Ernest Ndukwe is the Executive Chairman, MTN Nigeria. Prior to his appointment as a non-Executive Director at the leading telecommunications firm he was the CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria’s Telecommunications Regulatory Agency from 2000 to 2010, and proceeded to preside over the building of an internationally respected institution. Under his tenure at the NCC, the ICT industry witnessed tremendous growth and transformation, leading to what has been generally referred to as the era of Nigeria’s Telecommunication Revolution.
He recently spoke to the Guardian’s Adeyemi Adepetun and cleared the air on pertinent industry issues as well as the widespread claim linking 5G technology to COVID-19.
When asked how he thinks the pandemic has affected Nigerian businesses, Mr. Ndukwe responded that the level of impact will depend on the nature of the organisation.
“While understanding the impact on us and other big businesses is important, I am much more concerned about the implications for the micro, small and medium-sized businesses and petty traders across the country; many of whom are in our supply chain. We are committed to supporting our partners and our eco-system, but the longer the shutdown goes on, the graver that impact will be and the greater the support these businesses will require. Small and micro-businesses make up the vast majority of Nigeria’s productivity, and they remain at the forefront of our thinking during this time.”
Speaking on the call by subscribers for operators to cut their voice and data, the telecommunications doyen explained that the priority for network operators at this time is to ensure that overall network capacity is not exceeded.
“We know that people want to do more during this time, but we must ensure that the overall network capacity is not exceeded, which would have catastrophic effects for all and mean that no one would be able to communicate at all. If we provide free or cheaper access to voice and data services, then the usage level would go up astronomically, and we might get to a level where the network gets so congested that nobody will be able to communicate, defeating the purpose. We are committed to ensuring we find the optimal balance between enhanced access and network availability and stability. We are making specific investments to ensure that this could be possible in future.
The NCC has also been working to support network stability. They have been supportive and have provided us with additional backhaul (E-Band) spectrum to support us in alleviating congestion issues in the core network. We sincerely appreciate the need to offer some relief to our customers at this time, but we need to balance such demand with availability of the network. In this regard, we recently decided that every one of our subscribers will be given 300 free SMS per month. This supports the requirement for communication while ensuring capacity is not threatened. I think the importance of the SMS intervention may not have been fully understood. Many of our customers are people who do not have smartphones and can therefore not do data-enabled services like WhatsApp, FaceTime and browsing. This segment is the most vulnerable and requires the most help. So, while access to SMS services might not be what everyone wants, it’s vital to millions of our people who continue to use it as their primary means of communication. This is reinforced by the numbers we are seeing, with more than 9 million subscribers already actively using the free SMS access. As with the broader medical response, I think it is these communities we have to prioritise first. They are the most vulnerable.
On the issue of 5G triggering the COVID-19 pandemic, Ndukwe said, “Let me state to the best of my knowledge that 5G has not been linked to any adverse health effects not to talk of inducing the COVID-19. Any assertion to the contrary is absurd and scientifically flawed. It is also incredibly irresponsible because, in some extreme circumstances, we have seen attacks on telecoms infrastructure, which may lead to disruption of services that are absolutely essential, especially during this time.
You don’t need to take my word for it, you can simply look at the results of a recent study by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), an independent international watchdog, which confirmed there is no risk of harm to people, including children, from exposure to radio frequencies from mobile networks, including 5G. In its findings, the Commission reviewed 20 additional years of research and echoed previous reassurances from the World Health Organization. These findings have also been re-iterated by the Nigerian Communications Commission who monitor radiation emissions from base stations nationally (none of which are 5G), and have confirmed that they are well within set limits. So, there is no link between 5G and COVID-19 and no link between telecoms services in general and health issues.”
Read the full interview here