NGNigeria TechTech

Slow, steady traction for Nigeria’s 5G journey

With almost a year into its commercial operation in Nigeria, the Fifth-Generation (5G) network is gradually gaining traction with two operators already democratising services, while the third licensee is hoping to commence service soon, ADEYEMI ADEPETUN writes.

Nigeria’s mobile technology space has witnessed major innovations and produced increasingly dynamic changes in communication services, which have transformed the way people, live. The transgenerational change in mobile technology is currently at the 5G stage, which is a quantum leap from earlier generations of mobile technology.

With almost a year into its commercial launch in Nigeria, 5G is gradually seeing traction with intense competition on the part of the operators. It is interesting to note that the immediate past government of President Muhammadu Buhari earned $820.8 million (N378 billion) in revenue from 5G.

While Airtel and MTN are currently competing, giving the ecosystem the needed vibes, Mafab Communications after the initial introduction, is yet to begin service.

The 5G network

BOASTING of improved download and upload speeds, notably lower latency, and more reliable connectivity, 5G can revolutionise how Nigerians interact with technology.

Industry experts said 5G is projected to be up to 100 times faster than 4G, with latency as low as one millisecond. This level of connectivity will supercharge a wide range of applications, including cloud computing, telemedicine, cloud gaming, Augmented Reality (AR) Virtual Reality (VR), Internet of Things (IoT) and smart homes.

According to a recent report, 5G is projected to contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy by 2034, and Nigeria’s foray into 5G, positions the country at the forefront of the technological revolution with immense potential to transform the networks.

Nigerian coverage thus far

AT a meeting in Lagos, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Umar Danbatta, disclosed that 5G services are available in different locations in 12 states of the Federation with over 60,000 subscriptions so far.

Airtel, which emerged winner and got licensed in December 2022, rolled out services in June and has covered Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and Abuja. The firm, which assured of nationwide coverage within the date of launch and next financial calendar, currently offers its 5G router for N30, 00.

According to the Chief Commercial Officer of Airtel Nigeria, Femi Oshinlaja, “5G is not meant to be out of reach, which is why Airtel is introducing the most affordable 5G routers to its customers to democratize access to 5G by all Nigerians.”

He said by offering affordable 5G routers, Airtel is making it easier for households and businesses to connect to the ultra-fast 5G network, unlocking new possibilities for productivity, education, and innovation. “Airtel is also partnering with Samsung to deliver the most affordable 5G mobile phone for N122, 000 only,” he added.

On the other hand, MTN router goes for N50, 000 and can boast of service availability in about 12 cities of the country. MTN noted that to support the rising data traffic on its network and expand its base further, it prioritised enhancing the capacity and coverage of our 4G and 5G networks.

It said in its total data traffic increased by 45.6 per cent., 4G traffic constituted 82.5 per cent (up by 5.2pp) and 5G constituted 21 per cent on all 5G-colocated clusters.

The telecoms firm said it has rolled out 700 5G sites in locations including Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Owerri, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Abeokuta, Ife, Warri, Enugu, Ife and Ifo.

5G as enabler

WITH its incredibly low latency, 5G allows for seamless and instantaneous communication between healthcare professionals and patients, regardless of their physical locations.

Real-time consultations through 5G-powered telemedicine can greatly improve access to healthcare, particularly for individuals in rural or underserved areas. Patients can connect with doctors remotely, receiving prompt medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment plans without the need for in-person visits. This not only saves time and travel costs but also reduces the strain on healthcare facilities and resources.

According to a report by Grand View Research, the global telemedicine market is expected to reach a value of $559.52 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.4 per cent. The integration of 5G technology into telemedicine is projected to be a key driver for this growth, as it overcomes the limitations of previous network generations, enabling high-quality and uninterrupted video consultations and data transmission.

Further, 5G will foster the growth of cutting-edge technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, enabling businesses to enhance customer experiences and develop new revenue streams. The Internet of Things (IoT) will also thrive, revolutionizing how industries manage their assets and collect valuable data for smarter decision-making.

According to recent market reports, the global 5G technology market is projected to reach a value of $667.9 billion by 2026, with a significant portion expected to come from emerging markets like Nigeria. In Nigeria specifically, the NCC estimates that the 5G network has the potential to generate an additional $140 billion to the country’s economy within the next decade.

Access to affordable and reliable Internet connectivity has become increasingly vital for marginalised communities to overcome barriers and participate fully in the digital age.

While advocating for the democratisation of 5G technology in Nigeria, Airtel said this holds great promise in bridging the digital divide and empowering underserved and unserved communities. It noted that the impact of a democratised 5G cuts across focus sectors such as education, healthcare, and economic opportunities – all priorities for a developing nation like Nigeria.

The firm said democratised 5G has the potential to revolutionise education in Nigeria by providing equal access to quality resources and bridging the educational divide. With accessible connectivity and affordable 5G devices, students in underserved areas will have equal opportunities to access digital educational resources, engage in online learning platforms, and participate in virtual classrooms.

According to UNESCO, an estimated 46 per cent of Nigerian children lack access to the Internet, limiting their educational prospects. However, the democratization of 5G can address this disparity and foster a more inclusive education system. By 2026, Ericsson projects that 5G networks will cover over 45 per cent of the global population, including millions of previously underserved students in Nigeria.

Access to quality healthcare services is a critical challenge in many underserved communities. With the democratisation of 5G, telemedicine and remote consultations can become a reality for marginalized populations. Doctors can remotely diagnose, consult, and treat patients in hard-to-reach areas, reducing the need for physical travel and improving healthcare access.

Bringing affordable 5G devices and accessible connectivity to marginalized communities opens doors to economic opportunities. Individuals in remote areas can leverage the power of 5G to access online marketplaces, connect with customers and suppliers, and engage in e-commerce. This can uplift small businesses and micro-entrepreneurs, providing them with a platform to expand their reach and compete on a larger scale.

The World Bank reports that approximately 52 per cent of Nigerians live in poverty, and democratized 5G can play a pivotal role in reducing this number by creating economic opportunities in underserved areas.

The democratisation of 5G technology holds tremendous potential to drive economic growth and innovation in Nigeria. According to a report by the GSM Association (GSMA), the deployment of 5G networks could contribute $400 billion to Nigeria’s economy by 2030.

Carl Cruz

CEO of Airtel Nigeria, Carl Cruz, stated: “5G ushers in a new era of collaboration that breaks boundaries and presents a new wave of economic benefits for this generation and the next.”

Cruz said the faster download and upload speeds, lower latency, and more reliable connectivity offered by 5G create an environment conducive to enhanced productivity, digital entrepreneurship, and technological advancements across various sectors.

Challenges to surmount

A report by Opensignal has said that though Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa (SA) have already deployed 5G networks, the presence of 5G connectivity is poor on the continent.

The assessment is a testament to the findings of June 2023 Ericsson Mobility Report, which showed that for the Sub-Saharan Africa region, 5G adoption is still nascent, with investments continuing to be channeled towards deploying 3G and 4G networks.

Opensignal noted that SA has a more substantial number of 5G subscriptions, while others observe only several thousand 5G users. It stressed that further development of seamless and reliable mobile connectivity in Africa is essential for the markets’ economic growth, especially given the high numbers of mobile-only users.

“The road to ubiquitous 5G in Africa Is likely to be a long one, as access to 4G is still not universal and many users still rely on 2G and 3G networks to connect to the mobile Internet.”

Another challenge faced by operators is the Naira depreciation, especially in the deployment of services.

MTN captured it, saying: “Our capex deployment in H1 was impacted mainly by the paucity of forex and supply chain challenges, resulting in a 14.4 per cent decline to N266.8 billion. Despite this, we continued to invest in the capacity and coverage of our network, focusing on the 4G and 5G networks and our rural telephony programme.”


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