Nwaulune: We need more spectrum allocation from ITU

Austine Nwaulune

Director of Spectrum Administration at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Austine Nwaulune, in this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, spoke on spectrum management, administration and how the commission has been able to boost government coffers with attendant revenues.

What are the new developments in spectrum administration in the country?

SPECTRUM management in Nigeria is improving and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is doing everything possible to ensure effective regulations.

As part of measures targeted at improving that space, the commission has introduced spectrum trading to the industry through the guidelines, which are on the commission’s website.

NCC has also opened up the 60GHz spectrum to license exempt use. There is also the publication of guidelines on short-range devices.

We have active infrastructure sharing; national roaming initiatives and we are finalising development of commercial communications guidelines for the communication sector.

There is the belief that spectrum is scarce, and that operators do not have enough of it to rollout their telecoms services. Is spectrum what can be sourced from ITU?

It is true that spectrum is scarce and the operators need spectrum to rollout services. It is also true that it is the duty of the regulator to seek for more spectrum allocation from ITU.

The international forum to seek for spectrum allocation is the World Radio communication Conferences (WRC), which are held every three to four years.

It is the job of WRC to review, and, if necessary, revise the radio regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits.

Revisions are made on the basis of an agenda determined by the ITU Council, which takes into account, recommendations made by previous world radio communication conferences.

Member countries attend WRC to also seek for additional spectrum for their countries, and Nigeria is not an exception because we have done it in the past.

So, what we go there to do is to ensure that the particular spectrum, which is like a pool for several countries, is properly harmonised for all countries in a particular region.

We have three ITU regions and if any spectrum is adopted in any region, countries within that region will share it and this will enhance economy of scale within countries in that region, which will lead to a reduction in the cost of spectrum.

Some quarters believe that spectrum fees in the country are the highest in Africa. Explain the circumstances behind cost and allocation?

The commission has not received any memorandum from industry players on that opinion.

In explaining the issue of cost, fees are determined based on the economics of the spectrum such as propagation, available bandwidth, equipment availability, harmonisation and the service for which the spectrum will be used for.

The commission is considering a review of the spectrum fees.

In auctions, bidders determine the final price outcome NCC is saddled with the responsibility of managing spectrum, but lately, operators are abusing spectrum usage in the country.

For instance, why will an operator hold on to a spectrum without utilising it as planned?

Is this not an offence? If it is, what is NCC doing to address this issue?

You are right, spectrum is licensed with a use it or lose it condition. With the introduction of spectrum trading, there is now provision to trade it.

The commission will soon enforce those provisions on the few operators in this category.

Do spectrum licences have lifespan, or are they something that operators could buy and hold on to them permanently?

As a regulator that is mindful of technology evolution and changes, we do not give out spectrum licences for permanent sale, the reason being that technology is changing.

So, what we do is to fix a time limit for all spectrum licences, which makes them have a lifespan of between 10 to 15 years, depending on the type of spectrum.

After the lifespan and timeline, the regulator will decide whether to allow the operator to renew it or not.

There are two categories of spectrum licence: the ones that could be harmonised and the ones that could not be harmonised.

Some are proprietary in nature and people think they are dormant and not in use, but they are actually being put to use in different ways.

Its 18 years into the telecommunications revolution, how much has the Federal Government realised in the auctioning of spectrum to operators?

By the last count, NCC had realised and remitted over N400b spectrum fees to government coffers.

Can you explain the relationship between Internet development and spectrum allocation?

There is no direct relationship between Internet development and spectrum allocation. However, wireless Internet can only be provided using the spectrum.

The larger the chunk of spectrum allocated, the broader the wireless Internet that can be delivered.

Wireless broadband Internet depends on broadband width of spectrum used for its delivery.

When is the NCC going to auction the remainder of the 2.6GHz spectrum, part of which MTN got?

There is no timetable yet for the licensing of the remainder of the 2.6GHz spectrum.

The market is still being evaluated. Recall that the turnout at its last auction was very low. The remaining three slots are available for any interested applicant.

What has the NCC done with the issues raised by stakeholders during the public forum after the auction of 2.6GHz, which recorded low patronage?

The public forum was a post-mortem of the licensing round. The public opinion gathered in the forum is guiding our further dealings on the licensing of the reaming portion of the band.

MTN said it needed the 800MHz of Visafone to expand and drive broadband penetration.

What is NCC’s position on this going by mounting opposition from other telecom operators that it should not be released to the South African-owned telecommunications firm?

The commission is still considering the issue. The industry will be guided immediately a decision is reached. As you may recall, the commission recently held a public enquiry on it.

Some operators appear to be yearning for the 700MHz. So, would there still be an auction this year?

There is no auction planned for this year. Apart from the 2.6 GHz spectrum, there is no other spectrum available this year for auctioning.

Nigeria, almost on a yearly basis, attends the ITU Telecom World Conference to woo investors. To what extent has this added value to the country’s economy?

The zeal to woo foreign investors is a continuous exercise and we are sure that Nigeria is passing the message each time we attend the ITU conference.

If we get one investor each year, it will be an incentive for others to come.

Last year we had foreign investors that indicated interest to invest in the Nigerian telecoms market and we will continue to woo them to come and invest in the country.

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