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Why MTN is investing in 3G alongside 4G, 5G technology — Mohammed Rufai

Article Summary

  • MTN’s CTO said the company has continued to invest in 3G even while expanding 5G because many of its subscribers are still on the lower technology.
  • He disclosed that MTN has now expanded 5G coverage to 13 cities from 7 announced at the launch last year.
  • The CTO believes that Nigeria is faring well in broadband penetration compared to other countries as over 79% of the population now has 4G coverage.

The Chief Technical Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mohammed Rufai, has said that MTN continues to invest in 3G technology because many Nigerians are yet to upgrade their devices to use 4G or 5G.

Speaking in a chat with TheTimes, Rufai said some of its subscribers are still on 2G and 3G devices and the telco would not want to cut any of them off by shutting down the old technologies.

Unlike the practice in other climes where the lower technologies are shut down because of the deployment of 5G, the MTN CTO said the telecom operator would not be in a rush to shut down 2G and 3G.

Against the backdrop of its recent renewal of 3G service for another 15 years, for which the company paid N58.7 billion, Rufai said the 3G spectrum can also be converted to provide 4G and 5G service when 3G is shut down in the future.

Subscribers on 2G, 3G

Explaining why the technology company is committing resources to maintain its 3G network, Rufai said:

  • “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.”

5G now in 13 cities

Speaking on the progress made by the company in 5G service expansion, the CTO said MTN has now rolled out the service in 6 more cities after the initial 7 at the launch in September last year. This brings the total number of cities with 5G networks to 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.

What 5G can be used for and what it can do, we have gone ahead and rolled out in several parts of the country, and that rollout is continuing.

  • “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.

Broadband penetration in Nigeria

On the state of broadband penetration in Nigeria, Rufai said the country is doing well compared to other markets where MTN has operations as the larger parts of the country now have 4G coverage.

Citing MTNS technology coverage as an instance, he said 90% of Nigeria’s population has 2G technology, while over 83% of the population has 3G coverage. He said 4G coverage has reached over 79% of Nigerians and it is still growing.

  • “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.

Although 5G licence has been issued to 3 telecoms operators in Nigeria, MTN is currently the only company providing 5G service in Nigeria.

While Mafab Communications was issued the licence alongside MTN in December 2021, the company is yet to begin commercial rollout of the service. Airtel, the third operator got its licence this January and it is expected to roll out the service any moment from now.

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