Africa’s largest economy aims to join a global race of countries that include the United States and South Korea in positioning to stay competitive in the world economy with 5G technology, the deployment of which is projected to add 22.3 million jobs and $13.2 Trillion to global economic output by 2035, according to a research paper by Informa Tech. Multiple hurdles stand in the way of Nigeria’s ambitious plan to deploy the fifth-generation (5G) technology by January 2022.
However, hurdles ranging from an infrastructure deficit to operators still struggling to maximise returns on investments in older networks, stand in the path of Africa’s largest economy and may dim the prospects of a successful launch of the 5G network within the given timeline that has been set by the government. Firstly, investors would need to pay a licence fee projected at between N75 Billion and N100 Billion for a period of 10 years, a fee some operators find overly expensive according to interviews done by BusinessDay.
Nigeria must then contend with a raft of other challenges from a deficit in telecoms infrastructure, low adoption in previous cellular generations like 3G and 4G, uncertainty in the policy environment, and rising insecurity that has seen thousands of telecom equipment destroyed.
Where Nigeria is
Nigeria pushed the knob on the drive for 5G in 2018 when the NCC announced it has approved dedicated spectrums for the trial of the service in Nigeria. Following that announcement, in 2019 the country became the first West African country to initiate 5G network trials when its biggest telecoms provider, MTN Nigeria, ran spectrum tests in its offices across several locations. With support from mobile operators like Huawei, ZTE, and Ericsson, the initial demos proved successful.
Encouraged by the successful trial, the NCC started crafting a National Policy on 5G Network, which was approved in September 2021, two years after. According to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the National Policy on 5G took two years largely because the government wanted to carry out extensive engagement and the need to ensure adequate public awareness and sensitisation.
With the approval in the bag, the NCC is confident that it is well on course to launch the technology come January 2021. But it is not going to be so easy.
To start with, Nigeria is yet to achieve complete coverage of 3G and 4G networks. For example, 3G coverage as of 2020 was at 49.4 million, a decline compared with 50.4 million recorded in 2019. 4G coverage in Nigeria is at 36.5 million in 2020 from 21.7 million reported in 2019.
The project was initially targeting May 2022 completion but the state government says it can be completed on or before February 2022. When completed and commissioned, telecom operators would be expected to use the ducts to deploy their fibre equipment around the state and this comes at a cost. Presently, the Right of Way for fibre cables in Lagos costs about N796. Even so, the cost is significantly higher than the N145 fee agreed by the National Economic Council (NEC) in 2012 and reaffirmed in January 2020.
Apart from Lagos, there are about 28 other states that are yet to reduce their charge for Right of Way. Notwithstanding, the NCC and the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy do not see these challenges derailing the launch in 2022. The interest shown so far by the two largest foreign operators MTN and Airtel is behind the confidence. Just like MTN did in 2018, Airtel is getting ready to try the technology in Nigeria.