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Nigeria 5G Auction Adviser Says ₦75b Spectrum Offer Not Cast in Stone

Nigeria 5G Auction Adviser Says ₦75b Spectrum Offer Not Cast in Stone
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When it comes to the anticipated Nigeria 5G spectrum auction scheduled for December 13, nothing is cast in stone, Engineer Ubale Maska, the Nigeria 5G Auction Adviser has told Technology Times exclusively.

The telecoms regulator on Thursday engaged stakeholders in Lagos to get feedback on the impending auction in which each lot of the 100MHz band on the 3.5GHz spectrum is on offer at a reserve price of ₦75 billion, according to the Information Memorandum for the sale managed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Maska, the NCC Executive Commissioner for Technical Services, who was appointed Auction Adviser for Nigeria 5G auction under which 3.5GHz spectrum that will power the rollout of 5G service in Nigeria will be sold, is confident that the commercial go-live of the fifth-generation mobile technology bodes well for the delivery of hyperfast triple play of voice, video and data service across the country.

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Engineer Ubale Ahmed Shehu Maska, the Nigeria 5G Auction Adviser & NCC Executive Commissioner for Technical Services seen during the interview with Technology Times.
Photo by Aduragbemi Akinpelu of Technology Times.

“The Committee has resolved to report this back to the Commission with a recommendation that since we have the tenure, we can bring the cost down by extending the tenure and keeping the price itself. The tenure currently stands at 10 years for the ₦75 billion slot. So if you take that to 15, it is like you are reducing 33% of the price by giving a discount.”

ENGINEER UBALE MASKA, NIGERIA 5G AUCTION ADVISER & NCC EXECUTIVE COMMISSIONER, TECHNICAL SERVICES.

NIGERIA 5G AUCTION: HERALDING NEW ERA OF POSSIBILITIES

The 5G Auction Adviser, who spoke exclusively with Technology Times on the sidelines of the NCC 5G Forum in Lagos, says the engagement with stakeholders provided useful feedback on the impending software-based licence bids coming up next month in Abuja.

Maska, says that his team has a date with history next month to place on the map as one of the countries rolling out 5G service in line with the Federal Government’s digital economy aspirations for Nigeria.

From education, health, commerce, e-commerce, manufacturing and other sectors of the economy, 5G is transformational and that is why NCC is driving forward with the auction to free up valuable frequency spectrum needed for 5G go-live, Maska says.

Beyond the traditional application, 5G holds much more as it enhances the delivery of new applications as “they also allow the entry of such facilities as artificial intelligence”, according to Maska who underscore the reason why ”it is crucial for us” in Nigeria’s evolution towards a digital economy.     

“Basically, the country has elected to go digital”, Maska says, noting that in this evolution, “5G is the next logical step, and for a semblance of digital economy, 5G is the logical technology that will enhance the kind of activities that a digital economy will normally undertake in all aspects of the economy.”

Nigeria 5G Auction and The ₦75 billion Question

Last week the telecoms regulator and the Nigeria 5G Auction Team highlighted the key rules and milestones that will culminate in the sale of two lots of 100Mhz of 3.5GHz spectrum at a reserve price of ₦75 billion in the actual auctions scheduled to begin on December 13. 

Under the plan, Nigeria will be offering 100 MHz each of the 3.5GHz spectrums that “are to be cleared at different periods depending on the level of encumbrances on the slots.”

For the December 13 auction, only “two lots of 100 MHz each are to be offered in the first phase of the auction”, the telecoms regulator says.

Under the plan, NCC says the reserve price of approximately ₦75 billion (US$197,400,000.00) adopted for the 5G auction will see prospective bidders paying an initial Bid Deposit (IBD) that is equal to 10% of the reserve price “in line with the previous auction.”

The Nigerian regulator’s ₦75 billion spectrum offer per licence lot also brings to the table a 10-year Spectrum Licence and a minimum requirement of a UASL (universal access service licence) Operational Licence by the winning bidder. The bids will be open to existing NCC licensees and new entrants alike, but the winner “without a UASL will be required to additionally obtain a UASL Operational Licence”, according to the rules of the auction.

NCC’s announced reserve price has been met with reactions by industry trade groups and mobile operators who recommend that the telecoms regulator should either cut down the offer price, extend the tenure beyond 10 years or provide a staggered payment regime for the eventual auction winners.

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Maska says that going by experience from other countries, the ₦75 billion pegged as reserve price for each lot of the spectrum in the Nigeria 5G Auction is not too high.
Photo by Aduragbemi Akinpelu of Technology Times.

For stakeholders who reckon that the ₦75 billion is on the high side, Maska says that they may be considering just an aspect of the issue, “because they are looking at the purchasing power of the average Nigerian, but the reality is that when you compare to what obtains in some other countries, it is certainly not too high.”

But the 5G Auction Adviser says that nothing is cast in stone yet. Considering the feedback received from stakeholders thus far on Nigeria’s 5G Deployment Plan, he says that the Auction Team will be making a recommendation to the NCC Board.

“But because that has been the general position from the stakeholders, the Committee has resolved to report this back to the Commission with a recommendation that since we have the tenure, we can bring the cost down by extending the tenure and keeping the price itself. The tenure currently stands at 10 years for the ₦75 billion slot. So if you take that to 15, it is like you are reducing 33% of the price by giving a discount. Simultaneously, taking it to 15 (years), makes it possible for them to have stability”, Masaka tells Technology Times.

“So we will recommend that it is up to the Board to accept”, the Nigeria 5G Auction Advisers assures. 

While the 5G auction will be open to new entrants who will be allowed to bid alongside existing licensees, there is a caveat, as “only Licensees with 100% regulatory compliance would be allowed to participate in the Auction”, the bid rules by NCC stipulates. 

The telecoms regulator however says that “licensees with outstanding debts that have secured Management’s approval for a payment plan will be allowed to participate.”

The Auction Adviser also underscores that “there are lots of things that need to happen to facilitate the auction itself. There are a few critical things that once we are able to achieve those, the auction can easily take place by that day. 

“The first includes the acquisition of the software which the Commission has graciously approved for the Committee to acquire, and most of the other requirements that we need, like the availability of the spectrum itself, the Minister has also directed the Council to approve that for us.”

For the upcoming 5G spectrum sale, NCC is adopting a software-based auction while an ascending clock model has been adopted, according to the telecoms regulator which notes that there is also a fallback option as “provisions have been made for the manual auction should the auction software fail during the auction process.” A Mock auction scheduled to hold December 10 is preceding the main Auction holding December 13, according to the plan.

“So I think it is likely that barring any other unforeseen situation, this date will stand”, Maska says. “You recall that this was approved by the President, and the Minister gave the Commission marching orders to ensure that we use 5G by January 1. Obviously, this will not happen by then but we intend to be as close to that as possible.” 

According to the Auction Adviser, “it is not just getting the spectrum that allows 5G to come to Nigeria.” Operators must also be factored into the plan as “they must import the equipment itself. They must import all the infrastructure that will be laid out and they can only do so when they have acquired the spectrum.”

Maska sees next year’s impending rollout of 5G services further unlocking huge potential for a nation he reckons is blessed with abundant human and natural resources. 

“God has blessed this country with lots of experts and a highly-resourceful young population that can develop anything anybody can develop.  So I honestly believe that the future is bright for this country”, he tells Technology Times noting the benefits that 5G services can yield for the nation’s socio-economic development.

On the part of his team at NCC, where he is also the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services of the Nigerian telecoms regulatory agency, the 5G Auction Adviser says that “the Commission is more than eager for this to come in and is taking a lot of steps now to do a lot of empowerment programmes for youth and encouraging youth to have self-employment. 

“You may be aware that the Commission has been carrying young innovators to different fora all over the world to ensure that they get exposed to the world of app development, and of course the potential for wealth there is huge”, Maska says.

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Engr Maska, Nigeria 5G Auction Adviser says that the upcoming spectrum auction will be software-based.
Photo by Aduragbemi Akinpelu of Technology Times.

Maska: Who is Nigeria 5G Auction Adviser?

Following his graduation with a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.) – Electrical from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria in 1982, Engr. Ubale Ahmed Shehu Maska, proceeded to Rivers State University of Science and Technology in Port Harcourt where he served as a teaching and laboratory assistant in the Electrical Engineering Department as his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) primary assignment, according to his biodata obtained by Technology Times from the NCC website.

He returned to ABU afterwards in 1983 as a Graduate Assistant in the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1983 and was later promoted to Assistant Lecturer in 1986. During this period, he pursued and obtained a Master’s Degree (MSc.) in Electronics and Telecommunications from his alma mater.

Maska joined the National Universities Commission (NUC) in 1989, leaving in 1997 as Head of Hardware & Networking Division after also having served as Head of the System Administration Team of the NUC’s computer network, and representing the NUC on the steering committee of the Nigerian Internet Group (NIG). 

While at the NUC, Engr. Maska obtained his second Master’s Degree, this time in Software Systems Engineering from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, gaining experience in the design and deployment of automatic control systems as part of the Master’s programme in Lunen, Germany. His education continued following his return from the University of Sheffield with training courses in systems integration and structured cabling, which took him to TNSI (Canada), MIPD (USA) and several other institutions.

Maska next joined the Petroleum Equalization Fund (Management) Board (PEFB) as Manager in charge of its Management Information System (MIS) in May 1997, where he spearheaded the development of various software packages to meet the needs of all arms of the fund and the training of more than half the workforce of the PEFB in basic computing skills. He also led the planning of the PEFB’s computerization project for deploying Local Area Networks (LANs) in the Fund’s Abuja and Lagos offices and other smaller installations in 22 NNPC depots across the country and connecting all networks together into a Wide Area Network (WAN) via satellite.

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Maska tells Technology Times that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the Nigeria 5G Deployment Plan and NCC has a date with history to successfully deliver on the upcoming software-based auction of 3.5GHz spectrum.
Photo by Aduragbemi Akinpelu of Technology Times.

Following his stint at the PEFB, Maska moved to the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) in October 1999 as a Deputy General Manager in charge of Information Technology where he was responsible for all computing facilities and the LAN deployment and networking of the NSITF’s Northern offices.

In 2001, Ubale Maska joined the Nigerian Communications Commission as a Deputy Director (Engineering Directorate – now Spectrum Administration Department). He was part of the team that pioneered the Spectrum Administration procedures and processes in respect of commercial Spectrum in Nigeria and the creation of a Spectrum Pricing Structure for the nation. 

He was also a member of the team responsible for the initial automation of Frequency Management Records, the establishment of the initial National Frequency Allocation Table in accordance with the ITU’s recommendations and participated in the resolution of several frequency interference issues. Notably, he represented the NCC at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – World Radio Conference (WRC), 2003

He then moved to the Technical Research & Standards Directorate where he participated in the preparatory meetings of the ITU – World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), 2008. He was then appointed Head of Cyber Security in the newly created New Media & Information Security Department, where he initiated the process of establishing the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) for Nigeria, and also initiated collaborative relationships with numerous international bodies, most notably the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Cyber Security issues.

He was then posted to head the Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Department in 2011, where he spearheaded the formation of the Industry Working Group on Multiple Taxation/Regulation in Nigeria and was promoted Director of the Department in 2012.

Maska, who is a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), is happily married with children.

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