Fourth-Generation (4G) mobile network coverage in Nigeria currently hovers around 37 per cent, amid demand for improved and ubiquitous telephony services.
4G is the fourth generation of broadband cellular network technology, succeeding 3G, and preceding 5G.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), in the Draft Consultation Document for the Deployment of 5G Mobile Technology in Nigeria, disclosed that as at December 2019, coverage data showed that most rural areas only have access to 89.8 per cent 2G networks coverage, while 3G has coverage of over 74 per cent.
NCC said the data-centric 4G had only about 37 per cent of the population of the country covered at the same time, with less than 10 per cent connections leading to mobile Internet penetration of about 32 per cent.
While making case for the deployment of new technology, NCC said 5G can increase broadband delivery while lowering the price of broadband due to the large bandwidths available to the standard.
Findings by The Guardian showed that as at beginning of the year, MTN improved its 4G coverage to 48 per cent of the country’s population, compared to 44 per cent by the end of 2018. But national operator, Globacom claimed availability of its 4G LTE services in the 36 states of the federation. Besides, Globacom said the service is also available in over 200 tertiary institutions, thus confirming it as the network with the widest LTE coverage in the country.
As of February, 9mobile added 10 new cities and towns across the country to its 4G network and upgraded LTE services in the existing six cities, increasing the number of cities and towns enjoying its services with mass deployment of 4G technology to 16.
To boost its 4G coverage in the country, Airtel, which has close to 80 cities covered, announced in March, that it has completed the acquisition of an additional 10MHz block of spectrum, to help it boost 4G coverage in Nigeria.
Airtel Africa confirmed that it paid a total of $94 million for the 10MHz block of spectrum in the 900MHz band, purchased from Intercellular Nigeria Limited.
The additional spectrum will help Airtel Africa ramp up its 4G services in Africa’s largest telecoms market.
The Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Africa, Raghunath Mandava reportedly outlined plans to sell approximately 4,500 towers in five countries, in a move aimed to narrow down its $3.5 billion debt and prepare for upcoming bond repayments.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Mandava was cited as stating the operator looked to divest tower assets in Chad, Gabon, Madagascar, Malawi, and Tanzania.
He said Airtel continually looks to reduce its debt and aims to do so in a quick manner by agreeing on tower deals, and planned to lease back its masts assets from the buyers.
Mandava said the company had already managed to cut down debt after listing in Nigeria, and on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) in 2019.
In its latest yearly report, released at the end of last month, the operator said its net debt stood at $3.5 billion, significantly down from $7.7 billion at the end of 2018.
It needs to repay €750 million ($890 million) in May 2021 and repay $505 million in March 2023.
Meanwhile, the 2019 Subscriber/Network Data Report showed that the volume of data consumed by subscribers increased from 68,154.12TB in December 2018 to 125,149.86TB as of December 2019, indicating a percentage increase of 83.62 per cent year-on-year.
NCC explained that the increase in data usage is directly linked to the increased Broadband penetration in Nigeria within the year.
The Commission explained that it provided the necessary regulatory support for operators to implement the various initiatives within the year that increased data usage in the country.
In terms of the sector’s infrastructure, NCC said as, at 2019, there were 58,755 BTS and co-location towers in the country. The Commission put Microwave coverage at 302,036.56km with 124 Gateways in use by the industry. NCC said fibre optics cable deployment stood at 104,379.32km (82,585.32km of terrestrial fibre and 21,812km submarine cable).
The Commission listed five states as having the highest number of telecom towers in Nigeria. They are Lagos 9,860; Ogun 3398; Rivers 3329; FCT 3034; and Oyo 2842. However, states with the least number of BTS are Jigawa 316; Yobe 422; Zamfara 434; Gomber 521, and Kebbi 561.
NCC said the number of existing base stations invariably affects the quality of service thereby positively impacting the level of telephone penetration within the nation, which equates to attracting foreign investment and growth in the telecoms industry.