Radio frequency spectrum, is one of Nigeria’s most valuable natural resources, owing to its direct applications in telecommunications, broadcasting, military operations, and scientific research, as well as a variety of other socioeconomic activities like social services, law enforcement, education, healthcare, and transportation, among others.
To ensure that spectrum are adequately deployed and utilized for the overall benefit of the nation, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), being the regulator of the Information, Communication Technology (ICT) sector in Nigeria, is charged with the responsibility to develop and adopt policies in accordance with the policy objectives that will ensure that this scarce resource is well managed in its area of responsibility.
Among the objectives of the Commission are to control and encourage the use of spectrum as an instrument for developing telecommunication (being) which is an essential infrastructure for stimulating the economic growth and social development of the nation and to promote competition in the assignment of frequency in order to ensure innovative and efficient use of the radio spectrum (as a scarce resource).
Others are to achieve optimum pricing of spectrum in order to discourage wastage or speculative acquisition of the scarce resource; to generate moderate revenue for government and to ensure equitable and fair allocation of spectrum to benefit the maximum number of users.
What the law says
The Nigerian Communications Act (NCA 2003), section VIII, (part 1, spectrum assignment), also empowered NCC to be the sole and exclusive power to manage and administer the frequency spectrum for the communications sector and in that regard to grant licenses for and regulate the use of the said frequency spectrum.
According to the Act 2003, no person shall intentionally transmit in any part of the spectrum to provide a service unless the person holds a frequency license issued to him by the regulator.
The Act also stated that a person who contravenes any prohibition commits an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine not less than the initial fee for the relevant license; a fine not exceeding 10 times the initial fee for the relevant license; imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both such fine and imprisonment.
Upon conviction, the person shall also forfeit to the Commission the property, facilities, installations and equipment used by him for the provision of the service.
In exercising this authority, NCC has over the years approved the use of several frequency bands including 67 KHz, which covers 6765-6795 KHz band; 13 MHz frequency band, which covers 13.553-13.567 MHz band; 27MHz frequency band, which covers 26.957-27.283 MHz band; 40 MHz frequency band, which covers 40.66-40.70 MHz band; and 2.4 GHz frequency band, which covers 2.400-2.500 GHz band.
Curbing illegal practices
In recent time however, NCC has brought to book, some operators who are transmitting telecoms signals on the available 5.4GHz frequency band, without being licensed to operate with same.
Recall that the Commission in 2019, issued pre-enforcement notices to some companies over unauthorised transmission on the 5.4GHz frequency band, ordering them to vacate the frequency band on or before March 10, 2019.
In exercising its authority, the Commission, for instance carried out an enforcement action against the illegal usage of 5.4GHz in Kano on March 12th, 2019 and in Lagos on March 26th, 2019 respectively to verify the claims by the companies/operators.
NCC, in a press statement, disclosed that, “The companies visited in Kano were found to have vacated the 5.4GHz band that were causing interference. Enforcement was effected against three companies found to be in violation in Lagos after the enforcement exercise undertaken for that purpose.
“Recovered items included 2 SDR Radio antennas and 2 Power over Ethernet (PoE) Power Packs in the operation and thereby enabled the successful shut down of the offending radios.”
Not resting on its oars, the Commission, on the 8th of January, 2024, issued a 14-day enforcement notice, ordering all illegal operators, who are transmitting telecoms signals on the available 5.4GHz frequency band, without being licensed to operate with same, to vacate the 5.4GHz frequency band.
This is coming on the heels of the fact that there have been global scarcity of spectrum and frequency band, used for network deployment and expansion in the telecommunications sector,
To this end, NCC has declared as illegal, the unauthorised use of 5.4GHZ frequency band, and has vowed to sanction any erring operator involved in such act. 5.4GHz frequency band.
Some range of frequency bands that have been approved for use by the NCC, include: 67 KHz band, which covers 6765-6795 KHz band; 13 MHz frequency band, which covers 13.553-13.567 MHz band; 27MHz frequency band, which covers 26.957-27.283 MHz band; 40 MHz frequency band, which covers 40.66-40.70 MHz band; and 2.4 GHz frequency band, which covers 2.400-2.500 GHz band.
In enforcing the NCA 2003, the commission warned that severe sanction that could lead to imprisonment and confiscation of equipment used in operating such illegal services, would be meted on all telecommunications service providers, private-public organisations and individuals using the 5.4GHz band without a frequency license obtained from the commission.
The statement signed by the director, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Reuben Muoka, reads in part, “The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) hereby informs operators, private/public organisations and the public that the 5.4 GHz frequency band spanning 5.430 – 5.725 GHz range is a licensed frequency in Nigeria. Therefore, the transmission of signals or use of equipment in any form on this band without a frequency license obtained from the commission is illegal. All telecommunications service providers, private/public organisations or any person(s) using this band in any location across the country should note that pursuant to Section 122 of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA 2003), it is a criminal offence to operate in any frequency not duly assigned by the commission.
“The consequences of such act may lead to imprisonment, sanction and confiscation of equipment used in operating the illegal services. In view of the above, the commission hereby gives a 14-day enforcement notice to all unlicensed operators on the 5.4GHz frequency band, spanning 5.430 725GHz to, forthwith, vacate and desist from further transmission of signals or use of equipment in any form on the band without authorisation obtained from NCC.”
Based on the enforcement notice, NCC said that without further recourse and upon expiration of the stipulated deadline, it would commence appropriate enforcement action including, but not limited to, prosecution, fine, and confiscation of equipment used in the illegal transmission of services.
The telecoms regulator advised all telecoms operators to acquaint themselves with the detailed regulatory provision for the deployment of services on the entire 5GHz band as contained in the Guidelines for Deployment of Broadband Services on the 5.2-5.9GHz band.
While this new directive may affect operators in the Nigerian ICT sector, critical stakeholders have however applauded the move by NCC.
According to them, the 5.4GHZ frequency band is one of the latest frequencies being approved by NCC and as such, operators are not using it for what it is meant for, which is not permitted.
“Frequencies is well regulated because it is universal. It is not only for Nigeria alone. There are guidelines for the use of frequencies. These operators are not using it for what is meant for, hence the reason NCC is after them. We commend NCC for this move, in trying to ensure that we adhere to international best practices in the telecom space,” they posited.