3.5GHz Spectrum auction: Telcos kick against MTN’s request for second 5G licence


Some operators in the telecommunications sector have kicked against MTN’s request to participate in the upcoming 3.5GHz  spectrum auction for 5G rollout in the country.

The representatives of the telcos believe that this goes against the spirit of fair competition in the market, where one telco has more than one licence and others are yet to get any.

They made their position known at the Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum on the Draft Information Memorandum for the 3.5GHz Spectrum Auction in Lagos.

MTN Nigeria’s General Manager Regulatory Affairs, Mr Ikenna Ikeme who reacted to the issue said the company participated in the last auction in 2021 with the expectation that since it is an open market it would be allowed to participate in other auctions if need be.

MTN explained that it’s request became necessary as OEMs that manufacture the 5G equipment often produce for two lots, either A and B or B and C, stating further that having a licence for two slots provides it with the necessary equipment it requires for effective deployment which will lower the cost of the service to the consumers.

Nigeria has four slots in the 3.5GHz Spectrum band, of which so far 2 of these licences have been auctioned although only one licence has launched for commercial services.

Responding the Executive commissioner, Technical Services, NCC Mr Ubale Maska, said MTN’s request was not a first in the telecoms industry as there are precedents and Nigeria is an open market.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC Umar Garba Danbatta, said all requests will be given due consideration and final feedback made before the auction.

He explained that the motive was not to generate money for the federal government and has nothing to do with the revenue generation pointing out that the price was determined by the last auction and NCC will always make reference to the reserve price no matter when the auction was had.

Earlier in his welcome address, Danbatta noted that in line with the Commission’s strategic Vision (Implementation) Plan 2021 – 2025, which among other things, seeks to promote fair competition, inclusive growth, increased investment and innovative services, and also facilitate strategic collaboration and partnership, the Commission intends to further deepen broadband penetration and encourage fair competition in the rollout of 5G services in the country by auctioning the available lots in the 3.5GHz mid band spectrum.

This, he noted was the reason the NCC invited stakeholders to elicit comments on the draft Information Memorandum (IM) for the upcoming auction.
Also the request by Airtel Nigeria to be granted administrative assignment of spectrum to provide services in the 5G in the country, having participated in the last auction met a brick wall from the NCC.

Airtel had argued that its participation in the last bid round in the 3.5GHz spectrum led to boosting Federal Government’s revenue. It therefore urged the commission to grant it the licence without going through process of auctioning.

According to Airtel, the companies that didn’t participate in the process of last year should be made to go through the process.

But NCC however, said it would only assign spectrum through open, transparent and competitive bidding.

Also, Huawei and other stakeholders also complained that the Reserve Price of $273.6 million was too high considering the current economic situation in the country and most importantly the instability and fluctuation of foreign exchange.