Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Nigeria Communications Satellite (NigComSat) Limited recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the release of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for 5G deployment. With this, Nigeria moves closer to the realisation of its 5G dream. SAMSON AKINTARO reports
From the successful trial to the release of deployment plans, Nigeria recently forged ahead in its strategic and methodical moves towards a successful launch of 5G for economic development. This came as the telecom regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), struck a deal with the country’s Satellite company, NigComSat, to release an important spectrum in the 3.5GHz band early for 5G’s deployment. The memorandum of understanding recently signed by the two government agencies further bolstered the efforts of the telecoms regulator to release all resources necessary for smooth deployment by the operators once government gives its nod.
The C-band spectrum
Speaking during the signing of the MoU in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, noted that amongst the Frequency Spectrum bands allocated to 5G by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the C-band (3.4GHz – 3.9GHz) stands out because its balancing point between coverage and capacity provides the perfect environment for 5G connectivity. “The C-band is most suitable and appropriate for immediate deployment of 5G services taking into consideration availability of device ecosystem with 60-70 per cent of global commercial 5G network deployment currently in the band, thus the importance of this spectrum for early deployment of 5G services in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised. “For optimal 5G service performance, an average of contiguous 100 MHz of spectrum in the C-band is required by an operator. However, in Nigeria, only 120 MHz of the band (3.4-3.52) GHz is available for mobile services, while the remaining 680 MHz (3.52-4.2) GHz of the band is used by NigComSat (NG-1R) satellites,” he said. Also speaking, the Chairman of NCC, Prof. Adeolu Akande, noted that 5G’s full socio-economic impact was dependent on access to a variety of spectrum resources. “This spectrum will play a key role in meeting the demand for many enhanced mobile data services as well as new wireless broadband use cases such as remote object manipulation, industrial automation, virtual and augmented reality, and next-generation connectivity for vehicles. These use cases will continue to increase the impact that mobile services have on societies and economies,” he said. Akande added that in China, UAE, Europe, Africa, India, Brazil and Australia, the 3.5GHz band glaringly featured amongst the spectrum that has been prioritised for 5G with prospects for early deployment.
Danbatta added that the Commission initiated a negotiation with NigComSat whom it estimated could make some adjustments to its satellite operation and release part of its spectrum holding in the band to facilitate the deployment of 5G in Nigeria. “The impeccable team at Nig- ComSat proved us right,” he said. While appreciating the management of NigComSat under the leadership of Dr. Abimbola Alale, Danbatta said the two agencies had been in discussions on how to relocate the operations of NG-1R to the standard C-band 300MHz (3.9GHz – 4.2GHz) potion of the band, which is more suitable in terms of satellite service offering, because end-user terminal is cheaper there, while leaving the non-standard C-band 400MHz (3.5GHz – 3.9GHz) portion of the band for 5G use. “The cost of relocating the NG- 1R is expected to be offset from the proceeds of the auction of the 5G spectrum,” he added.
Nigeria’s 5G goal
According to NCC, the 5G goal in Nigeria is to ensure that the country becomes one of the leading nations with 5G technology deployed in a manner that is beneficial to all the stakeholders and contributes maximally to the digital economy policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria. To achieve this, Nigeria actively participated in the ITU-R study cycle under Task Group 5/1 that dealt with the identification of the 5G spectrum in the mmWave band. As a sequel to that, the Commission suspended an impending licensing of allocated spectrum in the 38GHz and 42GHz bands as well as suspending further licensing of the 26GHz band, due to the foreseen potential identification of some parts of these bands for 5G services. Nigeria also participated in the evaluation of submitted/proposed Radio Interface Technologies (RITs) through the creation of the Nigerian Evaluation Group under the auspices of the registered Independent Africa Evaluation Group within the ITU-R process. The 5G evaluation process was concluded in February 2020.
As part of plans to ensure a seamless deployment of 5G in the country, NCC said it was putting in place health safety measures. Part of these measures, according to the Commission’s 5G policy document, is to ensure that all equipment to be installed for the deployment of 5G meets the approved health protection certifications through the appropriate regulatory frameworks. While noting that there is no established health implication of 5G, the Commission said it would ensure that the deployment and installation of 5G equipment in Nigeria conform to international best practices, ensuring public safety is given the highest priority. “Health and Public safety are very critical concerns associated with the deployment of radio frequency-based technologies. The World Health Organisation and other relevant international agencies focused on public health and safety have developed and published guidelines for the safe deployment and operation of these technologies. 5G technology falls within these technologies, as such, there is a need for continuous awareness and enlightenment to assure the public of the safety of the technology to encourage its uptake and prevent the conspiracy theorists from spreading false information and fear among the public,” the Commission stated in its 5G policy document just released. NCC said it would also undertake regular public awareness campaigns to keep the public up to date with health and safety-related information on the 5G technology while ensuring the utilisation of controlled deployment of base stations and using the infrastructure sharing model to optimise the use of cell site locations and minimise duplication of infrastructure. While addressing the health concerns over 5G, NCC noted that scientific evidence from studies carried out by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) all show that exposure to radio frequencies are safe and does not cause or initiate the occurrence of cancers. “Several studies have been undertaken for different portions of the radio frequency spectrum to support this position. A study involving over 40000 people exposed to radar frequencies for several years failed to identify any increased incidence of illness or mortality associated with the exposure to radiofrequency emissions,” it said.
Different countries have taken different approaches to participate in the 5G technology. While some have focused on the development of 5G infrastructure, others have focused on the development of associated applications/ technologies and services, which either enhance the 5G experience or advances the 5G capabilities. According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), a total of 101 mobile operators in 44 countries had launched one of the more fully commercial 5G services. As of September 2020, the GSA database included detailed data and analysis on a total of 397 operators in 129 countries that have announced an investment in 5G, including trials, acquisition of licences, planning, network deployment and launches. Commenting on the global trend, the GSA President, Joe Barrett, said: “5G remains on track to become the fastest adopted mobile technology ever. There are now over 400 announced 5G devices; 5G subscriptions are doubling quarter on quarter; there are 20 commercially available 5G mobile processors and platforms and eight discrete 5G modems from five different semi-conductor companies.” 5G research continues In 2019, Nigeria undertook 5G trials in selected locations within the country in collaboration with an operator. The trial, among others, was to study and observe any health or security challenges the network might present. The Commission also has an on-going engagement with the academia, while at the same time funding 5G-related research projects, all in a bid to ensure the nation is provided with the best in terms of research findings and policy input, to drive the implementation and deployment of 5G technology in Nigeria. The engagements, according to NCC, are targeted at enabling the development of robust policies, which will put Nigeria in the best place to contribute maximally to the digital economy drive of the nation. “The specific targets of these engagements include the development of policies, which have the potential of accelerating the deployment of 5G networks in Nigeria, maximising the productivity and efficiency benefits of 5G to the nation, creating new opportunities for Nigerian businesses at home and abroad and encouraging in-country investment and ensuring the operations of 5G networks conform with international standards,” NCC said.
While the regulator has made it clear that it would not authorise deployment of 5G anywhere in the country until the Federal Government gives its final approval, the efforts being put in place by the telecoms regulator will, no doubt, ensure seamless deployment