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Nigeria looks elsewhere as countries package spectrum relief

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The COVID-19 pandemic has focused the world on how technology could help to reduce the scale of the tragedy and save lives. As citizens face huge restrictions on the way they live their lives; some are cut off from loved ones and their livelihoods threatened. Responsible governments the world over battle with huge challenges trying to project and plan for the scale of the crisis, hoping to save as many lives as possible.

Their plans are hinged on technology. As a matter of fact, World Health Organisation (WHO), said, that the pandemic has triggered an unprecedented demand for digital health technology solutions and has revealed successful solutions such as for population screening, tracking the infection, prioritizing the use and allocation of resources, and designing targeted responses.

For Jeremy Potgieter, regional director – Africa, Eseye, this, calls for a connected response, adding that “the more data we gather on what happens when a pandemic occurs, the better we can become at modelling the outcome.

“It’s essential that those with connected devices operating during the Coronavirus outbreak make their data available to researchers, whilst governments need to look at ways in which existing data sources can be leveraged in the future to create a centralized monitoring dashboard that will inform their decisions.” Potgieter stated.

But the world would need huge internet capacity to deal with the pandemic.That may be why the World Economic Forum (WEF) reviewed and analysed countries increasing internet capacity. According to Isabelle Mauro, head of Digital Communications, WEF, the COVID crisis has given rise to an increased usage of digital technologies, including a surge in videoconferencing, cloud-services, and content streaming.

“This has put telecommunication networks under intense pressure to handle the exponential growth in demand” Mauro, noted. And around the globe, regulators and governments are releasing additional bandwidth.

For instance, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States, has granted short-term access to available mobile spectrum in coverage bands (600 MHz) and capacity bands (1.7 -2.2 GHz) to provide additional mobile broadband capacity.

Also the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in Ireland is temporarily releasing extra radio spectrum in the 700 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands to provide additional capacity for mobile phone and broadband provision and liberalizing the use of 2.1 GHz so that it can be used for 4G and other technologies, rather than just for 3G.

In Africa, Tunisia is making all IMT spectrum tech-neutral on a short-term basis, while ICASA, the regulator in South Africa is working with MNOs on “spectrum relief” to increase capacity in the face of huge demand for data.

But Nigeria is yet to wake up. Apart from lackluster hamdling of the pandemic, affordable internet service is still a distant dream only the rich and intrepid can afford in Nigeria.

Dixon Obiaku, a telecom engineer, urged the federal government and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to follow suit by releasing some idle spectrum as digital relief for Nigerians.

“Some idle frequencies in the 300 MHz –3 000 MHz; and 10GHz–30GHz as well as a host of others can be provided to cope with the demand for data. With lockdown, they are just sitting idle” he said. Nodding in agreement, Mauro of WEF, said, that going forward, governments should work closely with telecoms operators on strategies to maintain network resiliency, especially in areas most impacted by COVID-19, so as to best support hospitals and other emergency services.

“Video streaming is a high bandwidth application and services around the world are reporting large increases in use. Content providers have started to help alleviate press on networks by adopting lower bit rates and defaulting to standard-definition videos” Mauro added.

Potgieter of Africa, Eseye, said that for governments and businesses alike, that are managing unconnected devices, this should serve as a wake-up call that in this modern world, knowledge and insight come through the joined-up approach of connecting devices remotely and analysing the data generated in a safe and meaningful way to protect the most vulnerable in society.

“ Data is one of the most powerful tools we have for defeating and adapting to pandemics. Let’s make sure we use it” he added.


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