Having been given a clean bill of health by the Nigerian Senate, the Nigerian Communications Commission recently took another bold step towards 5G deployment. The inauguration of a committee on spectrum auction marked another step forward in the regulator’s strategic preparations for the technology, writes Victor Akindele.
After the COVID-19 conspiracy theory that nearly set back the 5G technology journey globally, the world has since moved on with the deployment of the latest technology, which has been proven to have the capabilities of boosting the economy. According to the latest Ericsson report, one million new 5G subscriptions are being recorded daily across the globe. With this, global 5G connections are projected to exceed 580 million by the end of this year.
In this regard, telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) took another bold step in the 5G deployment processes recently as it inaugurated a committee to facilitate the auction of the 3.5GHz spectrum for 5G deployment. This action followed the recent Senate investigative hearing which gave the technology a clean bill of health.
Nigeria’s 5G journey
In 2019, the NCC began a trial of 5G in Nigeria, the first to do so in West Africa. The Proof of Concept (PoC) trial was carried out by MTN in 6 locations with a dedicated spectrum band. The trial was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present, among others. After the trial, the Commission began engagements and consultations with ICT stakeholders and the academia, which culminated in the development of 5G deployment policy.
Along the line, COVID-19 came with the widespread conspiracy linking 5G with the pandemic. While several global bodies and experts had since debunked the claims, the need to douse the tension in Nigeria had made the National Assembly institute a probe, which was recently concluded.
5G public hearing
As promised last year, the Senate concluded the public hearing on 5G in February this year with the conclusion that the technology has no health implications as being claimed, thus the telecoms regulator was given a go-ahead with the processes. Speaking at the public hearing, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami affirmed the findings from independent scientific reports published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), both agencies of the United Nations (UN), which clearly indicate that there are no health risks to human lives associated with the deployment of 5G.
Pantami explained that having aligned with the ITU and WHO reports and studied 5G deployment situations in many advanced countries where it has been fully deployed without any health risks, the ministry can affirmatively say that there is no health risks to 5G networks.
After listening to all the views and submissions by the various stakeholders, the Lead Chairman of the Senate Joint Committee, Sen. Oluremi Tinubu, said that the purpose of the public inquiry was meant to help clarify and allay the fears of any health concerns among Nigerians. “We hope all the submissions here today which point to the same direction on the safety of 5G to human lives will put the mind of Nigerians at rest that there is nothing to fear. We also hope that Nigerians will be looking forward to having 5G deployed in Nigeria.” She emphasised the commitment of the National Assembly to always take a neutral position on any issue generating public health, safety, and security concerns among Nigerians until more clarifications are sought from concerned stakeholders.
MoU with NigComSat
Following the conclusion of the public hearing and the clean bill of health given to the technology by the National Assembly, the NCC took a step further with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigeria Communications Satellite (NigComSat) Limited for the release of an important spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for early 5G deployment.
Speaking during the signing of the MoU in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta noted that amongst the Frequency Spectrum bands allocated to 5G by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU, the C-band (3.4GHz - 3.9GHz) stands out because its balancing point between coverage and capacity provides the perfect environment for 5G connectivity.
“The C-band is most suitable and appropriate for immediate deployment of 5G services taking into consideration availability of device ecosystem with 60-70 per cent of global commercial 5G network deployment currently in the band, thus the importance of this Spectrum for early deployment of 5G services in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised.
“For optimal 5G service performance, an average of contiguous 100 MHz of spectrum in the C-band is required by an Operator. However in Nigeria, only 120 MHz of the band (3.4 – 3.52) GHz is available for mobile services while the remaining 680 MHz (3.52 – 4.2) GHz of the band is used by NigComSat (NG-1R) satellites,” he said.
Spectrum committee inaugurated
Demonstrating its methodical approach to achieving a seamless and hassle-free deployment of the technology, the NCC after the MoU with NigComSat made another bold move by inaugurating a committee to develop the Information Memorandum (IM) for the auction of 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum band which will be used for early deployment of 5G services in the country.
Speaking during the inauguration, Danbatta said, apart from developing the IM for auctioning of C-band spectrum for 5G deployment in Nigeria, the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the committee will include the development of an award process to be used pursuant to which the grant of Spectrum licenses may be made. The Information Memorandum (IM) defines the process that the Commission has decided to adopt for the auctioning of the 3.5GHz spectrum band. It will provide information on the Nigerian telecommunications market, details of the Spectrum to be made available, the pre-qualification process, the Auction process, and an indicative timetable.
While expressing delight at the current stage of 5G deployment process in Nigeria, especially with respect to established mutual understanding among stakeholders that 5G service poses neither security nor health risk to users, Danbatta said the outcome of the work of the Committee is a major step towards realisation of 5G services in Nigeria.
According to him, the NCC, in line with its mandate, has committed enormous resources to ensure harmonised 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.
In his remarks, Asaju as the Chairman of the Committee amplified the EVC's voice on the MoU with NigComSat. Asaju stated that the Commission had, in line with the NCA- 2003, filled a request for bulk allocation of 380 MHz bandwidth (3.52 – 3.9) GHz in the 3.5 GHz band from the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC). While assuring the EVC of the Committee’s readiness to deliver on its ToR, Asaju said the outcome of the actions will, no doubt, form the basis and put NCC on the right pedestal for 5G deployment in Nigeria.
Now that all doubts have been cleared and misconceptions and misunderstandings about the technology dealt with, the coast is clear for 5G deployment in Nigeria even as the telecoms regulator awaits the final nod from the Federal Government. The NCC is, no doubt, upbeat in its quest bequeath Nigeria with 5G to support the digital economy drive of the government and for Nigeria to enjoy the inherent benefits in 5G services for socio-economic development.