Telecommunications: from TOS to 5G, by Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
Nigeria has joined the rest of the world in ceremonies to mark the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which has been celebrated annually on 17 May from 1969 to date. It is to highlight the anniversary of founding of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.
An entry on the ITU website explained further, “The purpose of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.”
Nigerians have every reason to celebrate the Day, and reflect on the impact of telecommunications on the way human beings now live and conduct business.
For one, “Your line is Temporarily Out of Service (TOS),” the regular message from the scrapped Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) to most subscribers of telephone services whenever calls failed, is gone for good.
NITEL was providing inadequate services to less than 500, 000 subscribers in a population of more than 180 million.
And Nigerians who could not make telephone calls to others will explain that failure by saying “my line was on TOS.” Being “on TOS” soon took other meanings outside the telecommunications part of daily living.
All that is now history. Developments in telecommunications technologies, particularly the advant of the digital Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) and Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) chip, have enabled anybody desirous of telephony services in Nigeria to access it effortlessly.
Paula Gilbert, the Editor of Connecting Africa said in a recent report that, “When it comes to mobile phones, there were 187.9 million mobile connections in Nigeria in January 2021.” This shows the huge difference in access occassioned by the advant of the GSM technology against the old days of NITEL.
It could be recalled that the GSM mobile network system was introduced into the Nigerian telecommunications sector by the Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration in 2001.
Doubtlessly, the GSM technology has turned Nigeria’s telecommunications industry into a hardly recognisable sector in a profoundly positive way, especially by moving the country from the era of Temporarily Out of Service (TOS) frustrations to somewhere close to the current top-end of the GSM revolution, the 5G stage.
This shows that every administration after President Olusegun Obasanjo’s embraced the latest developments in the GSM technology through the second, third and fourth generations of its evolution. Nigeria has successfully conducted trials of the 5G technology. It can be launched in the country at the ripe time.
The media on February 26, 2021, widely quoted the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isah Ali Pantami, announcing that Nigeria was ready for the deployment of the Fifth Generation Network (5G). He assured that the technology is safe and has less radiation than microwave oven and the current G4 technology operating in the country.
He made the explanation to a hearing on the 5G network called jointly by the Senate Committees on Communication, Science and Technology, ICT and Cybercrime, Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases to douse fears that the technology could be harmful.
The Minister, who is an expert in Information Communication Technology. said that the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) led by Professor Garba Umar Danbatta, as the regulator of the Telecommunications industry, conducted trials of the 5G technology in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta and Calabar with a view to studying its impact. Its radiation belongs to the same class of Non-ionizing Radiation as that of 2G, 3G and 4G technologies. It was rated as safe.
Minister Pantami informed the law-makers that a similar exercise conducted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations (UN), found radiation from the G5 technology within agreeable safety level.
What are the inherent benefits of 5G to consumers of ICT services that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administation, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communication Commission want see it deployed someday in Nigeria?
The NCC said that “5G is an improvement on the 4G technology with enhanced capabilities. The 5G technology provides the platform for new and emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to improve the way we live and work.”
The NCC further says, “5G technology will transform the world by connecting everything with everybody. It will create millions of jobs, it will add billions of dollars to the economy (GDP), and can solve some of our problems such as insecurity and improve governance and efficiency in the society.”
The Internet of Things Congress listed more benefits of 5G for potential subscribers in Nigeria. They include “greater speed in transmissions; lower latency and therefore greater capacity of remote execution.”
The Congress listed, “a greater number of connected devices and the possibility of implementing virtual networks (network slicing), providing more adjusted connectivity to concrete needs,” as additional benefits and advantages of the technology.
With the era of message from NITEL telling a phone services subscriber “your line is temporarily out of service (TOS)” belonging to the past, we look to the future with 5G technology as a positive enabler for deriving more value from the world of ICT. Its package of services will expand the Nigerian Digital Economy for the benefit of countless Nigerians.
Salisu N. Dambatta writes from Kano