Finally coming through

Airtel Has Bragging Rights To Nigeria’s Next 5G Spectrum License

By  |  January 4, 2023

In February 2022, Africa’s largest economy completed its first 5G mobile network spectrum auction, seeing MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications win bids and pay their 10-year licensing fees (USD 273.6 M each) as mandated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

10 months later, the NCC–the country’s telecoms watchdog–has started the second round of the spectrum auction. In this edition, however, the Nigerian unit of Airtel Africa’s operations has emerged as the only contender, having been the only party to indicate interest as well as pay a bidding deposit. 

The Commission disclosed that the second auction was finalized with only Airtel Nigeria. Standard Network Connections, a Standard Network subsidiary, also indicated interest but seemed to refrain from financially committing to bidding for the rights to deploy the technology. 

“Having met all the provisions in the Information Memorandum, Airtel has therefore emerged as the sole bidder. Consequently, there shall be no further bidding and the Commission will proceed to the Assignment Stage in line with the published Information Memorandum guiding the licensing process,” says an official statement from the NCC. 

During the first auction in 2021, Airtel was one of the bidders but the operator pulled out after MTN and Mafab out-bid its USD 270 M offer with USD 273 M each. 

Of the leading mobile operators in Africa, Airtel stands the odd one out in terms of [not] launching fifth-generation network connectivity in any of its markets in the region. Safaricom has rolled out the service in Kenya, Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom in South Africa, and [even] Orange in Botswana. 

Unlikely/outlier African markets have also felt the 5G fever, with countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe joining the frenzy in the past year. Meanwhile, the Nigerian unit of MTN launched the network last September, majorly in cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt. 

Being the only bidder in the country’s second fifth-generation network spectrum allocation, Airtel Nigeria has automatically started its 5G journey in the market and continent at large, finally joining its rivals. However, the company has no definite timeline for testing and commercialization, yet. 

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