AfricaNXT 2022: NCC Highlights 5G’s Socioeconomic Benefits

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…says technology is safe

A cross section of officials of the Nigerian Communications Commission during a panel session during the AfricaNXT Conference in Lagos.

The newly-introduced fifth-generation (5G) network has been hailed as having the ability to galvanise the nation’s economy with its socio-economic benefits and the degree of safety of its deployment.

This was revealed by the organisers of the AfricaNXT Conference 2022 and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), just as the curtains fell on this year’s edition of the event in Lagos.

The conference formerly called the ‘Lagos Social Media Week’, scheduled over 200 sessions and about 400 speakers had overwhelming attendance and participation during the NCC session, where its team discussed the socio-economic benefits of 5G services.

On Thursday (March 3, 2022), the NCC team mounted the FutureNow Stage of the Innovation Pavilion of the conference to inform, educate and rally further support for the commission’s strides on the preparedness of Nigeria to deploy the fifth generation (5G) network and services. Using simple, fact-based examples, the NCC’s five-man panel provided necessary clarifications to the audience on the safety of 5G technology and gave copious examples of how the technology will significantly impact life qualitatively and bring socio-economic benefits to the nation, her citizens, businesses and the continent.

The panellists extensively discussed 5G technology, focusing on safety, data privacy, the chronology of programmes, actions and activities of the commission towards the launch of the services, including the issuance of 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum and licence for 5G deployment, the roll-out plans, use cases as well as citing concrete socio-economic advantages of the expected services.

The NCC team explained to the excited audience how 5G will power a plethora of applications, innovation and creativity, namely smart cities, telemedicine, Internet of Things (IoT), smart agriculture, driverless cars, bolstering of the security governance sector, among others. The team asserted that 5G is a network of networks because of its huge capabilities and its derivable benefits can only be limited if humans limit their imaginations.

Reckoning that 5G technology is a total shift from the internet connectivity people are used to at present, the panel stated that 5G would open doors of new possibilities and socio-economic impacts. “With 5G, there is something for everyone. Nigeria is kick-starting these massive benefits with enhanced broadband. 5G will bridge the fibre connectivity gap and with wireless broadband connectivity, Nigerians will enjoy the enhanced broadband.” A member of the panel stated to emphasise the enhanced connectivity that comes with 5G technology.

The discussants also agreed that telecom operators will reap huge benefits from 5G in many ways, through network slicing, new revenue streams from IoT, industrial applications, gaming and entertainment as well as live broadcast features supported by 5G amongst others.

The NCC team comprising specialists in engineering, law and communications, also said that 5G will power more than a billion devices in the next two years, and this means there will be an upsurge in the manufacturing of related user equipment which is expected to bring down the prices of associated devices and equipment. The process is also expected to trigger utilisation of raw materials such as rare earth metals that are found in large quantities in Africa and cities will equally benefit from the 5G enabled infrastructure such as smart street lighting, smart traffic control systems, maintenance services and so on that will deliver huge economic gains.

Explaining the NCC’s efforts and plans on consumer safety in the 5G era, discussants recalled that the commission was already working closely with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to develop a Risk Management Framework, to grow the need for ethical hacking skill sets and allow its use as a   part of risk management towards ensuring safety of the cyberspace in the 5G era.

Additionally, the panel informed the audience that NCC had established a sectoral Computer Security Incidents Response Team (CSIRT) to work with the telecoms operators to reduce risks on the cyber-attacks and data breaches. The centre, inaugurated in 2021, has been collaborating with the Nigerian Computer Emergency Response Team (ngCERT) towards enhancing the security of the cyberspace and privacy of citizens. These strategic collaborations for which the NCC is noted will be boosted by the recently-established Nigeria Data Protection Bureau.

While explaining the security, safety and speed characteristic of 5G, the panel reasoned that, while 4G has a response time of 10 milliseconds – equivalent to the capacity of the human brain, the 5G network is even faster. Therefore, the high-speed feature of 5G will unlock greater opportunities that will enhance human productivity for development.
“The latency of 5G, which measures its response time, is 1 millisecond, while that of 4G is measured at 10 milliseconds. While 4G can accommodate 100,000 devices within a square kilometre, 5G can connect a million devices within the same space, thus powering the Internet of Things (IoT). Also, 5G peak data rate is 20 gigabits (GB) per second for download and 10GB for upload, which is higher than 100 megabytes (MB) per second download and 50MB upload offered by 4G network.”

The panel allayed fears of health concerns, propelled by “misconceptions, disinformation, misinformation and malinformation”. The panel informed the participants that the apprehension was unnecessary. It cited research-based evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Commission on Non-Ironising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), to prove the safety of 5G network to human health.

The panel explicated further that Nigeria can indeed begin to create smart cities, an ecosystem powered by 5G applications. The massive speed of 5G, according to the discussants, will also enhance the capacity of start-ups and other tech entrepreneurs to leverage the enabling environment powered by the fast connectivity, to develop unlimited solutions for the benefit of Nigeria and her citizens.

According to the panel, enhanced broadband that allows low latency and facilitates billions of connections in machine-to-machine communication certainly holds a big promise for socio-economic growth and development.

When asked if the country was ready for 5G, the panel declared that “Nigeria is ready for 5G because the NCC has been supported by key stakeholders to make Nigeria ready. The Commission has built the regulatory foundation, the deployment plan has been designed and various exercises have been carried out up to the level of handling over 5G Spectrum licences to the operators.”

Meanwhile, the panellists also emphasised the centrality of collaboration among state and non-state actors to drive the ecosystem. They contend that, as with other previous technologies, such as 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G, efforts must be made for all stakeholders to glean and exploit the massive use cases of 5G for socio-economic development.

While rounding off the highly engaging session, the moderator thanked the co-panellists for their diligence and painstaking engagements, and the audience for their interest, enthusiasm and solidarity. He reiterated the unflinching commitment of NCC to do all within its regulatory powers to ensure data security and data protection. He also underscored the need for sustenance of collaborative efforts among tiers of government and all other stakeholders to ensure effective utilisation of 5G services across all sectors.

The well-attended panel discussion, which focused on “Moving Forward Steadily: Socio-Economic Significance of Development of 5G Services” was moderated by NCC’s head of online media, Dr. Omoniyi Ibietan. Other panellists were team lead, Nigeria Office for Developing the Indigenous Telecoms Sector (NODITS), Babagana Digima; Head, space services, Usman Aliyu; Head, fixed networks and converged services, Anthony Ikemefuna and a senior manager in the legal and regulatory services department of the commission, Dr. Mohammed Suleh-Yusuf.

A statement by the commission’s director of public affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, described the AfricaNXT Conference as the “largest assemblage of innovators from across Africa and Africa’s diasporan communities”. Formerly known as ‘Lagos Social Media Week’, the confab and festival, now in its 10th year, is an annual event that takes place in Lagos, focusing on harnessing Africa’s potential for development, using the dual agencies of human creativity and the promises of technology.

Oluchi Okorafor
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