Nigerians will today, wake up to a new, revolutionary telecommunications service, known as the fifth generation, 5G network services.
The network is said to have the capability to offer Nigerians higher data speed, improved reliability and availability which gives them opportunity to connect smart devices such as home security systems among others in their homes.
However, that is for the few that will have the opportunity to connect to the services. The optics are not favourable for over 28 million Nigerians, which the Nigerian Communications Commission admitted, yesterday, were living outside strong network coverage; and a whole lot of others who may not afford the right smartphones required to access 5G services.
A report by Strategy Analytics predicted operators will have to reinstate device subsidy offers in order to bring pricey 5G handsets within reach of consumers, or else face slower uptake of the next-generation technology.
The analyst said 5G smartphones are about the most complex and expensive devices ever, with wholesale costs of more than $750 and retail price tags of $1,000 or more.
Those costs will be slower to come down than 3G and 4G device prices, it added.
The data company’s Director of emerging device technologies, Ken Hyers said “It requires magical thinking to expect that consumers are going to rush to buy 5G smartphones that are bigger, and more expensive than any phone that they’ve ever bought before. Slower uptake is a real threat unless someone closes the gap to 4G performance.”
However, operators can use subsidies as a tool to reduce the cost and make 5G phones more accessible to the mass market.
In Nigeria’s case, some of these considerations have been canvassed, but it doesn’t seem a concrete agreement has been reached anywhere for implementation.
Although industry experts are of the view that these 28 million Nigerians in the remaining 114 access gap clusters should better be covered under the 5G regime, the deployment strategy that had sidelined them in the past 20 years of mobile telecommunications development in Nigeria may continue to play out in the 5G regime.
The telecom operators have stayed with commercial viability in their deployment strategy in the past 20 years, and the operating environment has not changed significantly to enable them deploy across all territories irrespective of commercial viability.
First, among the two winners of the 5G spectrum licenses only MTN will roll out services today. Even at that, sources at the telco’s office admitted the roll out will just be a test case as full commercial services will take effect between the end of this year and early next year.
The telco also admitted that part of the required facilities are on the way; meaning the services will be rolled out on existing facilities which may have not been deployed specifically for 5G services.
The other winner, MAFAB Communications has been granted five months extension by the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, meaning that it is expected to roll out services next year.
Sources from NCC, confirmed that the reason for the extension was to give the telco ample opportunity to prepare itself after just acquiring operating license some few months back.
“Yes, MAFAB has to be given extension because even though it was an industry service provider, the condition to deploy 5G services was having an operating license which it only got about five months ago. So it will be unfair to place it on the same level with MTN which had operating license ab initio,” said the source.
Now, with only MTN in the saddle the level of coverage will be abysmal and the benefits will take a long time to impact.
This has been a source of worry to the industry and in the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy’s Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020 – 2025 document, it was articulated that there are 1,954,540 unserved people in Jigawa; 1,639,631 in Kebbi; 1,872,307 in Kaduna; 1,777,778 in Kano; 2,120,389 in Katsina; 1,831,880 in Sokoto; 2,032,764 in Zamfara; 1,430,991 in Adamawa; 2,630,828 in Bauchi; 2,249,301 in Borno; 843,134 in Gombe; 1,100,456 in Taraba; 1,647,475 in Yobe; 13,000 in Ekiti; and 992 in Lagos.
In Ondo, there are 142,123 living in unserved areas; 90,400 in Ogun; 45,926 in Osun: 466,665 in Oyo; 12,561 in Akwa-Ibom; 114,148 in Bayelsa; 388,333 in Cross River; 145,057 in Delta; 140,709 in Edo; 123,815 in Rivers; 1,427,445 in Benue; 191,277 in Abuja; 629,568 in Kogi; 204,981 in Kwara; 692,028 in Nasarawa; 1,704,560 in Niger; 1,175,022 in Plateau; 14,970 in Abia; 55,904 in Anambra; 166,983 in Ebonyi; 77,405 in Enugu; and 2,428 in Imo.
According to data from the document, 93.58 per cent which is about 29,156,355 of unserved people live in the north while 6.42 per cent approximating 2,001,419 of unserved people live in the south.
Mobile coverage across Nigeria grew upon the issuance of DML licenses to operators that initially deployed 2G technology to provide voice services and effectively covering greater than 89% of Nigeria’s population today. Demand for internet access and availability of spectrum has stimulated the growth in 3G services which covers about 75 percent of the population.
4G deployments have been limited to deployments in the major urban areas within the past 3 years and are currently available to approximately 37 percent of Nigeria’s population.
The NNBP document also indicates that even “with 3G coverage most areas of the country are only being served by one of the operators while 4G remains sparse beyond the very largest urban areas and state capitals”.
Limited coverage has always impacted major government programs such as the National Identity Data Capturing exercise whereby the absence of 3G and 4G services limited data capturing in some areas of the country.
Absence of coverage also provides cover for criminal activities and insecurity within unserved areas.
If 5G deployment takes this same pattern, it is still left to be seen whether Nigerians can shout uhuru now.