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MTN, Huawei trial of 5G in Nigeria and NCC’s strategic moves

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Huawei and 5G
In March 2018, news broke about MTN and Huawei demonstration of what they tagged Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

The field trial demonstrated a Fifth Generation (5G) fixed-wireless access use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz millimetre-wave technology in a “real-world” environment in Hatfield, Pretoria.

It achieved speeds of 520Mbit/s on the downlink and 77Mbit/s on the uplink, it said.

At that trial, the then MTN’s Group Chief Technology and Information Systems Officer, Babak Fouladi said the trial provided MTN with valuable insight into how much work there is still left to do before 5G is switched on.

Flip to AfricaCom Conference 2019, MTN took a giant step in its network evolution plan towards fifth-generation cellular technology (5G) with the launch of a C-band 5G trial with Huawei.

C-band, also called ‘golden band’ for 5G spectrum, is a valuable segment of spectrum and comprises of a frequency range of around 3.3 – 3.8GHz.

At the annual AfricaCom conference in Cape Town, the two companies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a joint 5G innovation programme to assess and work on new technologies such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

It is anticipated through these innovations, Africa will develop use cases that have a social impact, including smart city and education, driven by 5G and AI technologies.

The incumbent MTN Chief Technology and Information Officer (CTIO) Giovanni Chiarelli, said the trial demonstrated the capability of this new technology while giving customers a glimpse of what the future held, showcasing the next generation of applications for consumer and enterprise customers.

“MTN will further co-operate with Huawei to accelerate commercial 5G deployment,” Chiarelli added.

The media launch demonstrated use cases including a live 5G speed test (with throughputs up to 1.6Gbit/s) and a series of live 5G demonstrations, such as Cloud virtual reality (VR) gaming, a robotic arm guessing platform and augmented reality (AR) eyeglasses- demonstrating facial recognition.

The Huawei Carrier Business Vice President for Southern Africa, Dean Yu, highlighted that 5G was at the stage of large-scale deployment in 2019 globally.

“In 5G era, more ‘Cloud Native’ services will appear,” Yu said.

Just Relying on same partnership, MTN and Huawei

MTN, Huawei demo 5G in Nigeria

Just last week, the MTN conducted 5G trial in Nigeria through the partnership with Huawei.

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Industry experts believe that missing the Fifth Generation (5G) technology, will pose big developmental challenge to Nigeria hence the recent trial is a welcome development.

The experts’ view may not be unconnected with concerns of Nigeria’s readiness for the 5G technology deployment following the less than 40% broadband penetration in the country.

5G trial in Nigeria

Demo session

However, the stakeholders have stressed why the country cannot wait any longer to embrace the revolution.

Today, connectivity obtainable in Nigeria on previous generations of technologies, including 2G, 3G and 4G still leave much to be desired even as other countries are already moving towards 5G.

Arguably, with Nigeria conspicuously missing in the past industrial revolutions, the benefits of the current Fourth Industrial revolution, seen as the era of technology advancement, should not elude it.

Speaking at the 5G trial in Abuja, the former Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, and current Chairman of the Board, MTN Nigeria, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, gave this analogy, “was Nigeria ready for the mobile telephone business in 1999? The answer from all available technological infrastructure was no! What the country lacked in technology in 1999 was present in foresight, market and a ready band of Nigerians ready to make the dream possible. We all know how much progress we have made since that first phone call in 2001.”

Indeed, the GSM service in the country went from an elite preserve to the must-have of every Nigerian willing to have a cell phone.

SIM cards went from about N40, 000 in 2001 to N100, 18 years after.

No wonder the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir E’Rufai is happy that NITEL died a natural death.

Well, drawing from the strength of the past, and the partnership between Federal Government, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and operators, especially MTN, Ndukwe noted that the possibility of 5G revolutionising peoples’ way of life is immense.

According to him, with the potential applications for medical imaging, video conferencing, and gaming, 3D holographic communication, 5G provides the needed speed, and required low latency that will support this kind of application on a network.

How 5G differs from 5G

Of course, 5G is a transformational change from 4G.

5G has the potential to provide 20 times faster data speeds and carries a massive amount of data for a large number of simultaneous users.

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So, users in high-density areas like airports, stadiums or urban areas can still experience the fast speeds and low latency of 5G services.

According to industry watchers, as the world replaces more and more household items with ‘smart devices’ that connect to the Internet, also known as the IoT, this network capacity will be critical. They posited that 5G will potentially be able to handle more than 2.5 million connected devices per square mile.

5G supports data transfer rates of up to 20Gbit/s. On top of that, wireless data delays drop to one millisecond. This opens up the potential for multiple driverless cars, where large quantities of potentially live saving data have to be transferred almost instantaneously.

5G trial in Nigeria

L-r: Dr. Ernest Ndukwe; Prof. Umar Danbatta; Dr. Isa Pantami; Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye and Ferdinand Moolman

How Nigeria plans to implement 5G and NCC’s assurance

Ahead of the 2020 set date for the roll out of 5G networks in Nigeria, the NCC will look at three strategic areas of interest that will be beneficial to the country, cum Africa.

These areas of focus include enhanced mobile broadband applications, the low ultra-reliable, low latency applications, and the Machine to Machine application.

According to the Commission, Nigeria and other parts of Africa will subscribe quickly to the enhanced mobile broadband application.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the reason for this was because African countries are trying to roll out broadband infrastructure for broadband applications.

“So this will spur us on to ensure we put in place the necessary infrastructure,” he stressed

In terms of readiness of the Continent for 5G evolution, Danbatta said Nigeria and other countries within the region are trying to reserve the spectrum for the roll out of broadband services.

Specifically, Danbatta said in Nigeria, the focus is on 26, 38 and 42 GHz. He noted that these frequencies exist and are not licensed for any other application.

Nigeria’s 5G demo trial begins with MTN

At the trial, the first in West Africa, MTN was able to provide a glimpse into a range of 5G use cases and applications at a test Lab designed to show proof-of-concept. Standing alongside former Super Eagles captain, Joseph Yobo, attendees got to match their skills against an artificial-intelligence powered goalie; immerse themselves in a high-speed, low-latency virtual reality gaming world; experience ultra-high speed streaming and downloads on 5G devices; and engage in discourse with life-like holographic projections.

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3D holographic communication has potential applications for education, medical imaging, video conferencing and gaming, and requires about four times as much data as a streamed 4K video.

This means that 5G is best suited to support this kind of application on a mobile network and to enable its use. It also demonstrates how 5G has the potential to support key socio-economic objectives Nigeria has set for itself, and to be a key contributor to the emergence of a fully digital economy.

MTN explained that 5G will enhance technological development because of the extremely fast transfer rate of large quantities of data.

The firm said 5G is designed to keep self-driving cars aware of one another, stream virtual and augmented reality experiences; allow delivery drones to function safely and efficiently. Overall, it enables interconnected devices for instant communication.

Huawei and 5G

Dr. Pantami in a handshake with MD/CEO, Huawei Technologies Company Nig. Ltd, Zhang Lulu

The importance of conducive environment

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, who spoke after the live demo, underlined the potential of 5G for sustainable growth. “I believe as long as we are able to handle the potential challenges, the deployment of 5G is very critical to our economy, because of so many advantages of 5G, the issue of latency, speed and many more.”

Stressing the importance of an enabling regulatory framework and protecting telecommunications infrastructure, Pantami said on the instruction of the President, he has signed a draft Executive Order declaring telecommunications infrastructure ‘critical national infrastructure’, which has been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation for review.

Huawei

L-r: Yusuf Kazaure; Ernest Ndukwe; L-r: Ernest Ndukwe; Olabiyi Durojaiye; and MD/CEO, Huawei Technologies Company Nig. Ltd, Zhang Lulu

The Minister referred to the proposed Executive Order as a short-term measure, adding that the President has instructed that a proper legislation be facilitated to deal conclusively with threats to telecommunications infrastructure.

Speaking on the partnership with the Ministry and other stakeholders, the Chief Executive Officer, MTN Nigeria, Ferdi Moolman, said: “Pushing boundaries is easier when your aspirations are supported by likeminded people. We are here today because of the support and guidance of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission, who provided the trial spectrum used for this.”

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