The deployment of fifth generation technology has got a boost as the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria has placed the telecommunication sector on the priority list for access to foreign exchangee (forex).
The Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) in late 2021 said Nigeria needs about $500m and 6000 base stations to roll out 5G in 10 cities.
The CBN’s decision means telcos can now access adequate forex to acquire major equipment from overseas for 5G deployment, and enhance their other forex-related activities.
In November 2021, the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, said lack of seamless access to forex and other factors were affecting the growth of the sector.
However, in an interview Adebayo said the CBN’s latest decision meant telcos could access adequate forex to fulfill their international obligations and invest in infrastructure as well.
He said, “We are grateful to the CBN for this listing, for the priority consideration. We are also grateful to the minister for his intervention in this regard.
“This will allow players to honour our international obligations. As you are aware, international traffic is exchanged with foreign countries, so operators can honour the obligations (with equipment suppliers and bandwidth providers), all of those activities which supply support for the industry are denominated in foreign exchange.
“The other thing is that it enables procurement of equipment. It makes it easier to procure software and hardware. It will help the development of the sector. Also, now that we are talking about the 5G rollout, the players will have better access. It is for the good of all, we are grateful to the authorities for making this happen.”
According to a source in ALTON, telecommunication companies got priority access as a result of the engagements with the Federal Government through the Nigerian Communications Commission, the minister overseeing the sector and the office of the National Security Adviser.
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The source said, “Prior to this time, it was very difficult as we had to source our forex. But we had to engage the Federal Government through the NCC, the minister, and the office of the National Security Adviser.
“We have been on the issue of exemption for a long time. As you know that the manufacturing and the power sector have been under the priority list, while telecoms have been left out. And most of the equipment we are using is imported. We use the same equipment as others in foreign countries.”
According to the National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet, Olusola Teniola, the latest development will improve network capacity across the nation. He said, “The bedrock of the digital economy is telecommunication, and it is the enabler for most modern society.
“For us in the industry, we are happy and we know this will only improve our capacity to build networks that have been delayed, slowed down, or even cancelled. This means that the network coverage of the country will be improved with the procurement of new network facilities; it also means there will be enthusiasm on the part of those looking to invest in the country. This is because investors will know that one of the impediments to investment has been removed-the ability to get forex out of the country.”
Also speaking, a source in one of the telecommunication companies said, “We are in a business that is FX denominated. We don’t produce anything locally, we import everything. Don’t also forget that 5G is around the corner, so we need to bring in a lot of equipment.”