5G networks throughout the country by the second half of 2022, to close the global digital divide.

The Continent’s Most Virtually Connected Country

Nigeria contributes to 29% of Africa’s internet usage and holds 82% of the continent’s telecom subscribers. This makes the country Africa’s most important information and communications technology (ICT) market.

According to a report by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry contributed up to 14.42% to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Nigeria in 2021. The commission accredits the growth to policy implementation, increased demand and investment.

The government of Nigeria (GON) views the ICT market as a key to the further development of the education, health care, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. The GON launched the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020-2030) in November 2019 to further diversify the economy from dependence on oil and gas. This program adheres to eight pillars including “Developmental Regulation, Digital Literacy & Skills, Solid Infrastructure, Service Infrastructure, Digital Services Development & Promotion, Soft Infrastructure, Digital Society & Emerging Technologies, Indigenous Content Development & Adoption.”

However, more than half of the Nigerian population does not have access to the internet. Those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds have limited access to the internet, technology and ICT skills. This effectively creates a disparity in children’s education due to affordability, lack of infrastructure, perception of digital tech and already-present socioeconomic inequalities.

About 5G

According to the Ericsson website, “5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks, enabling faster connectivity and data transference.” It can use the same radio frequencies that smartphones, Wi-Fi and satellite communications currently use but with additional functions. The implementation of 5G allows reliable, accessible and secure real-time interactions between devices as well as efficient data processing at a higher capacity.

According to Ericsson, 5G is capable of aiding in economic recovery. Expectations determined that these new integrations in info and comms, wholesale/retail, public services and manufacturing will “contribute $13.2 trillion to the global economy by 2035.” Along with the internet of things (IoT) (how physical devices connect, exchange and store data), predictions stated that 5G digital technologies will reduce up to 15% of global emissions by 2030.

The Basics of Spectrum Trading

Spectrum trading applies the concept of property rights to radio frequencies. This ensures a more accessible market for users, increasing efficiency amongst businesses and companies which then invest back into new technology.

By relying on administrative assignments and increased accessibility, spectrum trading allows license holders to react to the rapidly changing markets. Some rights applied to license-protected spectrums include: how long it can be used, within what geographical area and what it can be used for.

In Nigeria, spectrum trading is under the jurisdiction of the NCC. Rules that the NCC set in 2021 outline requirements for eligible sellers and buyers by setting minimum spectrum-holding times and having “sound regulatory and financial standing with the Commission.”

In December of 2021, telecommunication companies MTN and Mafab Communications paid around $550 million for the licenses to distribute 5G in Nigeria. The companies received a deadline of August 24, 2022, to launch the service.

Complications with licensing consequently postponed efforts to develop 5G in Nigeria. At the start of August 2022, MTN had already prepared around 127 sites for testing. However, Mafab was still waiting for the proper licensing needed to distribute (both spectrum and Universal Access Service Licence (UASL).

Other challenges that have impacted the ICT sector include taxation at federal, state and local governments, several regulatory bodies, right of way (RoW) charges and damage to existing infrastructure due to cable theft.

Improving Connectivity for All

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) is implementing a “digital economy policy” for Nigeria to enforce a sustainable digital ecosystem. The policies include improved data privacy and protection, increasing digital literacy for youths, enforcing reliable internet connections and integrating digital solutions for different industries.

The successful establishment of 5G in Nigeria would improve healthcare, food security, manufacturing and IoT. The upgraded network would allow healthcare professionals to provide better diagnostics and treatment with hi-tech machinery (EX: EKG machines), digital record archives and telemedicine. This allows for more affordable and accessible healthcare services for those residing in remote low-density locations.

Applications related to IoT will reduce manufacturing costs and accelerate the development of smart cities/smart grids to enhance productivity and create new revenue streams. Smart agriculture/farming supported by 5G could enhance crop and livestock monitoring systems, allowing precise identification of areas that need water, are prone to disease or require pest management.

Plans are in the works to launch in Abuja, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Kano and Maiduguri to fulfill MTN’s first phase in bringing commercial 5G to Nigeria. The telecommunications company aims to provide full national 5G coverage by 2025.

– Aishah French
Photo: Wikimedia Commons