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FG targets spectrum auction to boost 5G adoption in Nigeria, SSA

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5G

Deployment of the Fifth-Generation (5G) network remains slow in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), but it is expected to tick in the region over the next few years, this is according to the newest Ericsson Mobility Report for June 2021.

Although 5G subscriptions were still below one per cent of total subscribers in SSA at the end of 2020, Ericsson expects “discernible volumes of 5G subscriptions” by 2022, reaching about seven per cent in 2026.

In order for Nigeria not to be left behind on the 5G train, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) sets up a committee on spectrum auction for 5G deployment in the country.

This is following the Senate investigative hearing, which gave the 5G technology a clean bill of health. As such, NCC has inaugurated 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.

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The report, however, noted that 3G would remain the dominant tech on the continent – with a share of over 40 per cent of mobile subscriptions in 2026. It predicted that 4G would grow to be about 28 per cent of the region’s subscriptions by 2026.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, commercial 5G deployments are happening faster and 5G subscriptions exceeded one million at the end of 2020. Significant 5G volumes are expected in 2021 and the region is likely to reach around 150 million 5G subscriptions in 2026, representing 18 per cent of total mobile subscriptions.

Globally, 5G is expected to be the fastest deployed mobile communication technology in history and is forecast to cover about 60 per cent of the world’s population in 2026.

At the end of 2020, 4G accounted for around 15 per cent of subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa while 3G was still the biggest portion at 43 per cent, followed by 2G at just under 42 per cent.

In comparison, in a region like North America the 2G/3G share of subscriptions is only seven per cent.

MEANWHILE, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, has inaugurated the 18-member Committee in Abuja, with NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Ubale Maska as Auction Adviser while the Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC, Oluwatoyin Asaju, is the Committee Chairman.

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 would include the development of an award process to be used pursuant to which the grant of Spectrum licenses might be made.

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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 indicative timetable.

Other ToRs reeled out for the committee by Danbatta include, the auctioning of the C-band spectrum for 5G deployment in Nigeria in line with the award process; as well as reporting regularly/fortnightly to the EVC through the Office of the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services of the Commission on the progress made by the Committee.

While expressing delight at the current stage of the 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.

This, according to him, is in recognition of relevant provisions of the Nigerian Communication Act (NCA-2003) and its strategic plan for effective communications resource management, facilitating broadband penetration and improving Quality of Service (QoS) amongst others.

Speaking further, the EVC said the Commission had ensured the participation of relevant staff in international fora, especially in the International Telecommunication Union Radio Telecommunication Sector (ITU-R) study groups, to enable the allocation of strategic Spectrum to IMT services, especially IMT 2020, which, he said, has been in the front burner in the last two ITU-R study cycles towards World Radio Communication Conference (WRC-15 & WRC-19).

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“Arising from these efforts, which include engagements with relevant governmental and non-governmental organisations during preparatory meetings at National, Regional and Continental level, we have been able to secure harmonised frequencies for 5G deployment in Nigeria,” he said.

He, however, stated where NCC desired premium spectrum like the 3.5GHz with good propagation characteristics suitable for capacity and coverage with good device ecosystem but did not have sufficient allocation, “we put in extra efforts and secured additional 160MHz in the 3.5GHz band by making huge commitment of resources to secure additional Spectrum from Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited (NigComSat),” culminating in a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between NCC and NigComSat.

“Having put in these efforts and resources to secure, amongst others, contiguous Spectrum in a premium band like the 3.5GHz band that is being adopted as the best Spectrum for early deployment of 5G with about 70 per cent of 5G global deployment so far, it has become imperative to immediately re-purpose the 3.5GHz band in Nigeria for auction in accordance with best practices.

“In view of this, Danbatta said NCC Management deemed it necessary to constitute the committee with clear ToRs, adding that the committee members are expected to demonstrate strong commitment required to carry out these tasks and in a timely manner,” he said.

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, filed a request for bulk allocation of 380 MHz bandwidth (3.52 – 3.9) GHz in the 3.5 GHz band from 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.

The Executive Commissioner, Technical Services of the Commission, Ubale Maska, who doubles as the Auction Adviser, assured the EVC that the Committee will deliver on its mandate, noting, however, that work of the Committee is without prejudice to the approval of the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC), which, he said, must be in place before 5G deployment can take commence in the country.

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