Nigeria may fail to meet it’s lofty national broadband targets owing to scarcity of frequency spectrum, that is already hindering telecommunications companies from deploying efficient and reasonably priced Internet services across the country, industry observers have said. About 156 million Nigerians, out of a population of 170 million, the bulk of whom are rural dwellers, have no access to real broadband connectivity. The federal government has already set the target of an 80 percent growth penetration in 3G (Third Generation) services by 2018 in line with the National Broadband Plan (NBP). This target would remain highly unattainable because many high-net worth individuals, organisations, agencies of government, as well as, telecommunications networks without required capacity to deploy broadband internet services are sitting on enormous amounts of frequency spectrum. According to telecoms engineers, frequency spectrum is indeed the life-blood of the wireless industry.
Nigeria had missed the June 17, 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for a global switchover of television (TV) signals from analogue to digital transmission. This is because the Federal Government failed to release N60 billion to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), long earmarked as the cost of the digital switchover (DSO) process in the country. The migration was expected to free up required frequency spectrum under the control of the NBC, providing the needed capacity for telecoms operators to rollout broadband services. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had recently postponed the auctioning of the 2.6GHz spectrum band ‘till further notice’. This situation is currently frustrating the business plans of prospective investors seeking to play critical roles in Nigeria’s broadband market. “Nigeria will never have fibre to the home everywhere but broadband penetration will essentially be driven by wireless.
“We need the availability of 700MHz and 800MHz for broadband access and coverage”, said Ibrahim Dikko, vice president, regulatory & corporate affairs at Etisalat Nigeria. Speaking at the MainOne-BusinessDay Broadband Summit 2015 in Lagos recently, Dikko urged the telecoms regulator to change the dynamics of spectrum auctions in the country. “Government needs to look beyond spectrum auctions as a means of generating revenue. They need to make this resource available to the right players that have capacity and competence to rollout services”, he added. Michiel Buitelaar, managing director, Smile Communications Nigeria, agrees with Dikko, stating that the industry requires more spectrum to drive broadband delivery across the nook and crannies of Nigeria. “We need more frequency. Auctions are a dangerous thing, they lead to short term utilisation.”
In his paper presentation at the broadband summit, Austin Nwalune, director, spectrum administration at NCC, said the regulatory consideration for spectrum allocation is basically standardisation and harmonisation. “We engage in the optimisation of spectrum assignment that involves refarming, reallocation, reassignment of spectrum to facilitate the deployment of emerging wireless broadband services”, said Nwalune. Commenting on the postponement of 2.6GHz spectrum auction, the director said, “Every postponement came with a reason, the postponement were owing to administrative reasons. That spectrum resource is being re-farmed and cleaned up. We need the 2.6GHz frequency more than the operators do and soon it would be ready.” Management of spectrum allocation is handled by the National Frequency Management Commission (NFMC) chaired by minister of communications technology. The allocation of the available spectrum band to telecoms is handled by the NCC, which oversees the telecoms sector.