Two days to 5G rollout, MTN claims readiness, Mafab targets January 2023
• NCC issues UASL to Mafab as MTN begins with demo
• Country to join South Africa and Kenya as leaders on the regional deployment list
• Device availability, affordability pose a huge challenge
Though MTN has expressed readiness to launch the Fifth-Generation (5G) network this month, at most this quarter, Mafab Communications has, however, got a five-month extension for the rollout of the service in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) handed the August 24 (Wednesday) roll-out date to both MTN and Mafab Communications, after both emerged winners of the 3.5GHz spectrum licence last December and had subsequently coughed out about $550 million as early as February into Federal Government’s coffer.
At the weekend, a source at MTN told The Guardian that the firm is ready and may start with a demo on or after August 24.
According to the source, more equipment are coming in already and will be moved to the different sites, “as full commercial launch should be before the end of the year.”
Recall that in December 2021, after 11 rounds of bidding that lasted eight hours, Mafab and MTN Nigeria emerged the two successful winners of the 3.5gigahertz (GHz) spectrum auction for the deployment of 5G technology in Nigeria. The Commission further confirmed that the two companies fully paid $273.6 million each for the 5G spectrum licence in February 2022.
On the readiness of the players to deploy, the Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, told The Guardian that “Mafab has been given the Universal Access Service License (UASL) two weeks ago and they requested for extension of time to roll out services. Confirm more from MTN and Mafab.”
Confirming this development, Mafab issued a statement, at the weekend, disclosing that NCC has granted it five months extension for service rollout.
The statement reads in part: “In line with the conditions of the 5G licence, the licensees were expected to commence the rollout of 5G services effective from August 24, 2022.
“However, Mafab has been issued a five-month extension following delays in receiving its UASL and Numbering plan, which did not happen until the end of July.
“We are fully committed to bringing the benefits of 5G services to Nigerians and deploying a network that will drive economic development with increased broadband capabilities nationwide. I have no doubt that the service will help deliver improvements in the fields of education, business, smart cities and entertainment,” said Chairman Mafab Communications Limited, Dr. Mushabu Bashir.
According to him, the goal remains to launch before the five-month extension period and “we will be sharing more information in the near future. The 5G will offer Nigerians higher data speed, improved reliability and availability.
“The benefits are far-reaching, as the service will enable Nigerians to achieve more with broadband and increase the nation’s broadband penetration, quality of service and capabilities.”
MEANWHILE, should the August launch become a reality, Nigeria will be joining South Africa and Kenya as countries that have formally launched the 5G network on the continent.
While South Africa began its 5G network journey in March through MTN and Vodacom, Kenya, on the other hand, started the deployment through Safaricom in April.
Already, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) informed that around 70 countries had 5G networks as of June 2022, up from just 38 in mid-2020. It stated that approximately 15 more have had 5G mobile technology deployed in part.
GSA noted that 5G is expected to reach one billion users this year after just in 3.5 years in use, compared with four years for 4G and 12 years for 3G.
South Korea is the country, which deployed the first 5G network and is expected to stay in the lead as far as penetration of the technology goes. By 2025, almost 60 per cent of mobile subscriptions in South Korea are expected to be for 5G networks.
5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks. It offers data speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and lower latency (the delay between instruction for a data transfer and its actual transfer). It can also support up to one million connected devices per square kilometre, compared to up to 100,000 for 4G.
Amid speculations about deployment, The Guardian had reported on August 3 that MTN would begin the service this quarter and stressed that through its vendor, Huawei, it had deployed 127 5G sites, with focus on five cities including Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.
The Chief Executive Officer, MTN Group, Ralph Mupita, had declared that the 5G licence won by the Nigerian arm will usher in a new world of opportunities.
Mupita gave an indication of what the telco will achieve with the spectrum licence. His words: “We have often said that the shift from 4G to 5G is as revolutionary as the shift from 2G to 3G. 5G brings us a whole new world of opportunities because of the low latency and applications that will now be able to be captured by businesses such as ourselves. What is exciting for us are the industrial applications that come with 5G, and the ability for companies to use high tech in how they run businesses. People talk about web 3.0, the metaverse. 5G enables a lot of that.”
5G will enable seamless communication and interconnectivity between smart devices. It has the potential to accelerate the digital transformation of industries, and according to Mupita, MTN is in the process of securing 5G frequencies in other countries. “We are arranging ourselves to be able to secure the frequencies across markets, there is a multiband auction in South Africa that we will participate in, and other markets will be calling. In the next couple of years, we will arrange to have the 5G frequencies and then build out the ecosystem,” he said.
Further, from the consumer perspective, the cost of a 5G mobile device could become more expensive than what an average Nigerian can afford, with the country’s minimum wage of N30,000 ($72). A mobility report by Ericsson puts mobile phone connections on 3G in sub-Saharan Africa at 43 per cent, with only 15 per cent on 4G and less than one per cent on 5G, while the remaining ones are on 2G.