BY CHARLES ABUEDE
Nigeria’s race to achieve its fifth generation (5G) network broadband targets has been experiencing some setback in recent times and Segun Okuneye, divisional chief executive officer at ipNX Nigeria, has said that Nigeria requires additional 167,000 kilometres of fibre infrastructure to fulfil its target of 5G network and ubiquitous broadband.
Okuneye made this submission in Lagos recently when he telecoms stakeholders at a forum dedicated to the National Policy on the Fifth Generation Network for Nigeria’s Digital Economy, where he also stated that to meet the current broadband targets and those of the future with advanced connectivity such as the 5G network, “the nation needs between 120,000 to 167,000 kilometres of fibre infrastructure, in addition to the existing 55,000 km.”
He noted that the critical link between undersea cables that convey huge connectivity capacity into the country and the end users is the fibre sub-sector. And so, “Nigeria needs three times more fibre infrastructure than it currently has to attain about 90 percent broadband penetration among others by 2025,” he said while stressing that backhauling is a major dependent requirement to express the inherent value from the 5th generation network.
This, according to him, is required for accessing traffic aggregation, which involves capacity and scalability, as well as transportation in high-speed, low latency, high quality that guarantees reliability.
“Increased speeds with lower attenuation, immunity to electromagnetic interference, small size, and virtually unlimited bandwidth potential are among the many reasons why fibre is the right choice when compared to other backhauling technologies,” he said.
As much as the ipNX boss underscored the key roles of fibre in 5G deployment, he also identified potential challenges to successful Role-Out of 5G, from fibre perspective. He bemoaned low levels of Fiber Optic Infrastructure, noting that nationally, fibre optic cable infrastructure deployment is insufficient and mostly available in a few cities and urban areas.
Factors contributing to this, according to him, include the issues of vandalism and damage to existing fibre infrastructure from road construction. He further listed Right of Way (RoW), as a long-standing challenge to telecoms infrastructure roll-out over the years and stated that high RoW fees continue to hinder the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure in Nigeria.
“The proposed Unified RoW is yet to be accepted by several states and their agencies, and as they continue to administer RoW differently with financial demands, this poses major challenges to operators’ roll out plans. This is in addition to the divergent policies and inability to obtain RoW permits from the various states,” he lamented.
Okuneye also identified access to forex as another cog in the wheel of fibre roll-out for 5G and ubiquitous broadband. He noted that the telecoms industry in Nigeria relies heavily on foreign equipment manufacturers and imported technical expertise for deployment and maintenance of networks.
“The cost and process of accessing forex still remain a major challenge to the fibre sub-sector operators, and this could further create a setback for 5G deployment. In addition, operators are still experiencing security challenges, sometimes leading to the temporary shutdown of telecom services – caused by infrastructure vandalism, thefts, and community issues. Hence, security will continue to be a challenge if not effectively tackled,” he said.
Thinking ahead, Okuneye stressed that it is important to lay fibre now to potential small and macro cells, wherever and whenever possible and existing cell sites, as he further called for innovative regulations and stakeholder management, adding that multiple taxation and duties should also be addressed to relieve their impacts on importation of passive and active infrastructure.
He said: “Therefore, the fibre platform and sub-sector operators will continue to play an important role in 5G implementation. The platform will be a key driver to enjoy the intended gain of the Digital Economy and Transformation in Nigeria and to attain the goal of the National Broadband Plan.
“The fibre sub-sector operators in Nigeria are in dire need of government intervention to address the myriad of challenges facing the sector such as high interest rates, limited access to foreign exchange, high taxation, steep cost of Right-of-Way permits, denial of permits for infrastructure roll-out, damage to infrastructure, unstable power supply and others. The application of interventionist policies will further help the fibre sub-sector to effectively play its role in the successful implementation of 5G in Nigeria. This is a critical preparatory step if these cell sites are to be upgraded to 5G in the coming years,” he concluded.