By Kingsley I. Ilechkwu, Correspondent Lagos
As Nigeria celebrates 20 years of deployment of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), and the Federal Government has set in motion the deployment of the fifth generation (5G) technology, significant changes will be introduced to existing standards, leading to the emergence of a new generation of mobile network (G).
e-Business Life Communication Limited held its 5G/GSM@20 forum at the Oriental Hotel, Lagos Nigeria on Friday, November 5, 2021.
Speaking on the theme of the forum, “Setting the Stage for 5G Journey – Requirements, Deployment and Challenges”, the Keynote Speaker, Executive Vice Chairman nd Chief Executive Officer(EVC/CEO), of the 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.
Prof. Danbatta, represented by the Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity (DTSNI) at NCC, Engineer Wakil Bako, said that before the 5G wheel was set in motion, certain milestones were expected in place and like other countries, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was setting the stage for 5G roll-out in Nigeria.
Danbatta gave insight into the evolution through the revolution in telecommunications. According to him, from telegraphic submarine cable connecting Lagos to London in 1886 till date, Nigeria had experienced various telecommunication technologies and telecoms industry had become a formidable arm of the economy, so strong to boost the GDP and bring the country out of recession.
Tracing the evolution of generations of mobile network from 0G to 4G and now 5G, the NCC boss 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 was meant to deliver higher multi-GDPs peak data speed at ultra-low latency; more reliability 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.
Zeroing in on the need for 5G, the NCC EVC/CEO said it would lead to huge boom in mobile usage, stressing that the huge growth of wireless network equipment and machines with communication-enabled capabilities attested 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 would 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.”
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 had 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 came with improvement with far better capabilities and efficiencies over the previous version adding that 5G came 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”, adding that despite the challenges, 5G was going to be awesome.
In his goodwill message, President of ATCON, Engineer Ikechukwu Nnamani congratulated the firm for organizing the event.
Nnamani. who spoke through Executive Secretary of ATCON Ajibola Olude said that discussions around 5G deployment should not neglect the need for telcos to migrate to IPv6 as most of their current equipment were on IPv4.
In his words, “We are happy to identify with the organisers of this event , especially its publisher, Mrs. Ufuoma Emuophedaro in particular.
“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.
“In terms of GSM @20, the revenue generation to the country is quite commendable. The job creation through GSM must be commended as many youths are gainfully engaged due to the impact of GSM.
He pledged ATCON’s continued support to work with industry stakeholders for the growth of the industry.
A New Horizon Beckons For Telecoms Industry
Earlier in her welcome address, the Publisher, e-Business Life Communication Limited, Emuophedaro traced the journey of 20 years since the first call on the GSM network in Nigeria was made.
She said that the journey which led to the historic GSM ‘call’ on August 8, 2021, began when Digital Mobile Licenses (DMLs) were issued by the Nigerian government, through the NCC in January 2001. “I dare to say it has been 20 years of transformation with a lot to be proud of, and so much more to look forward to in Nigeria’s telecommunications story.
“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 per cent while active internet subscriptions were 154.9 million and a broadband penetration of 45.07 per cent , among others.
Mrs. Emuophedaro said it was no longer news that the telecoms sector in 20 years, had significantly transformed the government, businesses and individuals with great impact on every area of life.
“Chief among these contributions includes increased contribution to GDP, addition of nearly US$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”.
She added that as the country is celebrating 20 years of GSM revolution a new horizon beckons for the telecom regulator as countries around the world move to digitize their economies and leverage the power and infrastructure of the telecommunications industry.
“Twenty years after GSM, a second generation mobile technology, Nigeria has stepped up to 3G, 4G and is moving on to 5G technology”.
She aligned with the NCC on the expectations that the deployment of 5G technology would spur services that would stimulate growth in different sectors of the Nigeria’s economy, including the health, education, financial and commerce sectors.
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 harped on the need for security, stating that aside the security features embedded in the 5G technology, further care should be taken as cybercriminals were 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.
The Panel Session has its discussion around “5G: Adoption, Infrastructure, Service as critical Elements for Competitive Digitized Economy
During a panel session on 5G: Adoption, Infrastructure, Service as critical Elements for Competitive Digitized Economy, moderated by the Vice President at DigiVation Network, Hilary Damissah, and panelists made up of the Publisher, eWorldNews, Aaron Ukodie; Editor, ICT Desk at ThisDay Newspapers, Emma Okonji; Executive Secretary of the Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ajibola Olude; and Chief Project Manager, Digital Encode Limited, Simileoluwa Oyediji, who represented the Founder/COO , Digital Encode Limited, Dr. Obadara Peter Adewale.
Mr. Ukodie commended the NCC for taking the bold steps to adopt GSM as “today we are reaping the benefits. The same thing will apply to 4G era when the question was on roll-out and achieving national coverage; pricing and RoI and the price for the license. Today, the era is phasing out because telcos and other ISPs did roll out. Nigeria cannot play the laggards’ role in 5G as nations are deploying 5G and taking the benefits. NCC has taken the right decision to deploy 5G.”
Infrastructure-wise, Ukodie said that InfraCos were expected to be the legs through which 5G could 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”.
On the price of Spectrum for 5G deployment, he argued that the Nigerian market was hungry for data hence the regulator and the operators should reach an agreement on the bidding price benchmark. He recalled that a similar scenario played out in 2001 when the GSM license and spectrum were auctioned, saying there was outcry against the US$100 million price cap, although those that eventually purchased the license had not regretted it.
Mr. Okonji agreed that infrastructure was key. He said that from the telcos’ point of view, they had declared their 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”.
Okonji, however, called on the Nigerian Communications Commission to review the price for 3.5GHz Spectrum downwards to encourage telcos to bid for it.
According to him, the current price tag of N75 billion(US$197.4million) would likely discourage the telcos’ from participating in the bidding process.
Speaking on the readiness of telecom operators to invest in 5G equipment, Mr. Olude said that the present economic situation of Nigeria discouraged investments in the telecoms sector, especially with regards to the exchange rates fluctuations.
He also lamented the position of most State Governments which were yet to adhere to the N145 price cap per linear meter on Right-of –Way(RoW).
In his words, “Lagos State charges over N1000 per linear meter for fibre deployment. There is even charge disparity between mainland and Island (higher rates). So the Federal Government should engage more with the States to understand why the N145 cap should be maintained.
Sourcing of dollar to buy equipment is too cumbersome and not encouraging”, Olude said.
From the security perspective, Oyediji said it could not be overemphasised how 5G would enable encryption and other privacy issues, adding, however, that infrastructure remained critical. “Government needs to step in and normalize things. For instance, how many people can afford 5G smartphones. We need them to connect and make good uses of 5G.
“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.
e-Business Life Communications Limited also presented ‘Technology Transformer Award’ to the Nigerian Communications Commission , “for creating an environment for ICT growth and engendering economic development through policies, education and regulatory excellence,” among other resounding achievements.
Digital Encode Limited also bagged ‘Cybersecurity Mastery Award’, “for its passion in fortifying industry and non-industry players against cyber-threats and creating a safe environment for ICT growth.”
In attendance were media personnel from different media houses; the Chairman of the Nigeria Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA), Chike Onwuegbuchi; the Director, Public Affairs(DPA) at NCC, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde among others.