Nigerian newcomer Mafab launches 5G services


The launch comes after roughly four months of delays related to licencing issues

This week, relative newcomer to the Nigeran mobile market, Mafab Communications, has announced the commercial launch of its 5G network.

For now, the network is only available in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, but with additional locations, including Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano, and Kaduna, expected to be added in the coming months.

Founded in the summer of 2020, Mafab Communications was quickly licenced by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to provide and operate local interconnect and international carrier services within the country.

By 2021, however, the operator had ambitions of offering commercial 5G services, announcing it would compete with MTN Nigeria and Airtel Nigeria in the nation’s first 5G auction at the end of the year.

The auction saw Mafab succeed in acquiring 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum for $273.6 million, the same as MTN, Nigeria’s largest operator.

With only two 5G licences available in this opening auction, this result notably left the much larger Airtel Nigeria without any 5G spectrum at all, having dropped out in the 11th round due to the rising price tag.

Airtel would go on to win its own 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum in an uncontested auction a year later, in December 2022.

At the time of its surprise spectrum victory, Mafab said it hoped to launch 5G services commercially by August 2022, in line with MTN. But, while MTN stuck to this deadline and launched services as expected, Mafab instead faced delays related to the allocation of the unified access service licence required to offer mobile services.

Now, around four months later, Mafab is finally ready to begin offering 5G services to the public.

“The rollout of Mafab 5G network is the beginning of immense opportunities for the country as it represents Nigeria’s capabilities and infinite possibilities,” said Mafab chairman and founder Musbahu Bashir. “The prospect of increased job opportunities as a consequence of the value-chain benefits the technology will generate and offer is the dream we have all gathered here to launch today.”

He added that 5G will be integral to ensuring Nigeria remains a competitive economy in the years to come, saying that “Nigeria will surely be ahead of many other countries, especially in Africa”.

The Nigerian government also complemented the launch, with the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami, suggesting that the rollout of 5G in Nigeria by Mafab and MTN would create a combined 3.6–4.8 million jobs over the next decade.

This launch will pile pressure onto Airtel, which has yet to announce an expected date for its 5G launch.

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