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4G/LTE offerings breed rivalry in Nigeria’s telecoms sector

By Adeyemi Adepetun
21 October 2016   |   1:05 am
With about two years to the realisation of the targeted 30 per cent broadband penetration in Nigeria, as enshrined in the National Broadband Plan, current efforts in the telecommunications industry might have renewed...


Adeyemi Adepetun, in this report, examines the renewed rivalry among operators with several of them, laying claims to 4G/LTE services.

With about two years to the realisation of the targeted 30 per cent broadband penetration in Nigeria, as enshrined in the National Broadband Plan, current efforts in the telecommunications industry might have renewed hope of not only meeting but surpassing the target.

This is even as broadband growth has moved from eight per cent in 2014 to 10 per cent in 2015 and currently at 14 per cent, with mobile broadband in Nigeria hitting 20 per cent. Besides, August’s subscribers’ penetration statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) put Internet penetration at 93 per cent, but largely through narrow band.

These statistics and the various efforts currently been championed by the operators, have made industry watchers to assume that the possibilities are high for Nigeria to meet the 2018 broadband penetration target.

Indeed, the last six months have been very eventful in the sector, with individual operators laying claims to have launched the Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) networks.

Within these periods, the telecommunications space has been inundated with the imminent arrival of 4GLTE networks. New players like Ntel, Smile Communications Nigeria Ltd, MTN, Globacom and Etisalat, including Spectranet and Intercellular Nigeria, which have been projecting Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) together with high-speed video and data services to Nigerians.

Last week, Etisalat showcased a demo launch of its 4G/LTE service to journalists and industry stakeholders. It must however, be mentioned that Globacom, which two weeks ago announced its commercial launch of the service in Nigeria, had earlier in 2011, claimed to have launched the same service.

The then Group Chief Operating Officer of Globacom, Mohamed Jameel, who unveiled the technology to newsmen at the Mike Adenuga Towers, Victoria Island, Lagos, had said though people could already browse the Internet or send e-mails using HSPA-enabled systems or send and receive video, music using G-phones, the experience with LTE will be even better.

He added that the technology would further enhance more demanding applications like interactive TV, mobile video blogging, advanced games or professional services, enabling more Nigerians to be on top of their game and thereby ruling their world.

The telecommunications firm is yet to explain the difference between the old and the new launch.

What is 4G LTE?
After riding on 2G and 3G technologies for more than a decade, 4G/ LTE comes handy with better elasticity. It is the fastest developing system in the history of mobile communications. In its first year, LTE usage soared from zero to 150 million people, and today about 1.3 billion people benefit from this technology globally. LTE not only provides super-fast connectivity to millions of users, but can also act as enterprise network connectivity enabler.

Today, 4G mobile technology makes the speed of the current third generation (3G) technology a child’s play. LTE is a mobile network technology that is being deployed by mobile operators on both the GSM and the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology paths. Depending on the spectrum available, live LTE networks can deliver very fast data speeds of up to 100Mbps in the downlink and 50Mbps in the uplink.

Designed to be backwards-compatible with GSM and High Speed Packet Access (HSPA), LTE incorporates Multiple In Multiple Out (MIMO) technology, the Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) air interface in the downlink and Single Carrier Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA) in the uplink.

Global perspective of the technology
According to the GSM Association, the body, which represents the interest of over 800 mobile operators across the globe, the 4GLTE combination provides high levels of spectral efficiency and network performance, coupled with high network capacity and low latency. LTE will support spectrum channel bandwidths from 1.4MHz to 20MHz and can operate in both paired spectrum (in Feature Driven Development (FDD) mode) and unpaired spectrum (in Test Driven Development (TDD) mode).”

A study by GSMA Intelligence projected the number of 4G-LTE connections worldwide would increase by one billion by next year. The body said LTE users consume 1.5GB of data monthly on average – almost twice the average amount consumed by non-LTE users.

By next year, it is expected that LTE will account for about one in eight of the more than eight billion total mobile connections forecast by that point, up from 176 million LTE connections at the end of 2013.

Nearly 500 LTE networks are forecast to be in service across 128 countries, which roughly double the number of live LTE networks.GSMA’s Chief Strategy Officer, Dr. Hyunmi Yang, said the acceleration of 4G LTE continues to increase across the world. “Since the launch of the first commercial 4G-LTE networks in late 2009, we are seeing deployments accelerate across the globe,” Yang said.

GSMA calculated that about 20 per cent of the global population is within LTE network coverage range. As operators continue to expand LTE coverage over the next few years, it is forecast that LTE networks will be available to half of the world’s population by next year.

The United States (US.) accounts for almost half (46 per cent) of global LTE connections, while the UK, South Korea and Japan combined account for 80 per cent.

Asia, however, is expected to account for almost half (47 per cent) of all LTE connections by next year, as LTE networks are rolled out in major markets, such as China and India.

According to the GSMA, in most cases, the migration to 4G-LTE is happening considerably faster than the earlier migration from 2G to 3G.

Efficiency of 4GLTE
The best way to continue to increase network capacity especially in city areas is not by continuing to try and build more towers closer and closer together but by having additional spectrum. There is no additional 3G spectrum available in Nigeria to be licenced by the NCC. For the city areas, the only solution is to make available spectrum in a different band.

4G LTE has some inherent advantages over 3G mobile communications, which makes it suitable for connectivity for enterprises. 4G LTE has higher bandwidth (data speeds), it provides true broadband speeds in comparison to 3G. It also provides low latency, lower idle-to-active times (improved network responsiveness).

4G LTE’s high spectrum efficiency means higher network capacity, improved cost efficiency, backwards compatibility and future-proofing. 4G LTE all Internet Protocol network means easier integration, improved cost efficiency, enhancements to security and Quality of Service differentiation.
NCC allows optimization of spectrum

Meanwhile, in preparing the sector for such revolution, the NCC has encouraged the re-farming of various frequencies to improve their efficiency. Through this process, some service providers who were hitherto providing services on the 1800MHz spectrum band have been allowed to re-farm and deploy services on the 4G/LTE Band.

Through this, the commission has been able to revive some of the companies whose services have been hampered by the characteristics of the frequencies.

According to the Executive Vice Chairman of EVC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, spectrum monitoring has been improved to ensure sanity in the industry, stressing that the commission recently deployed four Anmtsu Spectrum Analysers, leading to more efficiency in Radio Spectrum Monitoring.

He said through efficient monitoring and value-driven usage of spectrum for provision of different types of services, revenue generation for the Federal Government through frequency allocation and renewal fees have improved from the previous years.
Fierce competition among Nigerian operators

Earlier in the year, Smile Communication, a leading broadband service provider commenced VoLTE service on its 4G LTE network across major cities in Nigeria. The network operates on the 800MHz band designated as Digital Dividend Spectrum by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

By that act, Smile is the first operator in West Africa to offer commercial VoLTE service, giving access to voice and video calling. Its SmileVoice, a world-first downloadable free mobile app affords customers with Android smartphone and Apple iPhone device the ability to make super clear voice calls over Smile’s 4G LTE network, or through the use of VoLTE-enabled handsets plus a Smile SIM card on latest devices.

Smile actually pioneered the service in Nigeria with its launch in 2013 when it began operations in the country.In the second quarter of this year, Intercellular Nigeria, one of the pioneer private telephone operators (PTOs) launched its own 4G LTE services in key strategic cities across the country. It picked Huawei to migrate its Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network to a 4G LTE technology in order to provide high speed data and voice services.

Ntel owned by Natcom, the consortium that acquired the assets of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), has also launched what it described as pure-play advanced 4G/LTE network.

The Managing Director, Kamar Abass, said Ntel with 4GLTE, is leading a revolution in the country that would reposition the sector. He predicted that the Nigeria telecoms sector would have 222 million 4G mobile subscriber base by the year 2020 as subscribers in search of high speed broadband services like voice, video and data move away from 2G and 3G services.

Two weeks ago, there was a launch by Globacom, which had five years ago claimed to have started 4GLTE in Nigeria, at a time there were only 24 networks in the world offering the service.

At the launch, Globacom claimed that with this development, telecommunications subscribers in several parts of key cities in Lagos, Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Abuja in the Federal Capital City, Jos in Plateau State, Warri in Delta State, Eket in Akwa Ibom State, Benin City in Edo State, Yola in Adamawa State and Zaria in Kaduna State can immediately connect to Glo 4G LTE network, while roll-out to other major cities of the country will happen in quick succession in the days ahead.

The firm said this major milestone will enable it to offer its subscribers data intensive applications, and will particularly be great news to individuals who consume huge volumes of data, as well as government and corporate organisations like banks, oil and gas companies, academic institutions and health institutions, which rely exclusively on seamless data transfer for their operations.

According to Head, Corporate Sales, Globacom, Kamaldeen Shonibare, the firm is pleased to once again play a leading role in empowering Nigerians with world class data services, helping to close the digital divide.

“In the last one and a half years, the people of this great country have spoken repeatedly by making Globacom the largest data network in new subscriptions. The best we can do for our people who believe in us and made us their number one data network is to give them the best technology.

What we are offering is the new speed of life,” he said.
With the launch of 4G/LTE services, Globacom claimed to have unveiled a wide range of hard-to-beat 4G data bundle offers to enable all categories of subscribers to have access to the revolutionary products and services.

Competitively, at its official launch in Abuja, a day after Globacom’s launched in Lagos, MTN riding on its 2.6 GHz spectrum, which it earlier won in the year as the only bidder, said its subscribers can now enjoy optimised wireless 4G broadband and high-speed browsing experience which is the fastest and most futuristic mobile Internet access available in Nigeria today.

According to MTN CEO, Ferdi Moolman, who was represented by MTN’s Chief Operating Officer, Mohammed Siddiqui, the deployment of MTN 4G LTE will not only enhance browsing experience across Nigeria, but will also accelerate the achievement of the country’s targeted broadband penetration by 2018.

“We are excited to officially roll-out MTN 4G LTE services for our esteemed customers. By leveraging on our network, it promises to be the widest LTE coverage in Nigeria.

“With the acquisition of the 2.6GHz spectrum earlier this year, our objective was clear: to build capacity to accommodate 4G LTE for the benefit of Nigerians because it is the fastest wireless internet connection available today. In fulfilling that objective, we have embarked on aggressive optimization of our sites to beef up our capacity for 4G LTE,” he stated.

Speaking at the launch, Senate Committee Chairman on Communication, Gilbert Nnaji, commended MTN for investing in LTE and supporting the Federal Government’s drive to deepen broadband penetration in the country.

“It is commendable that MTN continues to demonstrate that it is building its business in Nigeria based on sustainability in the long term. The MTN 4G LTE roll-out is a case in point and going by the potential of broadband to develop the economy, this underscores the premium the company has placed on innovation which contributes to socio-economic development now and in the future,” he said.

From Etisalat’s perspective, the CEO, Mattew Willsher, said the 4G LTE technology offers its customers increased access to high speed data and quality voice services real time. “With the new technology, our customers will enjoy efficient broadband internet and uninterrupted connectivity to clearer voice calls, increased access to online streaming and ultra-high definition videos”, he said.

Willsher revealed further that the Etisalat 4G LTE service offers a seamless experience because unlike other GSM networks, Etisalat customers do not have to go through the inconvenience of executing a SIM swap before they can enjoy 4G LTE since all Etisalat SIMs are already LTE enabled.

He noted in addition that Etisalat’s 4G LTE network supports the widest range of LTE devices so many subscribers can immediately enjoy the benefits of LTE.

Chief executive officer of Intercellular, Emad Sukker, said there are many surveys globally that indicate a positive correlation between a country’s GDP and broadband penetration. “At Intercellular, we believe that for Nigeria, the pervasive penetration of broadband will strengthen activities of individuals and MSME’s enabling them to expand their craft and services to a global audience. “As a corporate citizen of Nigeria, Intercellular will continue to invest in advanced technologies that will empower Nigerians in their quest to achieve their aspirations and dreams,” he said.

Impact on services
While LTE offers theoretical maximum speeds of up to 150 Mbps, the global average that users experience is less than 10 Mbps.

The 10 largest US cities all get less than 10Mbps in average download speeds. One report puts the average download speeds of the following US LTE networks as follows: T-Mobile: 11.2 Mbps, AT&T: 8.9 Mbps and Verizon: 7.6 Mbps. With those speeds, streaming media and downloading all but the heaviest files is a breeze.

During last November’s World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC15), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and national regulators approved the global harmonisation and use of L-band (1427-1518MHz), 200MHz of the C-band (3.4-3.6G Hz), the L-band (1427-1518MHz), expand the 700MHz band (694-790MHz) and the sub-700MHz band (especially 610-694/698MHz) for mobile broadband.

In Sub-Saharan Africa GSM/EDGE-only is still the most popular technology for mobile subscriptions. With 500 million subscriptions forecast in 2015, it still accounts for over 70 per cent of total mobile subscriptions. This is however expected to change rapidly up to 2021, when WCDMA/HSPA combined with LTE will account for almost 80 per cent of subscriptions.

The latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report said between 2015 and 2021, data traffic is projected to grow 15 times in Sub-Saharan Africa, driven by an increased spread of LTE. Smartphones will account for almost 95 per cent of mobile data traffic by 2021, up from close to 80 per cent in 2015. Voice traffic over the same period will only marginally increase.

A robust value chain for SMEs
Studies such as the 2014 Value of Connectivity study done by Deloitte posture that access to Internet access could lift 130 million people out of extreme poverty.

Directly, access to the Internet means people have access to empowering information. And indirectly, benefits stem from the enhanced speed and time savings for SMEs. Because of reduced transaction costs and productivity gains, SMEs are able to deliver more value. All these drive growth which SMEs would need more human-resource to maintain. The top-level increase in internet access delivers value that culminates in job creation.

SMEs are responsible for 40 per cent of industrial employment in Nigeria. With improved access, that number can begin to edge closer to the 70 per cent that is obtainable in advanced markets.

Value creation and robust access to the internet sets off a vicious circle of sorts: the more problem SMEs solve quickly, the more creative they get at solving the problems, the more market they are able to access, and the more talent they need to maintain their processes.

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