No doubt, since Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 to spearhead the affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country has achieved some regulatory landmarks in order to make super fast internet connectivity available for the populace.
As Nigeria’s thirst for data has grown significantly, largely due to the generational change of telecommunications from the use of voice-dominated technologies (1G and 2G) to today’s data dominated technologies of 3G, 4G and even the much-talked-about 5G, according to Danbatta, the quest for super fast internet connectivity has become sacrosanct.
Hinged on this quest, the NCC has projected greater prospects for accelerating digital transformation in Nigeria, through making the country a truly knowledge and digital economy.
In the last quarter of 2019, the Commission, in its proactive regulatory approach, mid-wifed the trial of 5G technology in Nigeria, making NCC the first telecoms regulator in the whole of West Africa to begin such a historic trial towards unleashing greater digital revolution in the country.
Today, 5G trials had been successfully conducted in major cities including Abuja, Calabar and Lagos with MTN being the first operator to carry out the trial.
Through 5G network deployment, Nigerian will have access to faster broadband speed on their network, which will result in more efficiency in the course of carrying out personal and official activities.
The eventual roll out of 5G networks in the country will have impacts on e-learning, tele-medicine, e-agriculture, e-health, e-commerce and so on, in terms of speed, latency, which Nigerians can take advantage of.
Also, there are more applications that can be made possible when 5G is pervasively deployed by operators in the country.
Parts of the efforts to make super fast internet connectivity available, include the determination of the Commission to ensure that all new base transceiver stations (BTS) to be built by mobile network operators (MNOs) are LTE-compatible.
The NCC also is determined to ensure the implementation of the harmonised Right of Way (RoW) charges on state and federal government highways at the cost of N145 per linear meter; ensure elimination of multiple taxation and regulations; facilitate spread of 3G coverage to, at least, 80 per cent of the Nigerian population over the current 56.4 per cent of the population covered with 3G networks.
Other projections by the Commission towards deepening digital transformation include regulatory commitment to ensure operators upgrade their 2G BTSs to 3G; ensure spread of the impending 5G to, at least, five per cent of the population; and determination to ensure spread of 4G/LTE services to 100 per cent of the population with a minimum broadband speed of 1.5 megabit per second (Mbps).
Finally, the NCC has reiterated determination also to deploy, at least, one (1) Access Point of fiber with a 10 gigabyte per second (Gbps) capacity in all the 774 local government areas, among others.
Rural Connectivity with TVWS Technology
Further to the strategic implementation of its 8-Point Agenda, the Commission has partnered with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and other necessary industry stakeholders to brainstorm on how to develop a framework for leveraging television white spaces (TVWS), as technology platform to extend affordable broadband services to rural, unserved and under-served communities in the country.
TVWS is the unused broadcast spectrum which can be deployed in the telecommunications sector to provide cost-effective broadband services to people in the rural, underserved and unserved areas of the country towards achieving universal access and universal service in line with the country’s digital agenda. The collaboration with the NBC was in line with the fifth pillar of the NCC’s 8-Poing Agenda focusing on facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership with necessary government agencies and stakeholders to drive the development frontiers of the industry.
The initiative for the use of TVWS in Nigeria was mid-wifed by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, following approval for the use of the TVWS technology by the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC). TVWS deployment is expected to further enable the NCC to facilitate its mandate to ensure universal access to digital services across the nooks and crannies of the country.
“Ensuring that all Nigerians are connected is our priority at the Commission. “We are continuously in a quest to achieving rural connectivity goal and this quest has led us, as a Commission, into embarking on several initiatives to actualise this pervasive connectivity objective in Nigeria,” said Austine Nwaulune, Director, Spectrum Administration, NCC said during a stakeholders’ forum on framework for the deployment of TVWS held earlier in 2019.
Accelerating Broadband Infrastructure across 774 LGAs
Closely related to the Commission’s efforts in deepening broadband penetration is its development of Open Access Model (OAM) initiative, principally aimed at extending access to digital services to all the 774 local government areas (LGAs) through the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) across geo-political zones.
To date, six InfraCo licences had been issued by the Commission. They include Raeana Nigeria Limited for the South-South Zone; O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for South-West Zone; Fleek Networks Limited for North-West Zone; Brinks Integrated Solutions for North-East Zone; MainOne Limited for Lagos Zone and Zinox Technologies Limited for the South-East Zone. The seventh and last licensee for the North-Central Zone of the country is being processed by the Commission.
As Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, the NCC is expected to provide a counterpart funding, in form of stimulus, to encourage investors of InfraCo to deploy fibre optic infrastructure across the country. Already, subsidy negotiations with the licensees had been concluded by the Commission and efforts are being tidied up by the telecoms regulator to secure Federal Government’s approval for the disbursement of the counterpart funding to the licensees. This, however, will be disbursed to the InfraCos upon attainment of certain milestones in their area of deployment.
During a visit by the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) to the Commission earlier in 2019, Danbatta had said that, “NCC had concluded the process leading to the disbursement of subsidies to the six licensed InfraCos in line with the digital transformation agenda of the Federal Government. The subsidy will augment the InfraCos’ capital expenditure (CAPEX).”
Spectrum Auctions and Related Initiatives
One aspect of the Commission’s regulatory activities which has added the needed fillip to its accomplishment with regards to broadband penetration is in the area of effective utilization of available spectrum. Apart from achieving and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration, the NCC had recorded some broadband-driving successes, especially in the area of spectrum auctions. These include the auction of the six slots of 2×5 megahertz (MHz) in the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) Band, re-planning of the 800 MHz band for Long Term Evolution (LTE), licensing of two slots of 10 MHz each in the 700 MHz band, as well as the opening up of the E-band spectrum 70/80 GHz band for both last-mile and backhaul services. Other regulatory instruments by the Commission in this regards include the Spectrum Trading Framework, which allows for transferability of spectrum licence from a dormant licensee to another operator that needs such spectrum which has been redundant for the deployment telecom services.
All these efforts are in keeping with the commitment of the Commission, as articulated by Danbatta early in 2015 that “NCC will develop and implement flexible, market-oriented spectrum regulatory policies that promote highly-efficient use of spectrum in ways that stimulate innovation, investment, and job creation and increased consumer benefits.”