MTN, Airtel want 5G licence fee slashed

5G phone masts are being set alight in the UK, after online conspiracy theories have misleadingly linked the cell towers to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wireless operators want a reduction in the reserve price the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has fixed for licensing at an upcoming key auction expected to set in motion the launch of 5G technology in Nigeria.

The price, which is in the neighbourhood of N75 billion ($197.4 million), will be adopted for the bid round, said Oluwatoyin Asaju, director of NCC’s spectrum administration unit, in Lagos at a consultative session for an industry think tank on Thursday.

Africa’s most populous country is ramping up efforts to widen broadband access in its citizenry and has revealed a grand ambition to hit a target of 90 per cent by 2023 even though penetration is still mid-way through at 45 per cent.

More than three out of every five Nigerians are aged 35 years and below, and substantially digitally enabled, making the prospect of massive acceptance of IT services particularly promising for its estimated 216 million people.

MTN Nigeria recommended the reserve price be lowered to $50 million during deliberations on the draft information memorandum, also requesting an extension of the licence validity period to 20 years from the proposed 10 years.

Its rival Airtel made a similar call for a downward review of the cost of licensing, citing current economic realities in the business environment.

“5G technology does not only offer enhanced broadband and ultra-reliable low latency communications,” said Umar Garba Danbatta, the chief executive officer of NCC, who joined the talk virtually.

“It also provides massive machine-type communications, where lots of devices will seamlessly connect and interact independently with the Internet without human intervention,” Mr Dandatta added.

Stakeholders said the success of the initiative will hinge on making the process competitive.

The 3.5 GHz spectrum auction requires an initial bid deposit equivalent to 10 per cent of the reserve price from interested firms.

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