ANALYSIS: NCC: Bridging digital divide through satellite regulation

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NCC

The commencement of commercial satellite regulation by the Nigerian Communications Commission opened a new vista for rural connectivity in Nigeria. While this has attracted new players into the satellite market in Nigeria, stakeholders believe this will boost the country’s efforts at achieving broadband ubiquity.

Nigeria is launching into a new era of ubiquitous connectivity as the telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, takes new bold steps to encourage the use of satellite technology for service delivery. The moves by the Umar Danbatta-led commission has added impetus to the current drives of the federal government to build a digital economy.

With about 35 million Nigerians in underserved and unserved communities still unconnected to telecommunications services, the use of satellite has been identified as the best technology to provide connectivity to the people, who are mostly in rural areas. This, Prof. Danbatta recently said informed the decision of the commission to develop regulatory framework for commercial satellite deployment in the country, with a view to bridging the existing digital gap between rural and urban dwellers.

Why regulation?

According to the NCC, the regulatory guideline for commercial satellite deployment is to ensure a well-developed and organised satellite communications market in Nigeria with appropriate legal framework that meets international best practices. In addition, the commission said that would also encourage innovation and guarantee public safety in the rendering of commercial satellite services.

According to the NCC, the regulatory guideline for commercial satellite deployment is to ensure a well-developed and organised satellite communications market in Nigeria with appropriate legal framework that meets international best practices.

Other objectives of the regulation include: To manage scarce frequency resource, especially in bands where frequency is shared between satellite and terrestrial systems and to encourage the use of satellite connectivity to unserved areas that lack terrestrial transmission infrastructure backbone; encourage the use of satellite communication infrastructure in Nigeria as a means of providing long-haul transmission facilities; provide guidelines for protection from impermissible levels of interference to reception of signals by earth stations in the Fixed/Mobile Satellite Service from terrestrial stations in a co-equally shared band; and ensure that satellite space segment providers, Earth Station service providers, Bandwidth Re-sellers and vendors of terminal equipment or franchise holders, provide reliable, cost-effective and secured service to users in Nigeria under fair and favourable commercial and technical conditions.

Operators’ interest

True to the objectives of the regulation as highlighted by the NCC, there has been a renewed interest in commercial satellite deployment in Nigeria by operators from across the world. Just recently, an American satellite company visited the country with a commitment to deploying satellite services in Nigeria. The Viasat team during a meeting with the NCC discussed its plans to get regulatory supports for entry into the commercial satellite communications market in Nigeria.

Viasat also sought the commission’s encouragement and approval to reserve and use the 28 GHz KA frequency band in the country to provide cost-effective Internet connectivity and high throughput satellite connectivity through its incorporated Nigerian subsidiary, Viasat Nigeria.

The company also informed the NCC of its plan to conduct a Proof of Concept (PoC) test in Abuja this year; and thereafter, roll out in a community, and subsequently extend the services across a state and then proceed to extend its broadband satellite services nationwide by 2022.

The Viasat’s GTH satellite services is targeting homes, governments, schools as well as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), among others. The company expressed confidence that its services will be beneficial to unserved and underserved areas of Nigeria. Viasat added that it had, over the years, invested over $2.2 billion globally on geostationary satellite services, with footprint in the Nigerian space towards bridging extant digital divide in the country.

Landing permits granted

Since the beginning of the enforcement of the regulation last year, NCC said it had granted landing permits to 55 space stations that are providing satellite communications in the country. The commission said it had the mandate as provided by the Nigerian Communications Act NCA-2003 to develop the Commercial Satellite Communications Guidelines for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria, which came into effect in November 2018.

In line with the provisions of Section 13 of the Commercial Satellite Communications Guidelines, the commission to date has issued landing permits to 55 space stations providing coverage over Nigeria’s territory. The NCC said the move would enable it to regulate satellite and space services and ensure the operators contribute significantly to broadband penetration.

The commission said it engaged in the regularisation of the activities of all satellite operators including space station operators and earth station operators. The satellite operators are Intelsat LLC, Eutelsat S.A., Avanti Hylas2 Limited, Yahsat, Nss Licensee BV, Oneweb, and Inmarsat.

Speaking during the formal presentation of the permit to one of the operators, AVANTI,  at the Commission’s headquarters, the EVC of the NCC, Prof. Danbatta, explained that the landing permit implied authorisation that allows operators to beam its signal over the territorial integrity of a country, saying the landing permit, the first of its kind in satellite communications in Nigeria, was a direct consequence of one of its operators employing the services of the satellite operator.

A digital economy is definitely improbable without adequate connections. This is why the move by the NCC to encourage satellite deployment is auspicious at this time.

Danbatta, who was represented by the Commission’s director of spectrum administration, Engr. Austin Nwaulunne, pointed out that AVANTI was the only operator that had invested in the installation of international gateways and data centres in Africa. “AVANTI has a fleet of satellites and one of them which is called HYLAS-4 is used to extend coverage to West, Central and Sub-Saharan Africa, and it is one of these satellites (called HYLAS-4) that has been deployed to extend coverage over Nigerian territory. This satellite uses the latest Ka-band satellite technology and has additional capacity to the tune of 2GHz. “This high capacity service has come to Nigeria through an international gateway that has been deployed by one of our local operators. With such high capacity facility in place and easily accessible, our local operators can now be more encouraged to deploy services via satellite to serve the underserved/unserved areas hence bridging the digital divide currently being experienced by the nation,” he added.

In her remarks, the chief regulatory officer, AVANTI, Ann Vandenbroucke, said the deployment of the satellite would enable immediate broadband access and faster internet services to Nigerians, saying the permit was a big step forward for Nigeria and its economy.

Conclusion

A digital economy is definitely improbable without adequate connections. This is why the move by the NCC to encourage satellite deployment is auspicious at this time. The Prof. Danbatta led team is doing everything within its capacity to ensure the digital divide in the country is completely bridged.