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Airtel Nigeria buys 4G, 5G spectrum for $316M

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Airtel Nigeria will soon rollout its fifth generation (5G) mobile Internet services in the west African country.

This is after the telco purchased 100MHz of spectrum in the 3500MHz band and 2x5MHz of 2600MHz spectrum from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for US$316.7 million, payable in local currency.

This additional spectrum will support the company's investments in network expansion for both mobile data and fixed wireless home broadband capability, including 5G rollout, the company said in a statement.

"The acquisition of 5G spectrum will underpin our growth strategy by enabling the launch of higher speed connectivity to enhance customer service and accelerate digitalization for consumers, enterprises and the public sector," Airtel continued.

The key benefits of 5G will include higher speeds, lower latency, significant network capacity as well as an improved user experience.

"Furthermore, the deployment of 5G will accelerate the availability and efficiency of fixed wireless access products across the country, contributing towards Airtel Nigeria's progress in meeting the National Broadband Plan targets," the operator added.

"Nigeria is a market with enormous potential for future growth in mobile services. Investment in new technologies and local infrastructure to enable this growth is a strategic priority for the Group and will ensure we are able to provide reliable and affordable services to local communities across the country," said Airtel Africa CEO Segun Ogunsanya.

He added that 5G is critical to these ambitions, and the company looks forward to launching new services to drive further digitalization across the west African nation.

Spectrum allocations

Airtel Nigeria acquired its 100MHz of spectrum in the 3500MHz band from the auction that kicked off in December 2022. Airtel was the sole bidder for 5G spectrum in Nigeria in a second round of licensing of spectrum for the next-generation technology.

The Commission previously auctioned off two lots of 100MHz of time-division duplexing (TDD) spectrum in the 3500MHz band in December 2021.

That auction saw MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications each acquire a 100MHz lot of TDD spectrum while Airtel Nigeria pulled out of the bidding that time, after its rivals' bids passed US$270 million.

However, in this recent auction Airtel Nigeria managed to get the bands it required, further contributing to the uptick in African countries hosting spectrum auctions to expand their networks.

In August 2022, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) updated its roadmap for the issue of spectrum in the 700MHz, 2600MHz and 26GHz bands.

The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) confirmed it concluded a successful spectrum auction, bringing in almost $187.5 million in October 2022.

Nigeria's 5G rollout

If all goes to plan Airtel Nigeria will become the second telco in the west African nation to launch a 5G network. The rollout will follow MTN Nigeria which turned on its 5G network in seven Nigerian cities in August 2022.

Nigeria is joining many other African nations that have launched commercial 5G services on the continent. According to the GSMA, there are commercial 5G networks in more than ten African countries and many more countries are expected to launch commercial 5G by 2025.

Want to know more about 4G and 5G in Africa? Check out our dedicated 4G/5G content channel here on Connecting Africa.

Many African telcos had 5G launches, especially in 2022, companies like Orange in Botswana and MTN in Zambia in November; Safaricom in Kenya and Telkom in South Africa in October; as well as Vodacom in Tanzania in September; and Econet in Zimbabwe in February.

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*Top image source: Image by wirestock on Freepik.

— Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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