5G rollout: Nigeria’s journey to quality internet

Nigeria, like many other countries, is seeing a transformation as a result of rising internet penetration which has grown from 10 percent in 2015 to 45 percent as of September 2022. Businesses have the opportunity to sell to clients beyond their local vicinity and generate money locally as well as foreign exchange,

The telecommunications industry has played a vital role in extending connectivity to practically all areas of the country. Over the years, cellular data coverage has moved from 1G to 2G to 3G to 4G, and now 5G.

Cell Phones began with the 1G technology – also dubbed analog technology – in the late 90s. Operating on 2.4kbps and allowing only voice calls, these phones had poor battery life and call connections. There was an overall communication error, and this era marked the first generation of wireless cellular technology.

2G, also understood as GSM or CDMA, was the network first launched in Nigeria in 1992. The network coverage operated on a data speed of 64kbps, using digital signs instead of analogue, and having a bandwidth of 30 to 200 kHz. It provided data services and enabled SMS text messaging but had very low data transfer. According to a 2021 Statista report, there’s still an 11% 2G coverage across Africa.

The 3G network, launched in Nigeria in 2007, ushered the use of video calls and had significantly higher data transfer, operating at a speed of up to 2mbs, and increased bandwidth compared to the 2G network. The network is suitable for smartphones, can send and receive large email messages, and has a higher-speed internet connection.

Read also: MTN, Airtel, others vie in second 5G licence auction

The 4G LTE, which is now popular amongst many internet users, was introduced in Nigeria in 2017. The network provides ultra-broadband internet access for mobile devices, and the higher data transfer rates make it suitable for USB wireless modems for laptops and home internet access. It has a higher voice quality, higher bandwidth, and a better streaming experience. The data rate and technology are the main differences between the 3G and 4G networks. The key technologies that have made 4G possible are MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) and OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) and there are presently over 83.3. million Nigerians subscribed to the 3G and 4G broadband networks, according to the NCC.

MTN Nigeria Communications Plc, being one of the two network providers to be awarded the spectrum in Nigeria, became the first to launch the 5G network in August 2022. The 5G network will change the dynamics of life, the telco has promised.

“The quality of networks built must be as good as anywhere else, and such would be for 5G. Because we have a youthful population, much of streaming and gaming goes on, so MTN is committed to making this process seamless,” said Ralph Mupita, Group CEO/President of MTN Group.

With MTN’s roll-out, Nigeria joins Botswana, Egypt, Gabon, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Kenya, and Ethiopia in the quest for mainstream 5G adoption. The 5G network is 50 times faster than the 4G network, has a lower latency of fewer than five milliseconds, and enables advanced healthcare (telemedicine), more realistic gaming (AR and VR), real-life collaboration, and speed.

“The catalyst for Africa’s growth is using 5G for B2B applications/margination. We will find in five years, maybe even sooner, that on the African continent, 5G enabled economies to accelerate their industrial development across all sectors. We will look back and say that the investment in 5G is what has catapulted the continent to meet its potential fully, and this is for Nigeria as well,” said Mupita.

MTN Nigeria Communications Plc launched 5G in Lagos and six other cities in August 2022. Just like 2G made text messaging possible, 3G technology ushered the internet to our phones, and 4G made video widely available on mobiles, the 5G network will enable Nigerians to connect, create, collaborate, and compete in ways not yet imagined.

Though 5G technology can significantly improve various technology-enabled activities, it is not yet available to all Nigerians because of other dependencies, mainly the compatibility of devices. MTN introduced the 5G router to enable customers to bypass this impediment posed by the non-compatibility of about 70 percent of available smart devices in the Nigerian market currently.

However, Karl Toriola, Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria, said there are ongoing conversations with phone manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple, and Nokia, to accelerate the process of enabling compatible phones in Nigeria. The process would be finalised before the end of the year.

“The invention and launch of the MTN 5G would not hinder the performance of the existing network coverages. There is a process of ‘refarming,’ which is moving capacity or spectrum from older technology to newer technology based on demand. It guarantees that no MTN subscriber is left behind. As long as subscribers have 3G devices, MTN will continue to have that 3G capacity sufficient to serve them. As the demand changes from 3G to 4G, MTN will re-farm the spectrum from 3G to 4G, which happens dynamically,” said Mohammed Rufai, Chief Technical Officer, MTN Nigeria.

While the telco may not predict the future of networks and technology, it believes that businesses will evolve, especially with the high-speed connectivity, digital services, and financial services MTN provides its customers. MTN subscribers connected to older networks will not be negatively affected by the 5G roll-out. As more 5G compatible and enabled devices emerge, more people will continue to enjoy fast internet.

Speaking to the commitment of the technology company, the Group CEO/President, Ralph Mupita assured that as Africa’s largest mobile network operator, MTN is committed to ushering subscribers into a new digital world that bridges the digital divide, furthering financial inclusion, and providing transformational technology solutions that will propel and accelerate growth not just in Nigeria, but across the continent.

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