For countries in the African region including Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, among others to maximise benefits of the fifth generation (5G) network, some key policy recommendations must come to the fore.
This was the position of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in a document released recently, titled: “Digital trends in Africa 2021: Information and communication technology trends and developments in the Africa region 2017-2020.”
ITU said governments in the region must among others streamline and harmonise regulatory conditions to facilitate 5G deployment; provide regulatory flexibility for innovative 5G propositions; ensuring efficient and sufficient allocation of spectrum that is harmonised and affordable, and easing the cost burden of deployment and addressing the consumer barriers to adoption.
From a market readiness perspective, ITU said the ecosystem needs collaboration on key supply and demand initiatives, ranging from supporting content creation and development of use cases to solutions and models for cost-effective network deployment.
ITU said that before COVID-19 struck, the assessment was that 5G roll-out and uptake were far from becoming a reality in the sub-Saharan region, on the assumption that investment in 5G infrastructure would precede customer demand for the services.
The UN body, which is in charge of global telecommunications, said this view was based on the low uptake of 4G services, relative to network coverage and ongoing network modernisation efforts by mobile operators.
However, it pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a surge in demand and network congestion as people shifted to work from home and access more entertainment and education resources online.
For instance, ITU said Vodacom experienced 40 per cent traffic increase on mobile networks and 250 per cent traffic increase on fixed networks during the lockdown period.
On this, the telecoms body said the notion that 5G is not yet a reality in Africa is slowly changing. It stressed that 5G networks were launched by Vodacom and MTN in South Africa in 2020 ahead of schedule, with the South African government assigning temporary spectrum in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, ostensibly to boost broadband connectivity and respond to the surge in traffic during the lockdown.
It disclosed that more deployments, although in infancy, are beginning to pop up elsewhere on the continent with trials conducted in Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. ITU said Lesotho, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was the only country with limited commercial 5G services.
Further, the UN arm in charge of global telecommunications noted that policy-makers may consider removing any tax burdens associated with deploying infrastructure to reduce the associated costs. It added that policy-makers may consider encouraging 5G pilots and test beds to test 5G technologies, and use cases, and to stimulate market engagement.
ITU said operators may consider a portfolio of wireless technologies for 5G backhaul in addition to fibre, including point-to-multipoint (PMP), microwave and millimeter wave (mmWave) radio relays, high altitude platform systems (HAPS) and satellites.
MEANWHILE, the Chairman, MTN Nigeria, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, has called on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure timely spectrum release to telecoms operators and timely 5G licensing to enable faster broadband rollout.
Speaking in Lagos at the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) organised virtual structured engagement forum, with the theme: ‘Realising the new set target of 70 per cent of Broadband Penetration’, Ndukwe said this has become necessary in order for the country to scale up development.
Also, the Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Nigeria, Segun Ogunsanya, also advised the telecoms regulator to release spectrum and 5G licences early enough to telecoms operators to enable faster broadband penetration. Ogunsanya added that NCC should compel spectrum licence holders, who were yet to put it to use, to release it to other operators, who are ready for rollout.