The executive vice chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, represented Africa at one of the highlight events at the recent International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World in Budapest, Hungary. The NCC boss articulated Africa’s positions and its state of readiness toward deploying 5G technology at a panel with other global industry giants.
5G usage scenarios
There are three of them. The enhanced mobile broadband applications, the low ultra-reliable, low latency applications and the machine-to-machine application.
I think, in our part of the world, we are looking closely at these key areas of usage scenarios. The one that African countries will subscribe to quickly is the enhanced mobile broadband application. The reason for this is that African countries are trying to roll out broadband infrastructure for broadband applications. So, this will spur us on to ensure we put in place the necessity infrastructure.
State of readiness
We are trying to reserve the spectrum for the rollout of broadband services. Specifically, in Nigeria, we are talking about three, 26, 38 and 42GHz. These frequencies exist and we are not licensing them for any other application. We are waiting in anticipation for the standardisation process to be completed at the World Radio Communication (WRC) in Egypt and then we can see how we can go forward with licensing process in the 3 frequencies I mentioned.
The other important step that African countries are taking is to address new forms of social anxiety occasioned by this emerging technology, 5G. There’s also the regulatory anxiety. And, therefore, to do that, because of the practice we had in the past, every service we deploy is normally preceded by proof of concept trial. And the 5G is not an exception definitely there’s going to be the trial as preparations are underway for this important trial to take place.
“The whole idea behind the trial is to be able to see what are the challenges. Security challenges, levels of radiation power density, whether this is within the acceptable limits provided for the international non-ionization radio regulatory agencies as well as to ensure whatever factors that we need to come to terms with preparatory to commercial deployment of services are identified in readiness for commercial roll out of services using 5G.
“This is ongoing in Nigeria. The steps we are taking during the trials will involve the security agencies, who have a say on the security dimension of this new technology when it’s eventually rolled out. So, we want to ensure they are fully involved at this trial state for the purpose of advising on the elements of the security concerns we should accommodate in the regulatory frameworks that will guide the deployment of this service if it eventually becomes commercialised.
African countries are exchanging information and experiences on what they are seeing, the promise of the 5G roll out in the area of enhanced Broadband mobile services in our individual countries as well as addressing the anxiety of the citizens by giving the information that will make them receptive to this branch of important technology that is emerging that’s virtually here.
Whether all African countries will be ready by 2020 for the roll out of commercial 5G services is something I cannot answer immediately, but I know our state of readiness is such that spectrum is being reserved in many countries, there are trials going on in many African countries, and Nigeria is getting ready to do this trial.
Safety and security concerns
We need to have an idea about the levels of radiation from the devices, the devices we intend to connect, especially when you bear in mind the levels of devices connectivity density that 5G will be driving. I am talking of a million devices in an area of a kilometer by kilometer and most of these are domestic appliances we use in our homes. I think concerns will arise as to whether the levels of radiation coming from these devices conform to the non-ionization standard for devices. The manufacturers of these technology and services are saying that they are safe. But the regulator is saying I need to check so that I can assure the subscribers of new services that, yes it’s safe for them to use.
So, this is what I was saying about addressing concerns, safety, concerns about security of data and privacy and whatever is going on these network. And this can only be determined through a trial. And that’s why many countries are saying, we want to do a thorough trial and we want security agencies involved to ensure that we monitor the level of radiation and convince our citizens that these technologies are safe and there’s no exposure to radiation.”
Role of infrastructure and spectrum to 5G
“Without pervasive infrastructure the dream of roll out of 5G services will remain what it is, just a dream. On this we need to share experiences. In Nigeria, we have divided the country into 7 zones, and each zone has been assigned an infrastructure company to deploy broadband infrastructure.
We have also put in place an excellent initiative of spectrum trading, meaning, you just don’t hang on to a spectrum that’s not going to be put to use to deploy services. You can either trade the spectrum, lease it or transfer it to another operator.
This has really resulted in ensuring optimum utilization of this important resource. The bottom line is, of the 3.7 billion unconnected people of the world, one third of this population resides in Africa. The real challenge behind connecting this large population of Africans is infrastructure deficit. And until we address the challenge we don’t see the situation improving and affording our citizens access to not only 5G services but other services that may come upstream.
Another area that we can concentrate on is attracting investment. No government in Africa will be able to do it alone. Governments in Africa are concentrating on provision of essential services. So telecommunications services are capital intensive, the infrastructure that’s required, the cost of bringing in new equipment to drive new services.
So the approach recommended by the ITU is that this should be done using that famous PPP model that we know, where investors coming in will bring in some investment in the country while the private sector in the country will provide some counterpart funding to drive deployment of these services. I think this will be a solution especially in the countries where the market exists like Nigeria where you have 200 million people, the market is there waiting to be explored for the purposes of provision of services and getting positive returns on investment. So as we try to move the African continent to the next level, we must adopt suitable models that will drive investment into our sectors.