Photograph — Fortune

At a book presentation last week, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, said that the communication and digital sector generated over N1 trillion to the federal government between 2019 and 2021. He also stated that Nigeria’s 5G technology was 95 per cent complete and that a national policy for its deployment would be presented to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval, shortly.  

According to Pantami, the digital economy remains the best opportunity for the country to create many jobs, “particularly where we have a challenge of unemployment on the one hand and employability on the other,” he said. In March, the  National Bureau of Statistics reported that Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose to 33.3 per cent, translating to some 23.2 million people, the highest in at least 13 years and the second-highest rate globally.   

The minister also emphasized that, contrary to popular conspiracy theories that circulated last year, there was no link between 5G and COVID-19, as confirmed by the World Health Organization and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Despite international validation that 5G is safe, the ministry formed a committee to study it thoroughly, including people from the technology, health, environmental, and security fields, and they have been working on the national policy for 5G deployment in Nigeria for over a year.

5G and the Nigerian digital economy

5G is a fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks that cellular companies began deploying in 2019. It is a planned successor to the 4G network that the majority of cell phones currently use. According to the ITU, investments in Fourth Generation (4G) networks in Nigeria and Africa fell by 7 per cent in 2020, with one of the reasons being the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged and continues to ravage the world. The pandemic has widened the world’s digital divide even further, and 5G is expected to bridge it.

Like its predecessors (4G, 3G, and 2G), 5G data is transmitted over radio waves – a type of electromagnetic radiation. They are super fast and represent an advancement in telecommunication standards. Nigeria was the first country in West Africa to test 5G technology in 2019. However, several conspiracy theories emerged in response to the potential deployment of the technology in Nigeria, one of which claims 5G caused COVID-19. 

In May, the Nigerian Senate requested that the federal government halt plans to deploy the 5G network for a six-month investigation into potential health risks associated with the technology. With Pantami’s recent announcement about 5G deployment, it is clear that the technology will be available soon. 

Deploying 5G technology in the country undoubtedly contributes to the Nigeria Communications Commission’s dream of transforming the economy into a digital economy through investments in digital infrastructure, particularly broadband, which is a key driver of digital economy growth. The application of this technology will strengthen the already thriving digital industry. 

According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the ICT sector of the Nigerian economy, which represents the digital economy, grew by 14.70 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020. Not only did the sector emerge as the fastest-growing sector, but it was also rated as the only sector to have posted double-digit growth at 12.90 per cent in the overall GDP assessment.

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector maintained its position as the sector with the highest growth rate of all the major sectors of the Nigerian economy in the first quarter of 2021 (Q1 2021). To reaffirm the sector’s importance, Gowin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, stated that it was critical in mitigating the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigeria’s GDP growth in 2020.

How 5G tech will revolutionize the economy 

5G wireless technology is poised to provide faster data speeds, lower latency, increased reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more consistent user experience. These exceptional features will transform every sector of the economy, including education, security, agriculture, healthcare, entertainment, and even governance.  

The digital economy directly impacts every other sector of the economy. From health tech to fintech, the country has recently seen an increase in digitally inclined businesses. This is due to technological advancements and the COVID-19 pandemic letting people realize they could accomplish more online. With the deployment of 5G, ICT is expected to experience a massive boom, allowing business owners to create new content, connect to a larger market, improve manufacturing, and create long-term business models. 5G will herald us into a digital era where businesses, companies, and industries yet to be imagined would spring up.

In terms of data speeds, 5G is 20 times faster than 4G LTE and can carry a massive amount of data for a large number of concurrent users. 5G will potentially be able to handle more than 2.5 million connected devices per square mile. So users in high-density areas – like airports, stadiums, tertiary institution environments, or urban areas – can still experience the fast speeds and low latency of a 5G service. 5G will allow us to stream, download, and upload large quantities of data at a much faster rate which would be instrumental to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria as virtual learning will become efficient, save for irregular power supply. 

In addition to its improved speed, 5G supports data transfer rates of up to 20Gbit/s if supported by a robust fibre infrastructure. Large amounts of life-saving data could be transferred almost instantly in health care. With 5G, healthcare institutions could use AI tools to determine potential diagnoses and provide the best care possible from any location. 

An efficient security model can be built with 5G to tackle insecurity, which is unarguably a serious issue in the country presently. For example, drones will be able to send and receive information about volatile areas of the country safely and near-instantaneously to help security operatives map out perimeters to secure.  

In Lusaka, Artificial intelligence and aerial satellite are used to collate data to help the government make decisions about urban planning and respond to challenges associated with urban growth. With 5G, the Nigerian government can also adopt such up-to-date tools to improve services and infrastructure.

Written by Adekunle Agbetiloye

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