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Huawei 5G Day Affirms MTN Nigeria Ready for Commercial Launch

This month, Nigeria will become the first in West Africa to launch the fifth generation technology (5G) network and third in Africa after South Africa and Kenya.

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Huawei 5G Day with MTN Nigeria (4)
MTN MIP Fellows at Huawei 5G Day

The Future is coming. Third Generation (3G) technology added the internet to our smartphone, 4G allowed the smartphone to spread its wings; so expect 5G to make it soar.

Based on publicly available information, there are 209 global 5G commercial network as of March 2022 with Huawei as the vendor selected by 96 of them.

This month, Nigeria will become the first in West Africa to launch the fifth generation technology (5G) network and third in Africa after South Africa and Kenya.

Two companies – Mafab Communications and MTN Nigeria – have been licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to launch the network this August. However, MTN Nigeria is leading the race.

Huawei 5G Day in partnership with MTN and PAU
Huawei 5G Day in partnership with MTN and PAU

MTN is working with Huawei to bring 5G to Nigeria as demonstrated during 5G Day hosted by Huawei in partnership with MTN and Pan-Atlantic University as part of programmes lined up for MTN MIP 2022.

This is a combination of two major forces – Thirteen (13) countries are supported by Huawei for 5G roll out. Huawei is the number one in the global carrier IP space with 31% market share; controls 35% of 5G core infrastructure and is in charge of 33% of global broadband access.

Demo session
Demo session during the Huawei 5G Day

MTN launched operations in Nigeria in 2001 and presently controls over 50% of the market share. As at June 2022, MTN Nigeria has 79,052,391 subscribers representing 38.36% of the market share. During the period, the telecoms business segment of MTN accounts for 63,820,107 out of 150,742,833 internet subscribers in Nigeria.

Expected benefits of 5G

Mr. Karl Toriola MTN Nigeria CEO once said: “5G is the future of network technology and offers incredible possibilities for new and enhanced services for our customers”. He nailed it!

Well, permit me to further explain the benefits by relating one sad incident in Lagos to how 5G could become a life-saver for us:

About five months ago, Lagosians were saddened over the death of 22-year-old Bamise Ayanwole who had boarded a bus on Saturday, 26th February 2022 and was allegedly kidnapped and killed by a BRT driver, Andrew Nice (male).

Probably, the 5G network would have saved her life. How? Okay, during a demo session at the MTN-Huawei 5G Day in Lagos recently, with 5G Smart Bus things will be different.

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MTN Nigeria 5G
5G Smart bus (Source: Huawei)

With 5G New Radio (NR) that delivers significantly faster and more responsive mobile broadband experiences; 5G Core which ensures ultra-reliable connectivity and low latency performance, connected to the cloud, taking feeds to the surveillance center, then, government can make informed decisions and empower security officers for prompt response to distress calls on BRT buses.

In essence, real-time connectivity to the security monitoring system attached to a BRT bus offers a sundry opportunity to detect abnormal driving and triggers warnings and keeps records for reviews. With that in place, a BRT driver would be more cautious of his/her environment and will not behave in the manner Andrew Nice did.

5G brings ubiquitous connectivity.

Low-latency, accessible-anywhere 5G can connect 100 times more devices per square kilometer than 4G.

It can move data at up to 100x higher speeds.

Huawei 5G Day with MTN Nigeria
L-r: Funso Aina, Senior Manager, External Relations, MTN Nigeria; Peter Oluka, Editor TechEconomy and Jiang Dong (Bruce), Head of Contract Commerce and Fulfilment Management Department (CCFM), Huawei Nigeria

So 5G will be the motor of digital transformation. It is already powering the creation of tomorrow’s big industries: autonomous transport, virtual reality gaming, remote surgery, and more.

Analysts expect the commercial impact of 5G to be huge. GSMA predicts that 5G will add $2.2 trillion to the world economy by 2034.

Huawei 5G Day with MTN Nigeria (2)
A nine-year old ‘IT expert’ tagged along and had a glimpse into the future

See, 5G is one technology that extends mobile technology to connect and redefine a multitude of new industries.  Yes, you read that right.

Benefits of 5G
Source: Jabil

5G Launch in Nigeria: The Timeline

In August 2019, NCC approved dedicated spectrum for trial deployment of 5G services in the country. TechEconomy later gathered that NCC approved 100meg spectrum in Calabar and 20 meg spectrum in Lagos.

November 2019:

Moves towards 5G deployment in Nigeria can be traced back to November 2019 when the country became the first in West Africa to conduct 5G technology testing, powered by MTN; working with its partners, namely, Huawei (Abuja), ZTE (Calabar) and Ericsson (Lagos), to provide a glimpse into a range of 5G use cases and applications at test Labs designed to show proof-of-concept in these locations.

Afcon qualifiers, MTN Nigeria, Mafab
Karl Toriola, CEO MTN Nigeria

December 2019:

Professor Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, rejigged the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) which plays a critical role in the spectrum allocation process.

“The NFMC was established by the Communications Act of 2003, which empowers the body to coordinate and regulate spectrum license allocations, across regional and international borders. In his maiden address to council members, the Chairman disclosed that under his leadership, national interest must supersede sectoral or personal interests, emphasizing that the protection of the consumer is paramount, while providing an enabling environment for industry players to thrive, within the dictates of the law”, Pantami said.

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NCC also moved to ‘Develop guidelines for Collocation and Infrastructure Sharing (“C/IS”)’ as part of the 5G networks roll out plan.

May 2021:

NFMC commenced work towards commercial 5G roll out in Nigeria, but COVID-19 came and slowed the pace of engagements and activities.

The conspiracy theorists compounded issues around 5G. Some claimed it was the major cause of COVID-19 Pandemic.  This has since been faulted by industry stakeholders including international bodies like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

So, in May 2021, Nigeria’s quest for the deployment received a major boost as the Nigerian Communications Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Limited to leverage C-Band Spectrum for 5G services.

November 2021

ALSO READ: Analysts Explain NCC’s Choice of C-Band Spectrum for 5G Rollout

The Federal Government of Nigeria through the telecommunication regulator – NCC – commenced the process for 5G Spectrum licensing. NCC hosted a stakeholders’ forum when the price was pegged at N75bn for 3.5GHz Spectrum. This was rejected by industry players.

December 2021

Barely a month after the stakeholders’ forum, NCC said it was set for auctioning of the spectrum after a successful mock exercise.

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Companies submitted their bids. MTN, Mafab and Airtel were declared as qualified bidders for the 3.5Ghz spectrum auction.

Nigeria, first in West Africa to trial 5G technology, powered by MTN
5G demo session by MTN Nigeria in 2019

Eventually, Airtel gave up during the bidding process. So, on December 13, 2021, after 11 rounds of bidding that lasted eight hours, Mafab Communications Ltd and MTN Nigeria Plc, emerged the two successful winners of the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum auction for the deployment of 5G technology to support the delivery of ubiquitous broadband services in Nigeria.

ALSO READ: Eight Things You May not know About NCC’s 3.5Ghz Spectrum Auction

January 2022

President Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday January 27 2022 unveiled the National Policy on Fifth Generation (5G) Networks for Nigeria’s Digital Economy.

The Policy was presented and approved at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on the 8th of September 2021, following a robust debate.

The approval of the Policy, Buhari said, is in line with the commitment of this administration to supporting the digital economy as an enabler for the diversification of our national economy.

The President said the journey started with the launch of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) in November 2019 and have also launched a number of policies to strengthen the country’s digital economy, including the Nigerian National Broadband Plan and the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerian Telecommunications Sector.

February 2022

Two major things happened in February 2022. First, the National Frequency Management Council officially released 5G Spectrum to NCC for onward ‘transmission’ to the licensees.

5G Spectrum
Prof. Isa Pantami, presenting the the Spectrum for 5G to Professor Adeolu Akande, and Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, of NCC

Secondly, NCC confirmed receipt of payment by the 5G licensees in Nigeria.

April 2022

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issued the final letters of award of the Spectrum Licences to MTN and Mafab Communications.

Management of the Commission led by Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), confirmed this to the Board of Commissioners at the Board’s Special Meeting, which took place on Wednesday, April 20 and Thursday, April 21, 2022, where the Board considered updates from Management on the status of the spectrum auction.

June 2022

Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) granted approval to Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC’s) to clear part of the C-Band Spectrum for the purpose of 5G deployment.

The Next phase

The official launch. Yes, this month, August 2022 Nigeria will witness the official launch of 5G. MTN Nigeria has demonstrated its commitment and capacity towards bringing the plans to fruition.

How prepared is MTN?

MTN has a first mover advantage. Remember the group launched commercial 5G services in South Africa in June 2020. One could argue that South Africa differs from Nigeria in terms of business environment and regulatory instruments however 5G technology remains the same. In fact, Mobile Network Providers (MNOs) buy their equipment from the global vendors such as Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia or ZTE.  

Financially, MTN has a war chest. About a year ago the group announced plans to invest US$1.5 billion over the next three years to expand broadband access across the continent’s most populous country.

This is in line with MTN Group’s strategy; Ambition 2025: Leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress.

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TechEconomy’s findings show that MTN Nigeria will launch services in at least 200 5G cell towers before the end of 2022. It is a massive investment when you consider that it costs between $150 million to $300 million to construct a telecom base station.

MTN Nigeria 5G
MTN Cable station
The cable landing duct
mtn nigeria 5g
MTN MIP Fellows’ visit to West Africa Cable System landing station (WACS CSL)

MTN has also made huge investments in the West Africa Cable System (WACS) which connects many other African countries to Europe. The undersea cable project is quite critical to 5G launch in Nigeria.

End-user devices: As part of MTN Nigeria 5G strategies it introduced Device financing scheme. MTN is working with Intelligra, the pioneer operator-led device financing solution in Sub-Sahara to ensure consumers can have 5G enabled smartphones to enjoy the new connectivity.

mtn nigeria 5G
MTN MIP Fellows during a visit to MTN customer experience centre in Ikoyi, Lagos

On the other hand, MTN has the backing of Huawei to deliver on 5G roll out. Ashwani Mishra, Director ICT Strategy and Marketing Huawei Nigeria Office, said that Huawei was credited as the first company worldwide to launch the industry-first 5G commercial chip with the Balong 5G01 and 5G commercial CPE compliant with 3GPP Release 15.

He said that Huawei, as the only vendor who can provide end-to-end commercial solutions, vigorously promoting the maturity and commercial use of the 5G industry chain, the company is ready to replicate such feats in Nigeria.  

Challenges:

Apart from the perennial challenges facing MNOs in Nigeria such as Right of Way (RoW), multiple taxation, lack of protection for critical national infrastructure, multiple regulations (there are five to six agencies regulating communications in Nigeria), unfriendly business environment, etc., government needs to quickly address the free-fall of naira and scarcity of forex. MTN and others rely on importation of every equipment used to deploy services in the country.

Incentives for investors 5G is not just faster 4G – it’s an entirely new type of network.

Currently, most 5G ‘non-standalone’ deployments are built on existing 4G infrastructures. However, to unlock 5G’s full potential the industry is building a new type of network.

This ‘standalone’ 5G Core will be ‘cloud-native’. Its foundational technologies (Network Function Virtualization and Software Defined Networking) will turn many physical network components into the software. We are talking about millions of dollars investment. Is Nigeria prepared to provide incentives as motivation for operators deploying 5G?

5G will connect machines…but: According to Ericsson, there will be more than 22 billion connected IoT devices by 2024. This is a huge opportunity for telcos. But it’s not straightforward. Connecting cars and water meters is very different from connecting smartphones.

The majority of IoT devices are low-cost, small, limited in processing power, and battery-driven. They might be located in harsh environments and expected to run for decades.   

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Cyber threats: 5G will ramp up threats to cybersecurity and data privacy. Historically, the mobile industry has done a good job of deterring cyberattacks. But the confluence of the factors mentioned above – virtual 5G Core, private network slicing, IoT connections – will bring new threats.

5G is the first cellular generation to launch in the era of global cybercrime perpetrated by organized syndicates and even nation-states.

Conclusion,

In the words of Karl Toriola “The benefits of 5G are multi-faceted, and they hold the key to unlocking new avenues for the nation’s growth and development. It is far more than high-speed internet or faster-streaming speeds; 5G has implications for improved service delivery across every sector. It has the potential to transform our nation’s economy and make a difference in the daily lives of every Nigerian”.

The future is coming!

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