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As NCC Prepares Ground for 5G Deployment.

Amid widespread misconceptions, Emma Okonji examines the effort been made by the Nigerian Communications Commission to sensitising telecoms consumers on the benefits of 5G rollout

Riding on the crest of the support of the federal government through the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the NCC says it is determined to collaborate with necessary stakeholders across sectors to ensure that factors impeding faster deployment of broadband infrastructure and the adoption and deployment of new technologies like 5G, are tackled.

To this end, the NCC, last week, used the occasion of the second quarter 2021 meeting of the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), which held in Lagos, to sensitise telecoms industry consumers on the need for 5G deployment across the country, vis-a-vis its many benefits.

The need to sensitise telecoms consumers on the benefits of 5G rollout, is coming amid widespread misconceptions that 5G technology, as well as other emerging technologies, are capable of causing health hazards to humans like cancer and the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

5G Benefits

Addressing stakeholders and consumers at the ICAF meeting in Lagos, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, listed its benefits of 5G technology, and stressed the need for its deployment across the country.

Danbatta who was represented at the forum by the Director, Consumer Affairs Bureau at NCC, Mr. Efosa Idehen said the Fifth Generation Technology or 5G, as it is popularly called, remained one of the new technologies identified and regarded as a game changer.

“It is therefore appropriate to educate telecoms consumers on the theme: “Deployment of New Technology for Improved Consumer Experience; 5G Misconceptions and Conspiracy Theory, ”Danbatta said.

He explained that the advent and continuous evolvement of new technologies were driving a wide array of services in the global space.

“Digital technologies are ushering in new possibilities such as improved broadband services, smart cities evolution, financial services and inclusion, security, e-commerce, education, among others, which is increasing consumer expectation for new services and solutions to address some of the challenges of our daily lives, “Danbatta further said.

According to him, “The 5G communication technology is the next evolution of the mobile communications technology which is capable of creating new opportunities for growth in the economy by enabling new and dynamic business models and opening up new opportunities and markets. Not only this, it also provides tremendous improvements in interpersonal communications with several innovations and services.

“Technology has revolutionised our lives in recent decades. Excellent tools and resources are delivering helpful information at our fingertips. Computers, smartphones, smartwatches, and other technology-dependent devices are bringing multi-functional comfort and utility. Advancements in technology are making medical diagnostics more intelligent and user-friendly. Social apps and instant messaging have birthed a connected world as well as a global village.”

Danbatta who expressed satisfaction about how the ICT sector had been exemplary in advancing growth and development, said NCC had been consistent and profound in instituting regulatory measures that will promote 5G deployment.

5G Status

Giving the telecoms regulatory interventions and the current status in the planned deployment of 5G, Danbatta said in the last quarter of 2019, the NCC commenced the proof of concept trials of 5G in selected locations across the country to gain insight into the potential economic benefits as well as security and safety challenges that may be associated with deployment of 5G in the country.

“However, we are all witnesses to the widespread concerns that greeted this regulatory move by the government.

There were misconceptions, orchestrated misinformation and disinformation, in both online and historical media, linking 5G with COVID-19 pandemic and cancer. Based on the tension created, the government, in its wisdom, directed that a more robust investigation be carried out to ascertain the actual national security and health implications of 5G deployment on the people of Nigeria,” Danbatta said.

He further said investigations had so far been conducted and the outcome of the inquiry made public.

He also said the Senate has adopted recommendations of its joint committee, which was constituted last year to ascertain the technological impact of 5G deployment on Nigerian citizens.

According to him, “the Senate was convinced that the technological impact of 5G would transform the lives of Nigerians, in education, agriculture, security, entertainment, and indeed, in governance in general, when the technology is deployed. The Senate’s decision to recommend the deployment of the 5G technology was based on information provided by relevant government establishments, private sector organisations and industry experts who maintained that 5G poses no risks to human life.”

Danbatta said whilst the NCC deferred to counsel by observing the trend of 5G deployments around the globe before taking a plunge, as a responsible regulator, the NCC would continue to engage all stakeholders in extensive sensitisation through cross-media and multimedia channels before the commencement of commercial deployments of 5G in Nigeria.

“Objectively, we also expect various ongoing regulatory efforts at deepening broadband deployment to provide robust infrastructure that will trigger Nigeria’s ability to leverage the benefits of new technologies for the advancement of our digital economy, “Danbatta further said.

As a precursor to the commencement of commercial deployment of 5G network in the country, the NCC submitted a 5G Development Plan (5GDP) to the federal government for final approval towards effective deployment of the technology to cover major urban areas by 2025.

The Plan is to ensure efficient assignment of spectrum for deployment of 5G technology; create an enabling environment for investment in the industry; ensure the security of the 5G ecosystem and the protection of data; as well as ensure that international best practices and globally-accepted standards and specifications are entrenched in Nigeria’s 5G ecosystem.

Industry Position

Also speaking, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, who presented the keynote paper at the ICAF meeting, stated the telecoms industry position on 5G deployments, while discarding conspiracy theories on 5G rollout and the perceived fears as expressed by the public.
According to him, expert opinion issued by authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), Global System for Mobile Communications Africa (GSMA) and International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), have affirmed that base station signals and radiation are non-ionizing and do not pose a risk of predisposition to cancer or any other disease.

Adebayo cited the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which had earlier said there was limited evidence that radio frequency signals could cause cancer in humans.

“Wireless technologies operate in compliance with the 1998 guidelines of the ICNIRP and national regulations on limiting exposure to radio frequency in the interest of workers and the public. The 1998 ICNIRP guidelines were updated in 2020 and they address all frequencies used for mobile communications, including the frequencies used for 5G.

“More particularly, the updated ICNIRP guidelines show that the 1998 guidelines provide adequate protection against all known health effects of high frequency radiation with its limits to frequency range of 100 kHz – 300 GHz. 5G frequencies are below 1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz and therefore fall within these limits,” Adebayo said.

He explained that for frequencies above 6 GHz, the 2020 ICNIRP update provides additional guidelines and had introduced test methods to ensure compliance of 5G devices with its guidelines.

He however said despite this, it is still important to note that the final limits for radio frequency transmitting devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, intended for use by the public are unchanged below 6 GHz. He insisted that customers were already protected in this regard.

“Several authorities have also reiterated that there are no known health hazards associated with wireless technologies including 5G and continue to underline the proviso of safety offered by acceptable international guidelines issued by ICNIRP and affirmed by ICNIRP. For instance, the Ofcom in verifying whether 5G-enabled mobile base stations remained within the Electro Magnetic Frequency (EMF) limits set out by the ICNIRP, found that in all cases, the measured EMF levels from 5G-enabled mobile phone base stations are at small fractions of the levels identified in the ICNIRP guidelines, the highest level recorded being approximately 1.5 per cent of the relevant level, ”Adebayo added.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami had also reiterated that there were no health risks associated with the deployment of 5G. The NCC, in its three months approved trial-test for 5G conducted in November 2019, did not observe any health or safety challenges that may be posed by 5G.

Regulatory Roles

Adebayo, in his keynote, listed some regulatory roles of the NCC and the federal government in sensitising the consumer on the importance of 5G technology for organisational and national development.

According to him, the federal government, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and the NCC, have a responsibility to drive awareness on the benefits of the deployment of 5G.

“The awareness involves sensitisation of citizens through different platforms such as ICAF meetings. Collaboration between the health ministry and security agencies to facilitate this local sensitisation will be efficient in dispelling common myths associated with 5G deployment and is highly recommended. Awareness also involves that the federal government actively participate in regional and global engagements on the deployment of 5G to ensure that we stay abreast of developments and best practice, such as the 2020 updated guidelines of the ICNIRP.

“Enabling policy and regulatory frameworks dealing with lingering issues such as Right of Ways (RoWs), arbitrary taxation and protection of critical network infrastructure are also strongly recommended,” Adebayo said.

He added that MNOs must partner all stakeholders to address concerns raised by the public, adding that consumers must be encouraged to take advantage of the various engagement fora of ICAF meetings, targeted at sensitisation on 5G deployment.

This, he said, would ensure their questions are answered and their views taken into consideration in consultation and implementation.

Consumers’ View

Some telecoms consumers who attended the ICAF meeting, were convinced with the explanations that 5G would do more to boost consumer experience, but called for adequate protection of the consumers, through policy implementation.

The outgoing ICAF president, Prince Ighoovie Majemite, said: “Since the inception of ICAF in 2009, we have assisted NCC with many far-reaching recommendations that resulted in regulatory actions, which brought satisfaction to consumers and the industry. ICAF therefore expect NCC to continue to address the concerns of consumers, especially the 5G concerns and its perceived health risks.”

According to him, the emergence of new technologies, would increase consumer’s appetite for service, which he said, would call for more efforts from the telecommunitions industry to meet up with the capacity and the capability to handle these new challenges to achieve quality of service and better customer’s experience.

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