FEATURE: NCC Laying Solid Regulatory Foundation For 5G Deployment In Nigeria

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is an independent National Regulatory Authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.

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NCC has the mandate of creating an enabling environment for competition among operators in the industry as well as ensuring the provision of qualitative and efficient telecommunications services throughout the country.

Over the years, NCC has earned a reputation as a foremost Telecom regulatory agency in Africa. This has been validated by the number of awards won by the Commission within and outside the sweet shores of Africa.

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It’s also within the Commission’s purview to catalyse the use of ICTs for different aspect of national development.

It’s indeed true that the Commission has initiated several policies and programmes targeted at stimulating demand and accelerating the uptake of ICT tools and services necessary for the enthronement of a knowledge society in Nigeria.

In order to achieve its mandate, the Commission has put in place the necessary licensing and regulatory framework for the supply of telecommunications services in the country.

Through deliberate and sustained efforts in driving major initiatives, programmes and necessary regulatory interventions, the NCC has been able to deepen access to telecommunications services -voice and data -across the country.

Recently added to the NCC’s long list of regulatory interventions is the approval by the Federal Government of Nigeria for the deployment of Fifth Generation (5G) network.

Evolution of Technology from 1G to 4G

Nigeria’s telecommunication sector has historically witnessed technology evolution like other countries around the world, from First generation through Fourth Generation technology network and to the current Fifth Generation (5G) being driven by the country’s telecoms regulatory authority, NCC.

Every successive generation of wireless standards – abbreviated to “G” – have introduced dizzying advances in data-carrying capacity and decreases in latency. The first generation (1G) of mobile networks was launched by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in Tokyo in 1979. By 1984, NTT had rolled out 1G to cover the whole of Japan.

In 1983, the US approved the first 1G operations and the Motorola’s DynaTAC became one of the first ‘mobile’ phones to see widespread use stateside. Other countries such as Canada and the UK rolled out their own 1G networks a few years later.

The second generation (2G) of mobile networks, or 2G, was launched under the GSM standard in Finland in 1991. For the first time, calls could be encrypted and digital voice calls were significantly clearer with less static and background crackling.

But 2G was about much more than telecommunications; it helped lay the groundwork for nothing short of a cultural revolution. For the first time, people could send text messages (SMS), picture messages, and multimedia messages (MMS) on their phones. The analog past of 1G gave way to the digital future presented by 2G. This led to mass-adoption by consumers and businesses alike on a scale never before seen.

Although 2G’s transfer speeds were initially only around 9.6 kbit/s, operators rushed to invest in new infrastructure such as mobile cell towers. By the end of the era, speeds of 40 kbit/s were achievable and EDGE connections offered speeds of up to 500 kbit/s. Despite relatively sluggish speeds, 2G revolutionized the business landscape and changed the world forever.

The third generation (3G) was launched by NTT DoCoMo in 2001 and aimed to standardize the network protocol used by vendors. This meant that users could access data from any location in the world as the ‘data packets’ that drive web connectivity were standardized. This made international roaming services a real possibility for the first time. 3G’s increased data transfer capabilities (4 times faster than 2G) also led to the rise of new services such as video conferencing, video streaming and voice over IP (such as Skype).

In 2002, the Blackberry was launched, and many of its powerful features were made possible by 3G connectivity. The twilight era of 3G saw the launch of the iPhone in 2007, meaning that its network capability was about to be stretched like never before.

The fourth generation (4G) was first deployed in Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway in 2009 as the Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G standard. It was subsequently introduced throughout the world and made high-quality video streaming a reality for millions of consumers. 4G offers fast mobile web access (up to 1 gigabit per second for stationary users) which facilitates gaming services, HD videos and HQ video conferencing.

Blazing the trail on 5G Trial in Nigeria

The NCC, in November, 2019, pioneered 5G trials in Nigeria, becoming the first telecoms regulator in West Africa to proactively begin such trials toward unleashing greater digital revolution. The NCC back in November 2019 approved trial test for 5G for a period of three (3) months. The trial among others was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present.

Relevant stakeholders including members of the security agencies were invited to participate during the trial. During a comparison test on both 4G and 5G networks, it took just 15.78 seconds to download a 2.3 GB video on the 5G network. The same file on 4G took exactly 5 minutes, 3.84 seconds.

While download speed on the 5G network was about 1 Gbps, it can apparently go as high as 4.1 Gbps. According to Dolapo Adeniji-Adele, RF Technical Specialist at MTN, factors like server load, as well as the device contribute to the download speed. On the other hand, the download speed on the 4G network was just about 68.2 Mbps, which is a little fraction compared to that of 5G. Worthy of note is that the 4G network is on the 2600 MHz band and 5G on 26 GHz.

Misconception on 5G

Prior to the government approval, NCC provided the necessary clarifications on the misleading materials with no proven evidence that were circulated to link CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19 with 5G Technology. When this misinformation broke out, the Commission was quick to clarify that there was no correlation between 5G Technology and COVID-19. 5G is an advancement on today’s 4G technology, designed to transform the world positively. Secondly, there was no deployment of 5G in Nigeria at the time the misleading materials were circulated.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami also clarified at different occasions that the radiation of the 5G was lower than that of 4G currently in use by Nigerians, noting that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) which are both arms of the United Nations certified the technology as safe to be deployed.

“There was a time that we started working, and we started the fifth-generation trials. And there was a complaint from citizens about the relationship between 5G and COVID-19. Because our government is a responsible one, we put everything on hold. We engage more stakeholders. We spent almost 18 months working on that. And we also wait for the resolution and verdict of the two most important organisations globally when it comes to the deployment of telecommunications facilities.

“These are firstly, International Telecommunications Union. That is ITU, which is an arm of the United Nations, and WHO, which is another arm of the United Nations. Both of them confirm that there are no any adverse health effects of 5G and it has not been proven to be any harmful to our health,” Pantami said.

Clearing the Air by Nigerian Senate

In May, 2021, the Nigerian Senate approved the deployment of 5G Network in Nigeria following the consideration and adoption of the recommendations contained in the report of its Joint Committees on Communications; Science and Technology; ICT and Cyber Crimes; and Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases on “The Status of 5G Network in Nigeria and its Technological Impact on Nigeria Citizens.”

Presenting the report of the Joint Committees at the plenary session of Wednesday, 19 May 2021, Sen. Oluremi Tinubu (APC: Lagos) noted that the concerns raised by citizens on the deployment of the 5G network and probable negative effect on health and general well-being of humans necessitated the Senate to investigate the matter. According to Sen. Tinubu, the Joint Committee had received submissions from the Federal Ministry, Departments and Agencies of government.

Following these submissions, she explained that the stakeholders had unanimously called for the deployment of the 5G Network which is a significant improvement of the 4G technology currently existing and that all wireless technologies across the country should operate in line with international exposure guidelines that protects people from hazards that are injurious to human health.

Some recommendations adopted by the Senate are as follows: It was agreed that claims between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 5G Network technology are not feasible; that it is only inherent that Nigeria joins the comity of nations that deploy 5G Network as this will help redefine technology; that the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy expedite actions to deploy the 5G network and advice on emerging technologies and products; that standards for the deployment of 5G technology be strictly adhered to.

Approval of 5G Deployment Plan

On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the 5G network for the country. It took the federal government close to two years to come up with the 5G Policy because of the initial resistance by the stakeholders. Following the approval, the Communications Minister directed the Nigerian NCC to commence immediate implementation of the 5G plan for the country.

The roll-out of the 5G will be carried out in phases beginning with major cities in the country “where there is need for high quality broadband,” the Minister said. The NCC is expected to publish an implementation roadmap for the deployment of 5G across the country with service roll-out obligations.
In addition, the Commission has been directed to commence the development of relevant regulatory instruments to address issues related to health, safety and others to drive effective implementation of the roll-out of 5G by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). The National Frequency Management Council (NFMC), was also expected to release the 5G Spectrum to the NCC for auction to MNOs that would need the spectrum for 5G deployment.

NCC’s Solid Regulatory Foundation for 5G

Prof. Danbatta asserted that the NCC efforts in readiness for 5G deployment consist of dedicated follow up on the industry trends on the recently harmonised spectrum from World Radio Conference -19; clearing of relevant Spectrum bands identified for 5G, for instance the 3.5GHz; identified spectrum for 5G in line with global trends; development of 5G deployment plan. The EVC equally recalled the mste recent development of a draft Information Memorandum for the 3.5GHz auction, and constitution of a committee to auction 3.5GHz mid band spectrum.

Other constitutive initiatives of NCC includes licensing of Infrastructure Companies (INFRACOs) to deploy Metro and Intercity fiber with at least one point of presence in each of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria, as well as opening up of Microwave and Millimeter wave, for
Instance, the 60GHz V-band, 70/80GHz E-band, 38GHz, and 42GHz, among others. Additional measures that were outlined by the EVC so perceptively in the enthralling discussion, include re-planning and re-channelization of spectrum bands to keep abreast with industry changes in terms of data requirements; and the development of guidelines for spectrum trading, Television White Space (TVWS) and commercial satellite communication.

Prof. Danbatta also declared: “We have been working with the Federal Government to convince States of the federation to accept harmonized right of way charges of N145 per linear meter, we are talking to relevant Government agencies to facilitate site acquisition, and we are conducting studies on socioeconomic impact of 5G in Nigeria.”

The EVC submitted that all these as well as balanced spectrum cost (not too high and not too low), and deeper collaboration of governments, regulators and operators, will ensure that Nigeria, nay Africa, is able to consolidate the gains of 2G, 3G and 4G, and ensure that 5G improves connectivity in measurable and remarkable manners.

Stakeholders Engagement of 3.5Ghz

On October 6, 2021, NCC in exercise of its function under the Nigerian Communication Act 2003, published the Draft Information Memorandum (IM) for the upcoming auction of the 3.5GHz Spectrum band, as part of its 5G Technology Deployment Plan. In accordance with the provisions of the Act, a Stakeholders’ Engagement Programme in respect of the Draft Information Memorandum (IM) was held in Lagos on November 3, 2021.

Just recently, NCC in its regulatory magnanimity, extended the deadline for submission of responses in respect of the 3.5 Gigahertz Spectrum Band auction that was scheduled to close on Wednesday, 24th November 2021.

It said, “due to the challenges posed to air travels as witnessed recently and considering that it may have some impact on intending bidders regarding the submission of their bids, the Commission hereby extends the deadline for submission of bids and Initial Bid Deposits (IBDs) to 5.00 pm on Monday, 29th November, 2021.”

Mafab, MTN Emerge Winners in Nigeria’s 3.5GHz Spectrum Auction

After 11 rounds of bidding that lasted eight hours, Mafab Communications Ltd and MTN Nigeria Plc, have emerged the two successful winners of the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum auction for the deployment of Fifth Generation (5G) technology to support the delivery of ubiquitous broadband services in Nigeria.

The two winners emerged in a keenly contested 3.5GHz Spectrum auction conducted by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. The event took place at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja on Monday, December 13, 2021.

Three companies, namely MTN, Airtel and Mafab Communications Limited, had qualified for the auction, having met the requirements stipulated in the Information Memorandum (IM) for the spectrum auction. The three companies had also participated in a mock auction held on Friday, December 10, 2021, which served as a precursor to the Main Auction conducted on today (Monday, December 13, 2021).

In an exercise that clearly demonstrated demand outstripping supply, with Ascending Clock Auction System adopted by the Commission, the three bidders participated in the intensely competitive auction bid.

In the first Round of the auction, the bid price was fixed at $199,374,000.00; $201,367,740.00 at second Round; $204,388,356.10 at third Round; $209,407,962.50 at fourth Round and $215,782,901.30 at the fifth Round.

The auction prices increased progressively to $224,414,217.43 at the Sixth Round; $231,146,643.96 at the seventh Round; $240, 392,509.71 at the eighth Round; $251, 210,172.65 at the ninth Round; and $263,700,050.00 at the Round 10 of the auction exercise.

The auction process reached its peak at Round 11 when the bid price graduated to $275,904,886.25 with all the three bidders still actively participating. The Main Stage of the Auction, however, ended at the conclusion of the 11th Round, with Airtel listing an exit bid of $270,000,000, while MTN posted an exit bid of $273,000,000, giving way to the Assignment Stage. At this point, Airtel had dropped off from the race having posted a lower exit bid, thus leaving Mafab and MTN as winners of the two available lots.

Announcing the results of the Auction exercise, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC and Auction Overseer, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, who recalled the processes and activities leading to the successful conduct of the auction, said the NCC published a public notice on its decision to award two lots of 100 megahertz (MHz) Time Division Duplex (TDD) available in the 3.5 GHz band through an auction process to support the delivery of ubiquitous broadband services for the deployment of 5G network in Nigeria.

“Subsequently, an Information Memorandum was issued on November 10, 2021, in which Bid applications for the available spectrum lots were invited. By the deadline for receipt of applications on November 29, 2021, the Commission received applications from three licensed telecoms companies, viz: Airtel Networks Limited, Mafab Communications Limited and MTN Communications Nigeria Limited,” he said.

“The auction held successfully today, Monday December 13, 2021 at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja with the three bidders competing for the available two slots. The Commission adopted the Ascending Clock Auction format which ended after Round 11 and proceeded to the Assignment Stage. It is my pleasure to announce that at the end of the auction, Mafab Communications Limited and MTN Communications Nigeria Limited emerged as provisional licence winners,” he said.

Arising from the above, Danbatta said that the winning bid price for the auction is $273,600,000 for each lot of 100 MHz TDD and the provisional winners are expected to pay the Winning Bid price, less the Intention-to-Bid Deposit, by February 24, 2022.

He expressed satisfaction that the auction process was efficient, fair, credible, well-organised and transparent and was designed to deliver the ideal outcome.

Accordingly, Danbatta said the strongest bidders have emerged provisional winners, raising a substantial amount for the Federal Government.

The EVC congratulated the winners and thanked the Federal Government for its support and commitment to the deployment of 5G technology in Nigeria, which, he said, will bring substantial network improvements, including higher connection speed, mobility and capacity as well as low-latency capabilities to communications services in Nigeria.

Sequel to the successful auction by the two winners, Danbatta said in line with the processes outlined in the IM, the provisional winners have proceeded to the Assignment Stage.

“MTN Communications Nigeria Plc made an offer of $15,900,000 for the assignment of a preferred Lot, while Mafab Communications Limited made an offer of $11,120,000 for a preferred Lot. Thence, MTN Communications Nigeria Plc, having made the highest offer was given the right to select its most preferred Lot and it selected Lot 1 (3500-3600 MHz), while Lot 2 (3700-3800 MHz) is consequentially assigned to Mafab Communications Limited at no extra cost,” the EVC said.

The EVC thanked all stakeholders, who have contributed to the success of the auction process. He said the huge investment that will accrue from the sales of the spectrum band auctioned will result in increased transformation in life and businesses.

Benefits /Use Cases/Prospects of 5G Network

IHS markit analysis shows the integral role 5G will play in the global economy in terms of sales enablement across all industries, and 5G-value chain related output and jobs by 2035. Through a landmark 5G Economy study, it was found that 5G’s full economic effect will likely be realized across the globe by 2035—supporting a wide range of industries and potentially enabling up to $13.1 trillion worth of goods and services.

This impact is much greater than previous network generations. The development requirements of the new 5G network are also expanding beyond the traditional mobile networking players to industries such as the automotive industry.

The study also revealed that the 5G value chain (including Original Equipment manufacturers (OEMs, operators, content creators, app developers, and consumers) could alone support up to 22.8 million jobs. And there are many emerging and new applications that would still be defined in the future.

In Nigeria, the EVC of NCC has explicated how to unlock the potential of 5G, using a triangulated framework pivoted on Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Massive Machine Type Communication, and Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications.

He said, the above scenarios will find expressions in gigabytes in a second, robust voice and real-time digital social mediation, massive Internet of Things like smart city and smart homes (connectedness of appliances and home security), pervasive 3D videos and Ultra High Definition screens, augmented reality, self-driving cars, industry automation, high-speed trains, lifeline and ultra-reliable communications in telemedicine and natural disasters that will deliver successful services using critical applications.

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