By Olayinka Ajayi
Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, in this interview, says 5G phone technology has nothing to do with coronavirus.
Is there any correlation between the 5G technology launched in some countries and the spread of coronavirus?
Government doesn’t take decisions based on speculation but based on facts and figures and advice we get from experts. It is because of this that when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, we discouraged people from talking unnecessarily to allow only experts in the area to speak so that, from what they say, we would know what to do.
So what have you found out from what they have said?
We had a demo trial in 2019. First, it was supposed to be conducted in September 2019 but I directed the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to push it further so that we could accommodate all stakeholders in the team. We now had the trial in November 2019 and it was witnessed by stakeholders and institutions.
After the trial, we challenged the stakeholders and institutions to review what they saw and come up with recommendations. Those recommendations will guide government in its decisions to go ahead or not with the 5G technology. Let me emphasise that those recommendations would be accommodated in the regulatory instrument to be developed by the NCC. The trial has been concluded since and the NCC has been working on the report. But the report is yet to get to my table. I will be the last person to receive the report in the ICT sector. So when the report gets to me, we will review it and make our decision based on it.
Based on terminal diseases alleged to be caused by 5G, were health experts in the team that witnessed the trial?
We always take decisions based on experts’ advice. Secondly, when it comes to health, we have the World Health Organisation and many health bodies which have made their positions public about 5G as they relate to COVID-19. I am yet to see WHO, a body that parades health experts globally, to publicly speak on health hazards of 5G. The letters I personally sent from my office are up to 16 institutions and I directed NCC to send to others. We have the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, I challenge you to let me know any ICT professional body that conducted a research and stated that coronavirus has anything to do with 5G.
So, no licence has been given for 5G in Nigeria?
First, I am the Chairman of the Frequency Management Council, a body that gives spectrum for radio and television through NCC and NBC. And we have never discussed the issue of giving spectrum to either NCC or NBC. Second, based on the report I received from NCC, they have never given license for 5G in Nigeria. That decision would be taken based on experts’ advice.
Third, the demo trial conducted in November 2019 was not on 5G. MTN did the trial, and they did it within the 4G spectrum and not 5G and government doesn’t acquire infrastructure for telecom; when you want to do a trial, you must involve operators.
So, based on the report from NCC, they only used the 4G spectrum. Because of this, Nigerians should not be worried because no license for 5G has been issued, no equipment for 5G has been procured and there is no approval from any operator to deploy 5G.
Decision will be taken after research and we are taking our time. Many countries have not even deployed 5G; US, UK, Germany, South-Korea and many more haven’t deployed the technology. But there are African countries like South Africa which have deployed the 5G technology. Even Uganda and Kenya are waiting to deploy 5G.
But in Nigeria, we are taking our time because of the need to protect the lives of our citizens which is high on the agenda of President Muhamadu Buhari; we are more interested in intensive investigation so that we would be able to come up with something tangible.
So where does 5G fall in Nigeria?
What I am trying to tell you is that no 5G spectrum has been allocated to anyone for now. It has not been deliberated upon but if you are talking about 4G, 3G, we already have it in Nigeria.