Accelerating Connectivity

Nigeria Issues Spectrum Licenses, Looks To Have Africa’s Largest 5G Coverage

By  |  December 15, 2021

The cellular 5G wave is not completely new to Africa; in 2018, Rain, a data-only telco, launched the first commercial fifth-generation network in a few South African cities. While other countries like Kenya, Egypt, and even Madagascar have relatively embraced this new form of internet connectivity, the largest economy on the continent, Nigeria, seemed left out of the frenzy. 

But, not anymore. Quite recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission awarded licenses to two telecom operators, to enable them to roll out 5G in the most populated country in the continent. 

Though three telcos vyed for the operating license, the Nigerian unit of Africa’s largest telecom operator, MTN, and Mafab Communications—a one-year-old tech subsidiary of Musbahu Muhammad Bashir-chaired Althani Group, emerged winners of the showdown. Meanwhile, Airtel Nigeria, the country’s second-largest telco, came last in the auction. 

According to local sources, the auction was closed at a winning price of USD 270 Mn for 3.5GHz of spectrum, which is payable on before February 24th, 2022.

This development, which comes roughly 2 decades after Nigeria awarded its first ever telecoms license, signals a turning point for the country’s electronic space. Home to the continent’s most active tech startup scene, largest digital economy, telecommunications market, and internet subscribers, the country might very well claim the largest 5G market in the region come next year. After all, Nigeria’s telecoms market is so large that four telcos (MTN Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, Globacom, and 9mobile) seem to be competing profitably.

With a national average age of 18.1 years (undoubtedly the highest concentration of young people not only in Africa but also the world) and two players on the turf, Nigeria looks to have the widest 5G coverage in Africa by 2022. Increased internet speed is a win for all parties, as it would usher in an era of more substantial developments in the tech economy. 

Ever since that 5G trial by MTN in 2019, Nigeria has been speeding up its plans to make the connection available countrywide. With assistance from Huawei, ZTE, and Ericsson, the operator successfully tested the network, marking the first time a fifth-generation internet system was commercially deployed in West Africa. 

Before vying for the license in its largest telecoms market, MTN similarly trialed 5G in its home market, South Africa, months after which it rolled out the service in conjunction with Vodacom. 

Following closely, Safaricom partnered with China’s Huawei and Sweden’s Ericsson to make Kenya the second African country to launch 5G. The third African country to “successfully” roll out the service, thanks to Togocom and Finland’s Nokia, is Togo, a West African outlier. The service was launched in November 2020 in Lome, the French-speaking country’s capital. Huawei made known its ambitions to pilot 5G in Ethiopia but the plans are yet to be actualized.

With Nigeria following suit, the 5G fever is catching on to all four points of the region. Northwards, Egypt is also steaming up as players like Vodafone, Etisalat and Orange scramble to be the first to test the network’s commercial deployment. From the looks of it, 2022 could also be a defining year for North Africa’s internet space. 

Besides the three most active African digital markets, about 18 other countries in the continent have commenced 5G trials, including Gabon, Lesotho, and Uganda. Nevertheless, considering that only a few countries have launched the technology in these parts, the GSMA sees widespread 5G adoption in Africa as non-imminent but inevitable. 

Per data from the GSMA, 303 million people from across Sub-Saharan Africa were connected to the internet, representing only 28 percent of the region’s population count. As the demand for digital services amplifies on the heels of an unprecedented pandemic, the need to connect far-flung, underserved communities is greater than ever. The integration of 5G into these economies, however slow-going, is essential to leapfrogging into a digital era.

Image Courtesy: Pinimg

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