Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of NCC (Inset)

Appraising NCC’s efforts at safe deployment of 5G network in Nigeria

*The Nigerian Communications Commission says the deployment of 5G mobile network will bring about transformation in areas of smart city, smart transportation, efficiency in medicine, automation, and offer faster speed, high latency and high capacity that will transform consumers’ and business experiences in the telecoms ecosystem in the country

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

In consonance with the Commission’s proactive regulatory measures of ensuring adequate test of new technologies towards ensuring their safe deployment in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has intensified efforts at advancing the country with the 5G mobile network.

ConsumerConnect reports the NCC is mandated to prepare and implement plans and execute programmes, which that promote and ensure the development of the communications industry and the provision of communications services in Nigeria.

Notwithstanding some mixed feelings and attendant conspiracy theory regarding the proposed commercial deployment of 5G generation mobile network in the country, the Commission has continued to engage the relevant stakeholders in particular and Nigerian consumers in general on safe deployment of the mobile technology for sustainable socio-economic development of the country.

The NCC and other relevant stakeholders in the sector have continued to enlighten the populace, that this next generation wireless network technology is expected to change the way Nigerian consumers live and work.

Evolution of 5th generation mobile network

The 5G, which stands for the 5th generation mobile network, has been described as a new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.

In terms of its benefits, this next generation wireless network technology enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together, including machines, objects, and devices.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and telecoms experts at diverse fora also, have stated that 5G network will be faster, and able to handle more connected devices than the current 4G LTE network, with improvements that will enable a wave of new kinds of technology products in the country.

Benefits of 5G network for telecoms consumers

In relation to multifaceted benefits of the 5G mobile technology, the Nigerian Communications Commission as the telecoms sector regulator has said extensive fibre infrastructure deployment at the last-mile is a major facilitator of the deployment of the network.

In its proactive regulatory measures of ensuring adequate test of new technology to ensure their safe deployment in the country, the NCC has started regulatory moves to engage the stakeholders and advance the country with 5G networks.

The Commission explains that it considers that the deployment of 5G Technology as an advancement of existing  mobile technologies (2G, 3G, 4G) with enhanced capabilities providing new and enhanced mobile communications services.

According to the Commission, these enhancements include applications, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Drones, Advanced Communication Systems, Cloud, 3D Printing, Mixed Reality, Simulation/Imaging and Gamification.

All of these, the regulator stated, will bring improvements in manufacturing, transportation, public services, health and social works, agriculture, energy, logistics, media and entertainment, mining and quarrying, machinery and equipment, automotive, education, information and communication, urban infrastructure, consumer experience, sports, semiconductor technologies, etc.

The deployment of 5G technologies will consequently promote the National Digital Economy for a Digital Nigeria, which ultimately, will improve the way Nigerian consumers live and work, said the NCC.

Benefits of 5G mobile network for telecoms consumers

Earlier, Engr. Bako Wakil, FNSE, Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity (DTSNI) at NCC, at a forum during the 2020 Social Media Week, also lent credence to the significance of 5G when he said that the technology comes with better communication possibilities.

Wakil disclosed that 5G network would allow the extremely accurate and near-instantaneous transfer of large quantities of data in the economy.

5G technologies would ensure a better experience of virtual realities, driverless cars, drone operations and IoT, he noted.

ConsumerConnect reports IoT refers to the evolution of mobiles, homes, businesses, industries and embedded applications connected to the Internet.

These connected devices grow into an intelligent system of systems that share, analyse data and consequently transform our lives and businesses in inestimable ways.

Describing 5G as the newest generation of technology, the NCC Director said that the next generation network would “bring about transformation in the country in the area of smart city, smart transportation, efficiency in medicine, a lot of automation, and 5G will control a lot of appliances and devices with respect to the Internet of Things.

“The difference between all other existing generations of technologies such as 2G, 3G, and 4G lies in speed and data capacity.

“The 5G deployment, however, offers even faster speed, high latency and high capacity that will transform consumers and business experiences.”

Similarly, in terms of benefits to telecoms consumers, it is projected that Nigerians could experience the Internet speed on their current 4G network now times 10 at some point in future.

As advancement on the current 4G network used in the country, experts have also encouraged consumers to imagine an ecosystem in which they have all their television sets, doors, refrigerators, and other home appliances being controlled by a single mobile phone on their palms.

The 5G network is no longer a future technology, as it is being perceived in some quarters, but rather a technology urgently needed in every economy today because of its high efficiency, a report said.

IEEE Xplore, an industry publication, also said in view of the recent exponential growth in wireless data traffic in the country, it has become imperative that the existing cellular network infrastructure in Nigeria, comprising legacy technologies such as 2G, 3G and 4G cannot sustainably, meet user’s requirements.

It noted that worldwide, network operators are increasingly looking for ways to minimise cost of network provisioning, whilst maintaining excellent Quality of Experience (QoE) for mobile consumers.

Estimates of about nine and twenty five billion devices were recorded to have been connected to the Internet in 2013 and 2015 respectively, within and outside Nigeria. This progression, it noted, will see over 50 billion connected things in a couple of more years, all over the globe, Nigeria inclusive.

It is, therefore, stated that the quest for the appropriate networking paradigm provides unique opportunities to consumers, manufacturers and service providers in the economy.

NCC’s regulatory activities towards safe 5G deployment

Report indicates that 5G technology has been deployed commercially and in use in some countries around the world.

However, 5G network has not been commercially deployed in Nigeria, until approval by the Federal Government.

Just as in the mold of the previous technologies, the International Commission for Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has classified radiation from 5G as non-ionising, and therefore, safe for human beings.

L-R: Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Danbatta, Mr. Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi, Director-General of National Information Technology Development Agency, and other industry stakeholders at the Senate Hearing on 5G Technology deployment, in Abuja, FCT   Photo: NewsWings

Subsequently, the Commission November 2019 embarked on a Proof of Concept (trial) with MTN in six locations, utilising different equipment vendors for a period of three months.

It was gathered that relevant stakeholders, including members of the security agencies were involved in the trial at the time.

NCC conducted the trial so as to enable it to assess the performance of the technology in relation to existing technologies, evaluate compliance to health and safety guidelines, and use the lessons learnt to guide practical policy towards a possible commercial deployment in the country.

The regulator successfully conducted the trial on the 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands, which showed improvement of 5G over previous technologies with the radiation levels well below the specified human safety guideline, according to report.

ConsumerConnect reports Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy, the NCC officials, Federal legislators, and other industry stakeholders at the Nigerian Senate Hearing in the National Assembly (NASS) on proposed 5G Technology roll out, in  Abuja, FCT, affirmed that there is no health and safety risk in the mobile telecoms network.

Thus, in line with a directive from the Honourable Minister for Communications and Digital Economy after the earlier trial, the Commission has commenced the development of a policy for the deployment of 5G in the country.

The process has involved a wide consultation with all the relevant stakeholders in the public and private sectors of the country’s economy in line with Section 57 of the Nigerian Communication Act 2003, report stated.

Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, Executive Vice-Chairman (EVC) and Chief Executive of NCC, has said that all these essential steps are to ensure safe, efficient and effective deployment of 5G, and enhance consumer quality of experience in the telecoms ecosystem in the country.

Tackling the challenges of deploying 5G network

Amid the ongoing preparations towards safe deployment of the 5G generation mobile network in the country, the NCC has disclosed the challenges surrounding the deployment of the next generation network in the country.

The Commission said broadband infrastructure deficits and poor state of electricity generation and supply top the list of identified difficulties in the imminent deployment of 5G in the country.

The inconsistent power supply across the country is a major challenge, said the Commission, noting that power is crucial in facilitating successful 5G deployment.

Engr. Wakil, NCC Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity, reportedly said that the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is coordinating the NCC, National Frequency Management Council and National Broadband Plan to address the identified broadband infrastructure deficits and the epileptic electricity supply in Nigeria.

Nonetheless, he stated these challenges need to be addressed by other sectors of the economy because these issues are outside the purview of the NCC.

Telecoms regulator set to auction 5G spectrum by Q4 2021

Going forward, as preparations gain momentum for the allocation auctioning, assigning and commercialisation of 5G spectrum in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission has said that it will auction the 5th Generation Technology spectrum by the Fourth Quarter (Q4) of this year.

Prof. Danbatta (4th from left) inaugurates Committee on Spectrum Auction for 5G Deployment, in Abuja

Prof. Danbatta disclosed this development at the maiden International Conference on Information and Engineering Systems (ICIES) Thursday, July 15, 2021, at the Nile University of Nigeria, Abuja, FCT.

The Nile University is a private institution of higher education, established in 2009, and located in Abuja.

The NCC EVC, who spoke on “5G Deployment: Catalyst for Digital Transformation in Nigeria”, was represented by Mr. Wakil, NCC Director of Technical Standards and Network Integrity, at the conference which centered on “Multidisciplinary Engineering and Applied Sciences”.

He stressed that for the process of the allocation auctioning, assigning and commercialisation of 5G spectrum to be seamless and successful, the Federal Government must provide an enabling environment, report stated.

Danbatta said: “The government will provide an enabling environment for 5G deployment, but the MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) will determine their own deployment strategies, subject to alignment with approved polices and other regulatory instruments in force.

“Securing spectrum for 5G is an antecedent for any operator to commit serious investment to 5G infrastructure.”

According to him, “this makes it imperative for the spectrum allocation and assignment process to be concluded as early as possible.

“The following timeline is proposed as optimal in the policy document 5G Spectrum Allocation (Q2 2021) 5G Spectrum Auction (Q4 2021) 5G Spectrum Assignment (Q1 2022) and Commercialisation of 5G Spectrum (Q4 2022).

The EVC restated that researches and tests had been performed on the hazardous impact of electromagnetic emissions from 5G, and that they were far below the minimum required standard.

Danbatta expressed optimism that 5G, indeed, is a catalyst for digital transformation in Nigeria and around the world, as it would digitalise and greatly impact the economy of the country.

He said: “The plan to deploy 5G technology creates need for study of the electromagnetic radiation levels which will be generated by the 5G infrastructure.

“These tests were conducted in accordance with the International Commission on Non-lonizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Guidelines for general public exposure to time varying electromagnetic fields.”

He further explained that “the results of the test show that radiation from 5G infrastructure is far below the ICNIRP specification for protection of members of the public and therefore, suggest that no public health hazards are expected from the use of 5G in Nigeria.

“Scientific evidence from studies carried out by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), all show that exposure to radio frequencies are safe and does not cause or initiate the occurrence of cancers.”

Danbatta stated the Commission, therefore, is hopeful that the deployment of 5G mobile network revolution will transform the Nigerian economy digitally, while heralding developmental and digital transformation tools that bring benefits to consumers everywhere.

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