While We Await 5G Services

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5G Network

In the vast telecommunications landscape, the advent of fifth-generation (5G) technology promised unparalleled connectivity and transformative potential. Yet, as the wait for widespread implementation continues, questions arise about the integrity of both public and corporate sectors.

Drawing parallels to timeless literary works like Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General and Ben Jonson’s Volpone offer timeless insights into human frailties and societal pretences through satire. Gogol’s work, particularly, delves deep into the theme of deception, highlighting the folly of human nature despite outward appearances.

Femi Osofisan, a prominent Nigerian playwright, echoed Gogol’s sentiments in his 1978 play Who is Afraid of Solarin?  adapted from The Inspector General. Osofisan’s adaptation vividly portrays the deception rampant in government, offering a visionary view of future societal issues. While Osofisan may not have foreseen the exact circumstances of today, his portrayal of deception’s consequences remains as relevant as ever. These works serve as poignant reminders of the enduring nature of human flaws and the perpetual struggle against deceit, resonating with audiences across generations.

Was he truly a visionary, capable of foreseeing the future? Perhaps so. Solarin, serving as a public complaints commissioner in the old Western State, commanded reverence, with his name striking awe in society for his unwavering commitment to integrity. Much like Gogol’s character, Solarin was a catalyst for change.

However, many exploited his name, leveraging it to manipulate society and coerce acceptance of unfavourable circumstances, as Osofisan noted, resigning to “defeat as fate.” This raises questions about integrity in public service, particularly within the realm of telecommunications. Despite issues like poor service quality, dropped calls and exploitative data practices, apathy seems to prevail, with few asking the necessary questions or demanding accountability.

In this context, the absence of answers underscores a concerning trend. Addressing these challenges requires a renewed commitment to integrity and a willingness to confront systemic issues.

Even the once vibrant pressure groups such as the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON) have lost their voices. Are we now confined to accepting anything simply because we are afraid to face the consequences if we shout?

Everyone yearns for heaven but is afraid of dying. But, as Osofisan once said, “Is this death so horrible that we all must compromise with injustice to live?” The future will judge us.

While we agree that providing services is purely a business decision, are business people not in business for their interests and that of society?

And no one is talking about the services, yet nobody is worried. Or are they experiencing subdued worries until the services come, or have they completely given up on the expectation of the services?

If anything at all, there are pockets of services so far, offered by the three supposed operators for the services: MTN Nigeria, Mafab Communications and Airtel Nigeria. But as things stand today, it appears 5G was mere noise and hype as Nigerians await in their various corners for the much-talked-about 5G services that MTN chief, Karl Toriola said will be a game-changer. Strangely too, no one is asking questions as to the existence or not of the 5G services. Have subscribers become so complacent that they have accepted defeat as fate in the face of corporate docility?

On June 19, 2023, the last of the three to acquire the 5G license, Airtel, kicked off its fifth-generation network rollout in four locations: Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and Abuja. The firm aims to cover the entire country by the end of the current financial year.

Unsuspecting Nigerians, who joined in the excitement of the alleged entry of 5G services, are now unsure of their expectations.

On December 21, 2021, MTN Nigeria and lesser-known Mafab Communications secured licenses, setting a rollout target for August 2022. However, Mafab Communications received a five-month extension from regulators, signalling early turbulence. Despite challenges, MTN attempted to introduce 5G services in Nigeria, but progress halted. Airtel, a newcomer, offers some hope amid the uncertainty.

The anticipation surrounding 5G has left stakeholders speechless, with scant evidence of widespread availability. With operators and regulators alike silent, the nation awaits developments. According to Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) data, 5G subscriptions reached 2.3 million by December 2023. However, this figure represents just 1.04 per cent of the country’s total active telephone subscriptions, which numbered 224.7 million by the end of 2023.

As the wait continues, it becomes apparent that the journey towards comprehensive 5G implementation in Nigeria faces significant hurdles. The discrepancy between subscription numbers and total active users underscores the challenges ahead.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Mobile Network Coverage facts and figures 2023 says “Since commercial deployment began in 2019, 5G coverage has increased to reach 40 per cent of the world population in 2023. Distribution, however, remains very uneven. While 89 per cent of the population in high-income countries is covered by a 5G network, coverage remains limited in low-income countries. Europe boasts the most extensive 5G coverage, with 68 per cent of the population covered, followed by the Americas region (59 per cent) and the Asia-Pacific region (42 per cent). Coverage reaches 12 per cent of the population in the Arab States region and less than 10 per cent in the CIS region (8 per cent) and Africa region (6 per cent).

“Ninety per cent of the world population is covered by 4G and where 5G is not available, this remains a very good alternative. However, 55 per cent of people without access to 4G live in low-income countries. Whereas 95 per cent of the population in high-income and middle-income countries is covered by 4G or above, the proportion drops to 39 per cent in low-income countries, where 3G remains the dominant technology, and often the only technology available to connect to the Internet.”

The trajectory of 5G expansion within the nation continues to lack momentum, highlighting the intricate hurdles accompanying the shift to next-generation networks. Despite this, statistics indicate the prevailing dominance of 2G subscriptions, comprising 57.78 per cent of connections as of January 2024. Africa, according to recent findings from the ITU, maintains the lowest 5G coverage globally, registering merely 6 per cent as of December 2023. This deficiency is attributed to the enduring prevalence of older mobile technologies, notably 2G and 3G networks, across the continent.

The ITU report underscores the sustained dependency on 2G and 3G networks in numerous African nations, including Nigeria, where they serve as a cost-effective avenue for delivering vital mobile services, particularly in areas lacking access to 4G and 5G networks. Global figures from 2022 revealed that approximately one-tenth of all connections worldwide utilised 5G technology, a proportion expected to exceed half by the decade’s end. However, regional discrepancies are anticipated, influenced by factors such as 5G infrastructure availability, network operator costs and handset accessibility, impacting consumer adoption rates.

Projections indicate that by 2030, North America, Developed Asia Pacific and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regions will likely surpass 90 per cent adoption, while Sub-Saharan Africa is forecasted to lag below 20 per cent. Nonetheless, there’s optimism regarding 5G’s potential to narrow the digital gap through fixed wireless access (FWA). Leveraging 5G networks, FWA services offer high-speed broadband in areas devoid of fixed infrastructure. By 2023, nearly a third of Middle East and Africa service providers had introduced 5G FWA services, indicating a potential avenue for connectivity expansion.

The Global System Mobile Association (GSMA) predicts that by 2025, 5G networks will envelop approximately one-third of the world’s population, heralding a profound impact on the mobile industry and its consumers. 5G signifies not just a new technological leap but the dawn of an era where connectivity becomes increasingly fluid and adaptable. These networks will dynamically adjust to applications, tailoring performance precisely to user needs. GSMA, collaborating closely with pioneering mobile operators in 5G, is actively engaging with governments and various vertical industries like automotive, finance, healthcare, transportation and utilities to foster business cases for 5G adoption.

The statistics surrounding 5G underscore its anticipated growth trajectory for both smartphone volume and chipset revenue. Major original equipment manufacturers are intensifying their efforts to secure patents in the race for dominance in the 5G landscape. Presently, there are hundreds of millions of 5G subscriptions globally, projected to soar to three billion by 2025, according to 5G Americas and Omdia (2021). As of April 2021, there were 683 total 5G and Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployments worldwide, with 135 5G networks conforming to 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards (5G Americas, 2020).

IDC (2021) reports that 5G smartphone shipments accounted for 40 per cent of global volume in 2021, expected to surge to 69 per cent by 2025. In the United States alone, 89.5 million 5G smartphone units were shipped in 2021, projected to reach 153.3 million units by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.6 per cent. Statista (2020) forecasts consumer electronics and automotive applications to each claim a 21.7 per cent share of 5G infrastructure by 2025, with industrial apps at 20.1 per cent and energy/utilities at 15.7 per cent.

The 5G chipset market experienced significant growth, reaching $3.55 billion in 2021 and projected to hit $22.86 billion by 2027, boasting a CAGR of 41 per cent (Statista, The Insight Partners). Samsung leads the US 5G smartphone market with a commanding 74 per cent share, trailed by LG at 15 per cent and OnePlus at 11 per cent. Huawei holds the largest share of 5G patents at 15.39 per cent, followed by Qualcomm (11.24 per cent), ZTE (9.81 per cent) and Samsung (6.7 per cent).

According to data from Bankr, global 5G coverage is set to skyrocket by 253.84 per cent over the next five years, with approximately 53 per cent of the global population, totaling 4.14 billion individuals, expected to have access to 5G technology by 2025.

Few regions are driving 5G technology uptake.

In 2021, approximately 1.95 billion people, or roughly 25 per cent of the global population, gained access to 5G network coverage. Over the subsequent two years, this figure surged to 2.5 billion, constituting 32 per cent of the world’s populace. By 2023, the 5G network had expanded its reach to encompass approximately 3.05 billion individuals, representing about 39 per cent of the global population. Projections indicate that by 2024, an estimated 3.6 billion people, or 46 per cent of the global population, will be utilising the 5G network.

Research suggests that the milestone of over one billion accessing 5G coverage in 2020 reflects a shared understanding and commitment to the technology among key stakeholders in recent years. However, the expansion of 5G coverage is primarily being propelled by select regions in Asia, the US and Europe. Other areas are still in the process of developing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate this advanced technology. Asia, in particular, stands out as a frontrunner in 5G adoption, owing to its rapid evolution in mobile broadband networks and smartphone usage, laying a robust foundation for widespread 5G adoption.

Sonny Aragba-Akpore
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