MTN Nigeria's CTO, Mohammed Rufai, emphasizes the company's ongoing investment in 3G technology due to a considerable number of Nigerians who haven't upgraded to 4G or 5G devices. Rufai acknowledges that a portion of their subscribers still rely on 2G and 3G devices, and MTN is committed to ensuring uninterrupted service by refraining from discontinuing these older technologies.
Differing from practices in other regions where lower technologies are phased out with the introduction of 5G, MTN's CTO expressed that the telecom operator won't hastily shut down 2G and 3G networks. In light of the recent 15-year renewal of 3G service, requiring a substantial investment of N58.7 billion, Rufai highlighted the potential for converting the 3G spectrum to support 4G and 5G services once 3G is eventually retired.
Investment in 3G Technology to Cater to Subscribers
In elaborating on the technology company's dedication to sustaining its 3G network, Rufai clarified:
“The fact that we are going to 5G does not mean we will not cater to the needs of subscribers that require the lower technology. As you are aware, devices have to be compatible with 5G for them to be used. We have many subscribers in Nigeria that have 2G and 3G devices, and we will continue to cater to the needs of those subscribers.”
“So, while we are investing in new technology, we must also maintain the other technologies that are needed by the people that use them and the people that don’t yet have the devices for the newer technologies. This is the reason why we are still investing in and expanding on the old technologies, and also because the spectrum, the license allocated by NCC, and the network resources that are used for 3G can also be used on other technologies in the future, so the investment is still usable for the higher technologies when the devices are ready.”
Expansion of 5G Services to Additional Cities
Regarding the advancements made in the expansion of 5G services, the CTO highlighted that MTN has successfully introduced this service to an additional six cities, following the initial launch in seven cities back in September of the previous year. As a result, the total count of cities equipped with 5G networks now reaches a sum of 13.
“Following the approval of the NCC, we rolled out initially in seven cities, but now we are in 13 cities and over 700 sites in Nigeria. We had the launch event in Lagos, where we demonstrated the use cases.”
“So, right now, we are in 13 cities (Lagos, FCT, Owerri, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Abeokuta, Shagamu, Ifo, Warri, Enugu, Benin City, Kano, Port Harcourt etc) and are still expanding. Nigerians are already enjoying the benefits of 5G,” he said.
Progress in Broadband Penetration and Coverage
Regarding the status of broadband penetration in Nigeria, Rufai expressed that the country is making notable progress in comparison to other markets where MTN operates, with a substantial portion of the nation now benefiting from 4G coverage.
Using MTN's technology coverage as an example, he stated that 90% of Nigeria's population is covered by 2G technology, while over 83% of the population has access to 3G networks. Furthermore, the coverage of 4G has extended to over 79% of Nigerians and continues to expand.
“Each subscriber has their own needs. Some only need 3G; some subscribers will move to 4G. Even though there are significant benefits to moving to higher technology in terms of speed and latency, we try to cater to the needs of everyone. So, devices are one of the main factors in moving to higher technology, and we’re moving quickly.”
“I believe Nigeria is not behind, and we are moving into higher technologies that will provide a more efficient network over time. But there are a lot of engagements in terms of creating awareness about the benefits of higher technologies. The government is also playing a key role in creating this awareness, the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and the NCC, and there are many other players involved in improving device penetration so that people can get the benefits of this technology,” he said.
5G License Issuance and MTN's Role as the Sole Provider
Despite the issuance of 5G licenses to three telecommunications operators in Nigeria, MTN currently stands as the sole provider of 5G service in the country.
While Mafab Communications was granted the license alongside MTN in December 2021, they have yet to commence the commercial rollout of the service. As for Airtel, the third operator to receive its license in January, it is anticipated that they will launch their 5G service imminently.