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Nigeria becomes first west African country to taste 5G, as MTN starts trials of super fast network

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MTN commenced its 5G network trial in Abuja, Nigeria today, making the country the first to do so in West Africa.

Beyond Abuja, MTN will also be conducting network trials in two other locations in Nigeria: Calabar and Lagos. The network testing in Abuja is powered by Huawei. Calabar and Lagos are powered by ZTE and Ericson respectively.

Speaking during the trial in Abuja, former Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Executive Vice Chairman, Ernest Ndukwe, who is also Chair of MTN Nigeria — expressed his delight on the fact that Nigeria is one of the countries championing 5G trial on the continent.

According to MTN officials, 5G requires huge infrastructure investment and government needs to play a strong role with respect to regulations and infrastructure development.

Speaking at the trial in Abuja, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami pointed out that the federal government understood that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is one of the critical sectors of the economy.

To this effect, he said, government was working on an executive order to address critical national telecoms infrastructure.

The minister acknowledged the delay in getting approval from the regulatory authority. In spite of this, he looks forward to a successful deployment of the network.

During a comparison test on both 4G and 5G networks, it took just 15.78 seconds to download a 2.3 GB video on the 5G network. The same file on 4G took exactly 5 minutes, 3.84 seconds.

While download speed on the 5G network was about 1 Gbps, it can apparently go as high as 4.1 Gbps.
Dolapo Adeniji-Adele, RF Technical Specialist at MTN, pointed out that factors like server as well as devices contribute to how high the download speed can be.

Unlike fibre optic that requires laying cables, 5G infrastructure basically works on cloud-based architecture.

For the trial, MTN secured a 100 MHz spectrum in Calabar and 20 MHz in Abuja. As, expected this resulted in a significant difference between the Internet speed tests in Abuja and Calabar.

While 5G has the Internet speed advantage, voice calls are expected to continue to be a key medium of revenue for MTN.

In a demo, a voice call over 5G connected in under 2 seconds.

There’s the worry on the level of penetration of 5G-enabled devices, but with a customer premises equipment (CPE), people will be able to experience the fifth generation network at home and on any device, irrespective of whether the device is 5G or even 2G-enabled. All that’s needed for connection is a device that has a WiFi capability.

Use cases for 5G
“5G offers tremendous benefits in terms of speed, latency (less delays), efficiency and security. This pilot offers a unique opportunity for us to explore use-cases and applications in Nigeria, and we are excited about its potential for our country and our company” noted Mohammed Rufai, Chief Technical officer, MTN Nigeria.

In a live demo to showcase the relatively low latency of the 5G network, an artificial intelligence goalkeeper responded faster to a penalty kick on 5G than when on a 4G network.

All the goalkeeper relied on was communication from a sensor on the trajectory of the ball. Because of the comparatively lower latency on 5G, the goalkeeper was able to react quicker.

This projects a promising future for sectors like telemedicine, where a surgeon can remotely operate on a patient using robotic hands.

In another live demo, MTN Nigeria’s Chief Transformation Officer, Bayo Adekanmbi chatted live with the Minister and his delegates through a hologram, demonstrating the use of fast Internet speed for remote meetings or live performances by artistes.

Regardless of the successful 5G trial, MTN is not abandoning older generation cellular networks any time soon. According to a top executive, they will continue to roll-out 3G and 4G networks across the country for the next few years.

The 5G demo centres in Abuja, Calabar and Lagos will continue to run for 3 months until the trial spectrum is approved by the NCC.

First 5G call in South Africa
MTN and Chinese telecommunications company ZTE had successfully showcased Africa’s first live video call using the operator’s 5G network technology at AfricaCom 2019 in Cape Town.

The companies used the opportunity to sign a memorandum of understanding dedicating both businesses to collaboration around 5G innovation, device and network implementation, and to develop further use-cases.

ZTE senior vice-president Jerry Zhou and MTN SA chief technology officer Giovanni Chiarelli were joined by deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana in the 5G call.