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Cost of 5G spectrum, potential rise in cyber attacks raise concern

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Prof. Umar Danbatta

As Nigeria forges ahead with plans to join 81 other countries that have already deployed 5G networks across the globe, telecommunications operators and other stakeholders in the country have expressed worries about the potential increase in cyber attacks, job losses, and most importantly, the cost of 5G spectrum.
   
These were among the issues, they claimed, should be urgently addressed before deployment of the technology in the country. While the rest of the world races to make the technology become the standard, mass adoption of the 5G networks is not yet on the cards in Africa.
  
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Checks showed the 5G networks launched by Vodacom and MTN in South Africa are the only ones in operation across sub-Saharan Africa. But even this has happened ahead of schedule with the South African government assigning temporary spectrum in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, ostensibly to boost broadband connectivity with millions working from home amid a national lockdown.
  
Deployment remains in infancy stages elsewhere on the continent with trials conducted in Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda so far. That said, Nigeria is looking at the last quarter of the year for a spectrum auction for 5G.

Cost of Spectrum to impact deployment
Gathered as panelists in Lagos, at the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF) Quarter Meeting and Open Forum 2021, with the theme: “Deployment of New Technology for Improved Consumer Experience, 5G Misconception and Conspiracy Theory,” stakeholders also raised the need for increased sensitization of the technology in the country.  
  

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The Chairman of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ikechukwu Nnamani, who admitted that Nigeria should not be left behind as far as emerging technologies are concerned, said reduced spectrum cost would help operators to deliver 5G service to subscribers at an affordable rate.   
   
Acknowledging that 5G deployment is far more capital intensive than 4G and other lower technologies, he said the Nigerian Senate had during a recent public hearing on the technology, expressed concern that the operators might pass the cost to subscribers. 
  
“There is no doubt that the operators are going to spend a lot of money to deploy 5G and they will need to recoup their investments from the service. The only way the cost can be lowered for the subscriber is for the telecoms regulator to make the 5G spectrum cost as low as possible,” he said.
   
He, however, noted that subscribers, who may not be able to afford 5G service, would be able to continue using the current 4G and 3G services.
  
According to him, just as the arrival of 4G did not end 3G and 2G, the launch of 5G in Nigeria will also not end other technologies. “The consumer will have the freedom to choose any technology they want as all will be running side-by-side,” he said.

Nigerians must check cyber habits
With 5G networks promising even more speed and capacity than currently exists, on a granular level, it will mean faster connectivity for mobile users and wider capabilities for businesses and governments to operate digitally.
  

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Reports claimed that while it takes 22 minutes to download a high-definition movie on a 4G network, it will only take 32 seconds on a 5G network. Based on its elasticity, 5G networks are also projected to be able to service a million devices within a square kilometer—100 times more than 4G networks can handle in the same area.
  
In view of these 5G capabilities and capacities, ATCON boss, while admitting possible rise in cyber attacks, said, “Subscribers must check their cyber habits in order not to become vulnerable to attacks.”
  
Speaking virtually at the meeting, Executive Director, Consumer Advocacy and Empowerment Foundation (CADEF), Prof. Chiso Ndukwe-Okafor, said consumers must be assured that their data are secured in the new dispensation.
    
She disclosed that many countries have banned 5G equipment coming from China. According to her, there must be a bill that will preserve and protect peoples’ data, “because data are not digitised yet in Nigeria. Companies still lose billions because of spyware. Nigeria must take strategic steps to ensure that as we deploy 5G, we protect our cyber space.”
  

Isa Pantami

On his part, the Director of Communications, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Col. Bala Fakandu, said as part of a protection plan for critical infrastructure, lots have been done, and works are also ongoing to protect Nigerians.
   
He said the Senate gave approval for 5G based on ONSA recommendations, stressing that the office is working to ensure 5G is deployed without any hitches on all stakeholders.
  
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The ONSA chief assured Nigerians that existing infrastructure, and those to be deployed, will be looked into critically to avoid any vulnerability.  He, however, said that ONSA coordinates cyber space but don’t enforce cyber crime laws.

Job losses or not
The Global System for Mobile telecommunications Association (GSMA) already claimed that West Africa’s mobile ecosystem directly employs around 200,000 people, supports 800,000 jobs in the informal employment sector, and a further 600,000 jobs across the wider economy.
  
In a report, Head of GSMA, Africa, Akinwale Goodluck, said “To harness the power of a new generation of mobile users and mobile networks, we urge governments and policymakers in West Africa to develop regulatory frameworks that encourage innovation and investment in the sector, enabling the provision of mobile-powered digital services to citizens across the region.”
   
As such, Nnamani said 5G deployment would further deepen job creation potential in the country because new skill sets will be required and this will give opportunities to tech savvy Nigerians.

Readiness of NCC
Lead paper presenter, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the fact that earlier generations of technology have not been fully utilised, does not mean the country shouldn’t deploy new technologies.
  
Adebayo, who said 5G had come to stay in the country, again, debunked claims that the technology has anything to do with COVID-19 or cancer. He said conspiracy theories about mobile phone technology have been circulating since the 1990s, and have long historical roots. 
  

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According to him, expert opinions issued by authorities such as the WHO, GSMA and ICNIRP have affirmed that base station signals and radiation are non-ionizing and do not pose a risk of predisposition to cancer or any other disease.
    

Engr. Ikechuchwu Nnamani, CEO, Medallion communications

Ahead of planned deployment, the ALTON boss said the FG, mobile network operators (MNOs) and the NCC have a responsibility to drive awareness on the benefits of the deployment of 5G.
  
On her part, the President, Women In Technology in Nigeria (WITIN), Mrs. Martha Alade, said stakeholders must intensify awareness efforts ahead of deployment.
 
Alade said sensitisation should be simplified in languages that users will identify, simplify and deploy as necessary to avoid mis-information.
   
The Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity (DTSNI) at NCC, Bako Wakil, said the Commission had chosen the 3.5GHz spectrum band for 5G deployment in Nigeria because it allows other technologies to run concurrently. 
  
“We are not going to have a complete 5G network in Nigeria, the technology will work alongside 4G, 3G and 2G,” he said.
   
He said NCC would ensure that users of 5G are protected when the technology is deployed. He said the NCA Act 2003 mandates the Commission to ensure that all telecoms equipment to be connected to the national network are typed, approved and standardized.
   
According to him, operators don’t rely on end to end with one vendor. “We won’t allow anybody to monitor us. The strategy is to dilute this equipment to ensure we are secured adequately.”
   
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On his part, the NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, represented at ICAF meeting by the Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau, Efosa Idehen, said the 5G communication technology is the next evolution of the mobile communications technology, which is capable of creating new opportunities for growth in the economy by enabling new and dynamic business models and opening up new opportunities and markets.
   
Danbatta said he is gratified that the ICT sector has been exemplary in advancing growth without breaching official protocols instituted to manage the spread of the pandemic.
   
“It is indeed noteworthy that the NCC has been consistent and profound in instituting regulatory measures that will promote 5G deployment,” he stated.
   
According to Danbatta, as a precursor to the commencement of commercial deployment of 5G network in the country, the NCC submitted a 5G Development Plan (5GDP) to the Federal Government for final approval towards effective deployment of the technology to cover major urban areas by 2025.

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