Nigeria: Why MTN's Historic 5G Trial Will Unlock Economic Prosperity for Nigeria

27 November 2019

The historic three months 5G trial kicked off by MTN Nigeria, Monday, may be the key to Nigeria's economic transformation. All the key pointers are there. Already, the building blocks are beginning to fall into place.

The first sign of prosperity associated with the new dawn was the Federal government's, final realisation that telecom facilities needed to be on the exclusive list, if the sector must sustain incremental contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP.

Another sign was the government's realisation that the unnecessary delay of approval to the MTN's trial was a delay to economic transformation, and duly apologised for it on the day of trial.

That was apparently, why the announcement by minister of communications and digital economy, Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami that the FG was ready to issue executive order pronouncing telecom facilities as critical natural infrastructure, nearly overshadowed the 5G trial.

His apology to MTN on behalf of government over the delay of the trial approval, also received thunderous applause.

He said: "We held long discussions on the issue of the critical national infrastructure nature of the facilities of telecommunication companies. The government is working on an Executive Order on that. Before I came here today, I was directed to send a letter to the Attorney General of the Federation, to review the draft; and I signed the letter before I left, with a copy of the Executive order.

"This is what I call short term solution; for the long term, the President has also directed that we facilitate a process of having a legislature in place, and this is in the pipeline. We are also looking at addressing the challenges of fuelling your facilities at the border areas. We are working to ensure that the environment is much more conducive for telecommunication firms to do business in Nigeria."

He also told MTN: " I want to apologise to you on the delay you had with the NCC on the approval to this trial, due to official procedures. It was not meant to be a deliberate delay, it was to ensure we are on the same page"

New Dawn

These declarations would mean that wanton destruction, vandalisation and indiscriminate shut down of telecommunications facilities by people, companies or agencies, will become an offence that could attract capital punishments in some instances.

It also means that telcos may now regain confidence to put more investments into facilities and improve quality of service, which has eluded subscribers for a while.

Change Agent

Besides these calculations, 5G has been touted as major change agent in any environment it is deployed.

If the statistics of General System for Mobile communications Association, GSMA is anything to rely on, African countries stand a chance to rake in a cumulative 0.7 per cent of GDP growth in 2034, which may approximately amount to $5.2bn, an economic expansion which will be a direct result of Innovative services to be spurred by 5G

The MTN 5G trial has afforded Nigeria, the opportunity of becoming the first country in West Africa to make attempt at this huge revenue base.

However, GSMA says that this huge opportunity for Africa's digital economy depends on the availability of necessary radio frequencies, including those known as 'millimetre wave' frequencies that will deliver ultra-high capacity and ultra-high-speed services.

Regulatory foresight

That is where the telecom regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC showed a great foresight.

Before any other country in West Africa gave the 5G a thought, Nigeria, through the regulatory foresight of NCC had gone ahead to earmark three spectrum bands 26 GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz bands for trial in Lagos and other parts of the country.

It also promised to provide huge support for telcos, ready to try and deploy the technology on or before 2020

Speaking at a collaborative meeting between NCC and GSMA in Abuja, early in the year,to facilitate 5G policy and spectrum, the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta, said although the NCC was not ready at the moment, in terms of policy and regulations, it has however kick started processes and reserved three frequency bands to facilitate 5G roll out.

The NCC said it specifically caused the parley, to see how Nigeria could be among the first African countries to deploy the latest network generation.

Accordingly, its projections have worked because, it was on the heels of this collaborative meeting that the trial came

Fidelity of 5G

Explaining how interesting the 5G network could be in lifting the country's tech ecosystem, MTN's Chief Technical Officer (CTO), Mohammed Rufai, said the new technology is at least 100 times faster than 4G and provides better support for more devices.

Demonstrating the functionality, Rufai said when compared to 4G, 5G provides faster data transfer speed and lower latency. The speed of 5G is the highest achieved on any mobile network in Africa.

He said: "The new technology boasts of improved reliability. In comparison, the 5G technology has 1,000-times the capacity, 100-times the speed, 10-times reliability, and 10-times lower latency than 4G.

The CTO also said the new technology solution consists of an end-to-end dedicated 5G network operating in 100MHz and 20MHz licensed spectrums and achieves downlink throughputs exceeding 430Mbps and uplink throughputs exceeding 130Mbps. It is expected that with adequate spectrum allocated to the 5G standard, the increased capacity would result in lower data cost to Nigerians.

What is left to be seen, is how fast other operators will respond to MTN's first shot at the new technology, to make it perverse for the benefit of the Nigerian people.

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