By Emeka Aginam

By the time the just concluded Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) consultative forum on Nigerian microwave frequency was drawing to a close recently in Lagos, telecoms operators, equipment vendors and stakeholders in the Nigerian market were worried saying that except increased co-location and review frequency price were given a priority attention, quality of service will remain at low ebb.

Apart from many topics including challenges and principles of microwave frequency management, issues, deployment, impediments, planning, trends, legal and regulatory fragment among others that were discussed at the forum, participants also called for all inclusive industry-wide frequency-use Committee and and carefully managed expansion of virtual private network operations in the country.

At the event that offered a unique opportunity for quality and innovative exchange of ideas as well as solutions on the challenges of microwave frequency deployment, co-ordination and general management of this scarce resource, the Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Johnson Omobola who was represented by the former Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC) Engr. Ernest Ndukwe told the gathering in his address that with emerging technologies, the Commission was inundated with several requests for microwave frequencies on a regular basis with divergent pre-position on deployments.

*From left: Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu, F. A Akiode, Nigerian Communications Commission, (NCC), and Chairman, Openmedia Communications and x-EVC of NCC Eng Ernest Ndukwe, during the recent forum on Microwave Frequency, in Lagos. Photo: Emeka Aginam.

Given the infrastructural challenges in the country, the Minister was apprehensive saying that when all methods of sharing and coordination were exhausted and the requests still keep coming for the same resource, what next?

In no distance future according to the Minister, the industry predicts the development and deployment of more multifunction, multi-standard , smart, configurable and frequency-agile microwave systems on a chip.

“Advances in microwave power devices will also continue with the growing number of innovative energy efficient semi-conductors which are repacing older devices with evr-higher power levels and improved efficiency.

“All these researches developments are of particular interest to us especially with Nigeria’s lack of a robust wire line infrastructure that may have addressed substantial portion of requests for microwave frequencies” she explained.

Review of frequency price:

While the operators cry on high cost of procuring frequencies at N18,000 per link, Nduwke in his remarks told operators to make a formal request to the regulatory authority as in review of frequency price based best international practice.

“There is no point agitating from time to time without formal request. The operators should come together, put up a formal request to the Commission for a review of frequency price to address the current challenges. That is the next way to go about. NCC is a listening Commission” Ndukwe, who is the Chief executive Officer of Open Media told the gathering.

Supporting Ndukwe’s call for official proposal for frequency review, the Manager, Transmission Planning, (Microwave) Olatoyo Olalere in his pepper titled, Microwave Frequency Infrastructure Sharing: Etisalat perspective proposed possibility of of reduction in the microwave spectrum charges using a new pricing formula.

According to him, the current price per link of N18,000 should be reduced to N10,000 for the purpose of economy of scale by operators.

MVNO as option:

He added that if NCC fees, levies were reduced, different business models could be introduced to encourage Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) in Nigeria where MVNO operators will lease capacity from mobile network, charge their consumers to use the services they provide and pay the operator to use their network and then keep the difference.

He was optimistic that NCC can even realize money money by the taxes to be received from MVNO operators, adding that this will present a win win scenario for the NCC, the mobile operators and the subscribers.

Proposal to NCC

Allocation of 56MHz channels for frequencies which enable higher throughput per transmission system, allocating upper 6 frequencies to mobile operators, allocation of 28MHz channels for 15GHz and 14GHz FOR 23ghz frequencies, among operators by NCC, policies to encourage Mobile Virtual Network Operators MVNO by NCC, according to Olalere were among the proposals by Etisalat on microwave frequencies sharing.

Challenges in frequencies sharing

Although both operators and vendors at the forum believed that sharing of infrastructure will reduce cost, but Olalere said that lack of existing nationwide fibre optics by NITEL or a national carrier which has increased the use of microwave radios had made sharing of microwave spectrum difficult.

According to him, insufficient frequency spectrum available for the large number of operators existing and still existing, lack of information and access to frequency spectrum allocated to operators by the NCC, that is to say, what frequency band , channels, were allocated to which operator and the geographical regions they were permitted to use them were part of the major challenges that need to be addressed in frequency sharing in the Nigerian environment.

Sharing the view of Olalere, the Senior Solution Manager, IP and Broadband at Ericson, Madnet Akeen noted that unless appropriate tools as a solution to Microwave Radio was applied, much may not be achieved in deploying microwave frequencies.

For Akeen, the regulatory authority must also address the issue of setting of definite timeline for resolving interference issues.

She said that active infrastructure sharing, limited to antena, feeder cable, radio access and transmission systems should permuted by the regulatory agency as a way forward.

In the opinion of Pradhlad Singh of Huawei Technologies while dwelling on overcoming the challenges of microwave radio deployment, the regulatory agency must force operators upgrade to more efficient equipment in order to save spectrum and minimize interference.

According to him, more spectrum should be opened to operators to support the capacity of operations, adding that reviewing of spectrum price was inevitable if Nigeria must join the rest of the world to reap the benefits of telecommunication.

Guiding regulations

Speaking on th guiding legislation on frequency allocation and management, the Head, Spectrum Administration, NCC, Engr. Austine Nwauluna assured that the the Commission was guided by the provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act.

Pursuant to sections 123 (2) and 33(3), he said that the Commission at different times has applied various licensing mechanisms including first come first served, auction, beauty contest /comparative, administrative / fixed price, among others.

Administrative spectrum allocations

In further clarifying issues in spectrum, he informed that there were more allocations awarded administratively (without an auction process) than those awarded by way of auctions.

The objectives of the frequency management policy, according to him, was to control and encourage the use of spectrum, an instrument for developing telecommunications, to promote competition in the assignment of frequency in order to ensure innovative and efficient use of the radio spectrum and to achieve optimum pricing of spectrum in order to discourage wastage of the scarce resources.

Similarly, former Executive Commissioner of NCC, S.A Bello while fielding questions from news men on frequency allocation guidelines explained that forces of demand supply were the main determinate o frequency auction.

According to him, some frequencies allocated were done without auction process include, adding that NCC has been transparent in the frequency processes.

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