5G Deployment: Speeding to Create a Digital Nigeria

Nigeria is presently gathering momentum to pick up the pace to join Kenya and South Africa as one of the few countries pioneering 5G deployment in Africa.

The country’s latest move follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and communications satellite firm, NigcomSat, to allow 5G services ride on its C-band frequency spectrum. This spectrum accounts for 60 to 70% of the commercial deployment of 5G networks globally.

In a statement signed by Umar Garba Danbatta, Vice-Chairman of NCC, “The importance of this spectrum for early deployment of 5G services in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised.”

Last year, the NCC began coordinating with stakeholders to create policies governing the commercial implementation of 5G. The government has also dispelled health-related concerns regarding the technology and conspiracy theories associating 5G with the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCC has high hopes that the tech will “improve the way Nigerians live and work” by advancing smart transportation, medicine, manufacturing, amongst others.

The Senate has equally approved the deployment of the 5G network in Nigeria, following the outcome of investigations by a Joint Committee mandated to carry out same.

The upper chamber, amid the adopted recommendations, posited that the technological impact of 5G will revolutionise Nigerians’ way of life in areas such as education, agriculture, security, entertainment, and governance in general.

The Senate, however, added that although no license has been issued to any Mobile Number Operator on a commercial basis, Nigeria should still use the next 6 months to observe the trend of 5G deployments around the globe and engage in extensive sensitisation of the public through all channels before commencement.

The digital agenda of the federal government seems to be gaining momentum as such transformation programmes promise to improve the effectiveness and productivity of the populace. This has become necessary in view of the opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution that can accelerate Nigeria’s social and economic development.

In the face of dwindling revenues from crude oil and the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government is exploring various avenues to diversify the economy. This prompted her to come up with policies and strategies to facilitate the development of a digital economy.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), nearly 60 per cent of the world’s economy would be digitised by the end of the year 2022. To ensure that Nigeria is not left behind in the digital economy, the federal government unveiled the National Digital Economic Policy and Strategy.

The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy reported that the inputs of stakeholders, including recommendations and constructive criticisms on how to make the document more effective, were taken into consideration in the formulation and expert review of the policy. The document was also presented to Nigerian Governors through the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Governor of Ekiti state, Kayode Fayemi.

Many of the states that keyed into the programme are said to be enjoying the support of the ministry. It is an attempt to replicate the policy at the state level by looking at the peculiar situations and challenges of those states.

States may not have ministries of digital economy. However, digital economy can be implemented by relevant state ministries such as ministry of science, technology and innovation, ministry of education, among others.

For the first time in the history of the industry, there are states providing right of way free of charge. This was after many attempts by previous communication ministers to reduce the cost.

Before now, right of way used to be as high as 70 per cent of the cost of deploying the infrastructure. For instance, it used to be cheaper to buy bandwidth between London and Lagos than between Lagos and Kano. This was traceable in part to the insufficiency of fibre resources across the country, as well as the high cost of deployment caused by excessive charges in several states. This has engendered unwarranted charges incurred for using internet in the country.

This situation is gradually becoming a thing of the past consequent on the digital economic policy of the federal government. There is the National Broadband Policy which gives the right to build relevant broadband digital infrastructure across every state. A state like Lagos has partnered with a lot of infrastructure companies. She has given them the needed support and free use of their right of way. As a result, Yaba in Lagos was able to boom with digital technology.

Today, there is a lot of capacity at the shores of Lagos because of the multiple sub-Atlantic cables landing there. Bandwidth is better and cheaper in such areas than it is in other parts of the country. However, most states are now able to deploy faster and better. At the end of the day, end-users benefit in terms of better pricing.

Nigeria also initiated the Digital Nigeria Policy 2020–2030 with special focus on eight pillars that are critical to the development of the digital economy. The pillars include developmental regulation, digital skills, solid infrastructure, service infrastructure, digital services promotion and development, software infrastructure, digital society and emerging technologies, as well as indigenous content development and promotion.

In line with the social distancing rule, occasioned by the pandemic, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy introduced “Virtual Academies” and “Virtual Institutions” domiciled in the Ministry of Communications, and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) respectively.

These appear to be world-class youth training programmes supported by IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, among others, aimed at digital skills acquisition particularly in the area of emerging technologies such as cloud computing, cybersecurity, internet of things, artificial intelligence, among others. The target is to train about five (5) million Nigerians over a 5-year period with the support of Microsoft.

NITDA has another programme called “Start-up Friday” which challenges youth to come up with crazy ideas, disruptive innovations, among others. These youth are taught by a team that evaluates their performance, quality and potential of their innovation. The youth selected through this process are supported in cash and in kind. In cash, they are given a seed fund. In kind, they are mentored, and their records kept in a database, as their performance and the way they advance their technology are tracked. They are also linked with relevant institutions that require their innovation.

In 2016, a young Nigerian living in the US developed an App that was purchased by Apple at the price of $1b. On 8 October 2019, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy led a team of young Nigerians to the UAE to partake in a competition in a technology exhibition. A young Nigerian emerged as the global best in the category of artificial intelligence.

Through hi-tech, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy integrated technology into agriculture, as it is done in some advanced economies. For instance, the total landmass of Netherland is smaller than Niger state, with the country’s population less than that of Lagos or Kano. But statistics show that what Netherland generated in 2019 alone was over 10 times what Nigeria earned through oil and gas.

A digital society, as one of the pillars of the digital policy, aims at integrating every component of the society into the digital economy including the federal, state and local governments.

As part of measures to boost cybersecurity, for instance, millions of SIM cards that were not completely or properly registered on telecom networks were blocked. This was achieved between 24 and 25 September 2019. The Ministry introduced Computer Emergency Response and Readiness Team (CERRT) which monitors potential attacks on Nigeria. This enables the Ministry to notify public and private institutions about impending attacks and sometimes advise them on the stages to be taken in order to avoid the attacks or reduce their gravity when they happen.

Nigeria Data Protection Regulation is another form of cybersecurity. This entails that data presented to public and private institutions should remain confidential, and can only be released to agencies that require them when certain conditions are fulfilled.

This is a clear indication that digital technology is not a stand-alone sector but the key enabler to drive digital transformation in every sector. For instance, Microsoft is engaging with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to support the Commission’s anti-corruption war by giving them additional technology tools to block financial loopholes.

Without digital technologies, most Nigerian hospitals, security establishments, financial houses, among other institutions, will not be effective and productive.

As the world is gravitating towards a digital economy, the absolute approach to ICT by many ministries and other sectors of the Nigerian economy has to change.

Statistics show that about 47 per cent of West Africa is made up of Nigerians while in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria has the highest number of smartphones. That means Nigeria ordinarily has a bigger opportunity and access to innovation and the use of technology for growth. Given Nigeria’s large, young entrepreneurial population, digital entrepreneurship could become an engine of growth. It is a huge potential that lies ahead.

It is believed that the digital economic policy will drive the federal government’s economic diversification plan which will include employment generation as well as encourage innovation.

However, there are constraints in the sector. There are still issues regarding digital access and cost of innovation. Many Nigerians do not have access to ICT, especially people living in rural areas and doing businesses there.

It is commendable that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy developed a programme for national broadband plan 2020-2025 which was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari last year. In the plan, the target is to ensure that by 2025, a minimum of 90 per cent of the country’s population will have access to broadband or internet.

Part of the plan is to achieve 70 per cent penetration in the country’s landmass of about 2 million square km, while targeting 26mb per second in the urban cities and 10mb per second in the rural areas. According to the ministry, broadband penetration in 2018 was around 31 per cent, but from end of 2019 to last year, the penetration increased to 40.18 per cent.

Read Also: 5G Revolution: A Nation Left Behind

In the same vein, Microsoft has a new technology called airband technology that provides connectivity and layer-required social services in under-served and difficult-to-reach areas. This is done in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. Services to be deployed include e-health and e-education. Other services will also entail the digitalisation of records such as building local databases, the role of technology in disseminating information to the local populace, etc.

Needlessly, information has to be cascaded to potential investors in the digital space by throwing some light on the immense opportunities of the digital policy in terms of infrastructure, hardware development, software development, among others. In other words, the populace should be enlightened on the impact of the policy so that they can key in and participate actively.

A digital economy is best achieved when small scale businesses in the private sector employ the platform to run their activities. Through this, the level of appreciation is upscaled such that there is a move away from analogue psychology into digital psychology.

Digitalisation is the direction of the world today. According to the Ministry, $11.5trn was generated in 2016 through digital economy. It becomes necessary to accelerate the process of making Nigeria a digital economy.

Besides, telecommunication has been declared as a critical national security and economic infrastructure. With telecoms having presence in the local governments, it will not be out of place to begin to look at the possible participation of telecom operators in “Payment System Banking” to achieve financial inclusion.

The practice of engaging in broadband projects without clearance from regulatory authorities has to stop. Regulatory bodies must regulate the activities of other parastatals and ministries.

When it comes to laying fibre optics by any government institution, there is a need to acquire licence from the NCC which is the regulatory body. When it comes to building IT infrastructure, projects should be cleared by NITDA which is the regulatory body.

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