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Tech experts decry continued 2G network in rural areas

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By Prince Osuagwu, Hi-Tech Editor & Emmanuel Elebeke

•Recommend TV white spaces for faster rural broadband connection
•NCC, NBC mull policy framework, target 56% rural population with TVWS

The journey of trying to achieve deeper broadband penetration in Nigeria started about 12 years ago with Wire Nigeria, WIN project.

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The project which kicked off in 2010 was aimed at providing nationwide fibre optic transmission infrastructure to facilitate upgrading of information and communication across the country.

It was followed by State Accelerated Broadband Initiative, SABI and Rural Urban Broadband Initiative, RUBI, programmes championed by the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF, to accelerate broadband penetration across the country.

However, 12 years after, Nigeria still gropes in the dark in terms of rural broadband penetration.

Information and Communications Technology industry stakeholders say it may not be unconnected with over concentration of broadband penetration activities in urban centres and cities by operators.

For many of them, this runs contrary to the prescriptions of the Nigerian Broadband Plan which was primarily designed to allow individuals access the internet to increase efficiency, become more productive and increase prosperity.

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They advocated a total focus on rural areas with the aim of doing away with 2G presence, and deploying 3G, 4G and 5G through the use of TV white spaces to make consumer experience in such areas, real.

TV white space

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, in collaboration with the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, has agreed to develop a framework for the use of television white space, TVWS technology to extend affordable rural connectivity to Nigerians.

The initiative followed approval for the use of the TVWS technology by the National Frequency Management Council, NFCM recently.

TVWS is the vacated analogue spectrum in the broadcasting band left by broadcasters who migrated to the digital broadcasting platform.

The spectrum can be used to deliver affordable broadband services in the rural communities, thereby bridging rural-urban digital divide.

In Nigeria, TVWS is being deployed to extend connectivity to over 56 per cent of Nigerians living in rural areas.

The development occasioned a one day stakeholders’ forum organised by the NCC to discuss modalities for the policy framework.

Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, revealed that the government has approved the use of TVWS so as to “extend broadband internet coverage, especially to rural communities and other far-flung communities and increase broadband penetration in Nigeria.”

Already, pilots, through proof of concepts, PoCs, have been conducted to confirm the suitability of TVWS in delivering rural connectivity in terms of coverage and quality of service.

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Also speaking, the Executive Vice-Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who was represented by the Director, Spectrum Administration of NCC, Engr. Austin Nwaulune, said the quest to achieving the rural connectivity goal has led the Commission to embark on several initiatives.

He said: “NCC takes the connectivity of every Nigerian irrespective of where he or she resides, very importantly. So, what we do is to look out for technology that fits into making this happen for us. TVWS is one of such technologies because it is coming to utilise the spectrum in the lower megahertz band and as it is, the spectrum is very good because it propagates very far.

“You need less number of base stations to deliver services on TVWS and the fact that rural communities are very challenging does not mean that people in those communities should not be connected, hence the use of this innovative technology,” he said.

Danbatta implored the stakeholders at the forum to guide and advise the Commission towards drafting a regulatory framework to have TVWS spaces provided to deliver rural connectivity.

Also a Director from the NBC, Engr. Victoria Ekeh, who represented the Director-General of the Commission, Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, enjoined stakeholders to make valuable suggestions and inputs that would help the NCC in coming up with a framework that addresses interference issues in the use of TVWS.

“NBC will continue to support the TVWS initiative provided adequate measures would be put in place to prevent harmful interferences to the broadcasters using the spectrum band,” he said.

President of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola said for the country to succeed in deepening broadband penetration through TVWS, it must have to remove the frustration of accessing internet through 2G network in rural areas.

Teniola said: “The issue is that technology has converged but regulatory approach is still in silos. We have NBC under the Ministry of Information; NCC under the Communications Ministry, no ministry can tell the other what to do.We cannot achieve growth with the status quo, so we need to change things.

CEO, Micro Boss Technologies, Lawrence, Olawalero said government need to put proper policy, regulation and possibly legislation that will help in the deployment of TV White Space technology in the states to make the necessary investments for easy broadband deployment.

He also canvassed provision of subsidy or tax exemption for  service providers, to make the companies playing in the sector feel encouraged and cushion the losses they may incur going into such low business areas

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