Concerns over Mafab’s delayed 5G development, operation
MTN, Airtel wrestle for market share as subscriptions cross 60,000
The silence on the part of Mafab to officially begin its Fifth-Generation (5G) network service in Nigeria is gradually becoming a source of worry in the telecoms industry.
After failing to begin service in August 2022, which was the date mandated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for the 5G licensees of the 2021 licence process, Mafab got a five-month extension from the regulator. The extra five months was to enable it to perfect all its operations, including its unified operational licence (USAL) and numbering plan.
To ensure that the five months extension didn’t go without any substance, Mafab had a media launch in Lagos in January, with a promise to begin service in earnest.
At the January launch, Mafab, apart from releasing a brand logo (MCom) and announcing a number plan (0801), the Chief Executive Officer was announced alongside the Chairman, Mushabu Bashir.
Painfully, six months after the pomp and pageantry, which heralded the launch, Mafab is yet to begin service. Airtel, which emerged winner and got licensed in December 2022, rolled out its service in June. Airtel is currently wrestling the market with MTN, which began 5G service in August 2022. While MTN routers go for N50,000, Airtel entered the market with N30, 000 price. Also, MTN says its service is available in about 12 cities while Airtel is currently in Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and Abuja.
It is interesting to note that 5G earned the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari’s administration $820.8 million (N378 billion) in revenue. The NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the services are available in different locations in 12 states of the Federation with over 60,000 subscriptions so far.
The Guardian gathered that Mafab is working seriously behind the scenes to ensure its service is top-notch.
“Let me put it this way, Mafab plans to take the market by surprise. Just watch this space, you will soon be seeing the brand fully in the market,” the source stated.
Still, an official of one of the telecoms bodies, who spoke anonymously, said the industry is worried that since the January media ‘hype’, nothing has happened.
However, he said he learnt meetings have been going on at the highest level among Mafab, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and the NCC.
“A close associate of Mafab told me about three weeks ago that the management of the 5G licensee has been in discussion with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), especially Huawei and Ericsson. They are finalising on some deals, especially as regards settling some payments of some telecoms equipment when the service is eventually rolled,” he said.
According to him, the current economic headwind in the country, especially as regards FX, must have also impacted planned rollout and slow deployment.
“Deployment at this period requires huge financial outlay. I think if they had rolled out earlier before the current economic hitches, it would have paid them better. Financial estimates must have changed drastically. I don’t see them being able to compete head to head with MTN or Airtel with a huge financial war chest,” the source added.
MEANWHILE, a report by Opensignal has said that though Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa (SA) have already deployed 5G networks, the presence of 5G connectivity is poor on the continent.
The assessment is a testament to the the findings of June 2023 Ericsson Mobility Report, which showed that for the Sub-Saharan Africa region, 5G adoption is still nascent, with investments continuing to be channelled towards deploying 3G and 4G networks.
Opensignal noted that SA has a more substantial number of 5G subscriptions, while others observe only several thousand 5G users. It stressed that further development of seamless and reliable mobile connectivity in Africa is essential for the markets’ economic growth, especially given the high numbers of mobile-only users.
“The road to ubiquitous 5G in Africa is likely to be a long one, as access to 4G is still not universal and many users still rely on 2G and 3G networks to connect to the mobile Internet.”
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