The senate recently granted approval for the deployment of the 5G network in the country. To realise the objectives of this grand project for the country and its numerous users, there are some tasks that need be executed, ENYO ATI writes
Though Nigeria is yet to fully deploy and moved to using 5G, the federal government has made moves towards birthing this goal.
The senate has approved the deployment of the 5G network in Nigeria, following the outcome of investigations by the Joint Committee on Communications, Science and Technology, ICT and Cyber Crimes, and Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases mandated to carry out same.
This development also follows a signing of Memorandum of Understanding to deploy 5G in the nation’s telecommunication’s sector by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had signed an Mou with Nigerian Communications Satellite (NigComSat) to deploy 5G.
From points highlighted by the report laid out and presented by the committee chairman, Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central) at the senate plenary, and due to the foremost recommendation by the committee to observe the trend of 5G deployments around the globe and to engage in extensive sensitisation of the public through all channels, the deployment would take months before it can begin.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria has its myriad of issues that have hindered the implementation of this technology in the country, as well as many other countries in the globe.
By the way, the 5G or fifth generation technology as it is otherwise known as is a technology which is an advancement of existing mobile technologies (2G – 4G). Its enhanced capabilities provide new and enhanced mobile communications services. NCC considered that the deployment of 5G will be beneficial for socio-economic development of Nigeria.
The commission’s board chairman, Prof. Adeolu Akande, stated that 5G would also provide massive machine-type communications where a lot of devices would seamlessly connect and independently interact with the internet without human intervention.
Telecommunication evolution from inception to date has led to improvement in user experience witnessing from 2G, 3G and later 4G which increased mobile usage and network performance. 5G is said to build on this momentum, bringing substantial network improvements, including higher connection speeds, mobility and capacity, as well as low-latency capabilities. 5G’s full socio-economic impact is dependent on access to a variety of spectrum resources.
Experts’ opinions and recommendations have, however, pin pointed peculiar challenges Nigeria has to surmount to reap the full benefits in this latest technology. Some of the challenges, they say, are the discouraging coverage of optic fibre cable in Nigerian cities and the worse penetration of fibre optics in most suburban and rural areas.
Dr Nkwachukwu Chukwuchekwa, an engineer and postdoctoral research fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States, specifically identified these two challenges.
Chukwuchekwa referenced how an NCC report released in 2018 had explained that only about 32 per cent of over 120,000km of fibre networks (needed by metropolitan cities) existed for the country’s backhaul interconnectivity. This gross inadequacy was caused by administrative RoW (Right of Way) acquisition processes which is discouraging for investors and cable vandalism.
Poor collaboration and guidance between road companies and infracos (fibre Infrastructure Companies), Chukwuchekwa says, is the major cause of cable vandalism.
“Existing cable routes are frequently destroyed during road construction causing network downtime and rise in maintenance cost. Efforts and funds which would have been used to expand existing network are diverted in cable network maintenance. This culture of optic fibre cable vandalism arises from the fact that there is poor documentation and planning by the appropriate government authorities and the fiber cable routes lack indicators to guide road construction companies. This has made a greater number of cell sites to be connected through microwave backhaul instead of optic fiber cable,” he explains.
Another mountain that has to be surmounted is the lopsidedness of the deployment of the current 3G and 4G services in the country, which experts say are tilted towards urban areas and against the rural ones.
Commenting on the provision and maintenance of telecommunication infrastructure, NATCOMS (National Association of Telecoms Subscribers) President, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, told NATIONAL ECONOMY that InfraCos should penetrate underserved areas.
The NATCOMS chief opined that failure to address this lopsidedness would mitigate against the smooth takeoff of the 5g and also work against its even spread when it eventually comes into use.
“NCC should ensure they compel the InFraCos and network providers so that rural areas can also be penetrated – it is a joint thing. The InfraCOs and MNOs (mobile network operators) prefer going to the cities where they are sure they will get their money back. It is the function of the NCC to ensure that they deploy 3G and 4G services to rural areas, so they know that they can enjoy 5G. it would be wonderful if they can do that because telecom creates jobs. In Britain, there are about 60000 masts, here we still have under 30000 masts/base stations. (The NCC executive vice chairman, Prof Umar) Danbatta should ensure these InfraCos do more to serve the underserved areas,” Ogunbanjo said.
Another point raised by experts is the device challenges. This, Chukwuchekwa stated might hinder the smooth and effective operation of the 5G in the country. According to the don, mopst devices in the country are not 5G compliant as such they have to be upgraded or outrightly changed by the users.
“The deployment of 5G technology is determined by the availability of 5G devices which are presently very scarce due to some technical challenges. These design challenges include multiband support of upper and lower frequency bands. There is also heating concerns as a result of power consumption needed to transmit in high frequency bands,” Chukwuchekwa added.
Engrs Cosmas Kemdiri Agubor and Longinus Sunday Ezema are both senior lecturers at the Electronic Engineering Department of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria. Both, are of the opinion that certain stones have to be unturned to make the 5G operation achieve optimum objectives and goals as obtained in more technologically advances climes round the globe.
The duo of Agubor and Ezema submitted that deployment issues that need addressing in the country include poor cybersecurity strategy, high spectrum pricing, poor electricity supply which would be unable to meet the power demand of the higher density 5G network and poor unplanned civil infrastructure.
Agubor said, “Unplanned highways, bridges, rural roads, canals and utilities. These structures lack the provision for common Telecommunication Infrastructure resources such as ducting and power junction boxes to support 5G facilities.
“Increase in energy consumption is as a result of additional equipment and 5G sites or base stations necessary for high density coverage. Nigeria has been experiencing power inadequacies over the years. This age long crises in the power sector in Nigeria has not only contributed to the poor QoS but has hindered network expansion into the rural areas as well as increase in the operational cost on network operators.”
As contained in their joint EJERS research document, Agubor and Ezema recommended that the allocation of 26Gz, 38GHz and 42GHz spectrum frequencies for 5G in the country to service providers by NCC should be in two stages – the allocation and assignment stages for effective rollout of the network by each provider. Supporting the investment efforts of the mobile operators was also recommended. 5G networks involves huge investment in technology and any form of palliatives to the investors will serve as an encouragement.
Also, Nigeria needed more base stations, adopt and improve the use of small cell technology, the government should play a greater role in encouraging investors to invest in the industry with less constraints and above all improve electricity supply.
Speaking with NATIONAL ECONOMY, the director-general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mr. Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said though it is a fact that the challenges of the past hinged on the apparent lack of technological infrastructure, 5G is completely designed with the aim to render new services in a unified way along with elevated experiences for mobile broadband users.
He tried to alleviate the fear of lack of technological infrastructure as a catalyst for failure or poor operation of the 5G network. He explained that the government being aware of this had in the past conducted a three-month demo trial of the network which made it to be aware of the challenges its deployment might encounter.
After the trial, according to him, mechanism has been deployed to address the identified grey areas while capping it with the fact that the 5G is actually a new innovation globally that is still an ongoing work.
Abdullahi said, “It is true that some parts of the country are lagging behind in the deployment of Internet penetration, However, Nigeria is ready for the deployment of the Fifth Generation Network (5G) or Technology, as long as the major challenges as identified by the Nigerian National Broadband Implementation Plan 2020-2025 have been resolved.
“It may also be recalled that the first trial of 5G network was concluded in Nigeria on September 25, 2019. Nigeria conducted a robust study on the viability, security and safety of the technology by conducting research, investigations, as well as stakeholder engagements.
“As 5G development is still in its infancy worldwide, Nigeria is preparing grounds for the new technology, as demonstrated by the three months demo trial in the approved states limited only to MTN’s offices. It may be worth noting that NITDA, as one of the critical Agencies under the supervision of the minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, has been an active participant in all the stakeholder engagement sessions held, including the recent public hearing held by the Senate Joint Committee on Communications, Science and Technology, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Cyber Crimes, and Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, on the concerns raised by Nigerians about the challenges of deploying 5G in Nigeria.
“With Nigeria’s poor performance in the past as far as deployment of technology is concerned, the benefits of the current Fourth Industrial revolution, seen as the era of technology advancement, should not be allowed to escape us. Missing the 5G opportunities will be a big developmental challenge, which the country may not be able to recover from in the years to come.”