Under the NCA, there are two broad licensing frameworks:
- an individual licence, which is operator- and service-specific. Some of the activities authorised by an individual licence are: internet services, fixed wireless access, unified access services, electronic directory services, internet exchange, international gateway, international cable infrastructure and landing station services, collocation services and commercial basic radio communications network services; and
- a class licence, which generally authorises a whole class of service providers to provide a specific service or operate a particular network. Some of the services subject to a class licence are sales and installation of terminal equipment (including mobile cellular phones and HF, VHF/UHF radio, etc), repairs and maintenance of telecoms facilities, cabling services, telecentres, cybercafes and the operation of public payphones.
An entity intending to carry out a service subject to an individual licence shall apply to the NCC in the prescribed form upon the payment of the processing or administrative fee (usually 5 per cent of the licence fee) and the licence fee, while a person intending to operate under a class licence is to submit a registration notice in the prescribed form and a registration fee of 10,000 naira to the NCC.
In accordance with the NCA, a licence applicant must receive a response to the application within 90 days of submitting it. However, an offer letter is normally issued to applicants for a class licence if the application is complete. For individual licences, depending on the service and completeness of the required information, the conclusion of the process can take between four and 12 weeks.
The duration of a licence depends on the type of service authorised or spectrum licensed. The national carrier licence and international gateway licence are valid for 20 years. The unified access service licence is valid for a term of 15 years, while a digital mobile licence (DML) authorising the use of a specified mobile spectrum is valid for a term of 15 years. On the other hand, an internet service, paging, prepaid calling card and special numbering services licence are all valid for a term of five years. The licence fees payable depends on the type of service. Fees payable are fixed by the NCC and published on its website. In addition to licence fees, a prospective licensee is required to pay an administrative charge and, upon grant of the licence, a licensee shall pay an annual operating levy calculated on the basis of net revenue for network operators and gross revenue for non-network operators.
Fixed, mobile and satellite services are regulated and licensed under the NCA and to operate any of these services a licence must be obtained from the NCC. As these services are operator-specific, they fall under the individual licence category. In Nigeria, mobile telecommunications services are differentiated on the basis of whether the operator is authorised by a DML, fixed wireless access licence (FWAL) or unified access service licence. A DML authorises an operator to use appropriate equipment in a designated part of the electromagnetic spectrum and permits it to operate a network for the provision of public telecommunications services. In 2001, the NCC licensed four spectrum packages in the 900MHz and 1,800MHz bands to Mobile Telecommunications Limited (which has suspended operations), Econet Wireless Nigeria Limited (now Airtel) and MTN Nigeria Communications Limited for use in the provision of digital mobile services. These were later joined by Etisalat and Globacom.
An FWAL authorises an operator to use appropriate equipment in a designated part of the electromagnetic spectrum for a term of five years (with renewal for a further five years) and permits it to operate a network for the provision of public telecommunications service. FWALs are granted on a regional basis to reflect the 36 Nigerian states and the federal capital territory, with operators wishing to achieve national coverage required to obtain licences in each of the licensing regions. In 2002, the NCC in authorising FWAL services also offered 42MHz paired in the 3.5GHz band, and a total of 28MHz paired in the 3.5GHz band across the 37 licensing regions of Nigeria to 22 new licensees.
In 2007, the NCC introduced the unified access service licence (UASL) scheme and allocated 40MHz of paired spectrum in the 2GHz band in four equal blocks of 10MHz paired spectrum. On successful allocation of the spectrum, the allottees were issued with a spectrum licence and where necessary, a UASL. The UASL authorises the holder to provide both fixed and mobile services including voice and data, and imposes special conditions requiring its holders to build and operate a telecommunications network to provide voice telephony, video services, multimedia services, web browsing, real-time video streaming, video surveillance, network gaming, email, SMS, file transfer, broadband data and location-based services, and other services that may be authorised, and that the 3G network be built and operated according to certain defined technical standards.
In the broadband ecosystem, a wholesale wireless access service licence (WWASL) authorises the holder to construct, maintain, operate and use a network consisting of a mobile communication system, a fixed wireless access telecommunications system, or a combination of any of these systems comprising radio or satellite or their combination, within Nigeria, deployed for providing point-to-point or switched/unswitched point-to-multipoint communications for the conveyance of voice, data, video or any kind of message. The WWASL also authorises the holder to construct, own, operate and maintain an international gateway, while an infrastructure company licence authorises the holder to provide and operate on a wholesale basis an open access metropolitan fibre network within a designated geographical area in Nigeria, in particular among other things, to construct, maintain and operate fibre optic network facilities.
Satellite services in Nigeria are normally authorised by a global mobile personal communications by satellite (GMPCS) licence. In addition to the general conditions applicable to fixed, mobile and satellite services, a GMPCS licence imposes special conditions requiring the holder to, among other things, construct, operate, implement and maintain a GMPCS land earth station for the purposes of establishing, maintaining, validating and controlling command functions and communication with the space segment of a GMPCS system; deploy a GMPCS network for the purpose of providing one-way or two point-to-point or point-to-multipoint communications for the conveyance of voice data or video; sell telecommunications components and accessories used or intended for use in the installation of GMPCS terminals; install GMPCS terminals; and provide activation, billing, maintenance and related management services for subscribers to GMPCS services. Licensing of satellite services continues to be by way of a separate licence.
Public Wi-Fi services are authorised under the Regulatory Guidelines for the Use of 2.GHz ISM Band for Commercial Telecoms Services. Under these Guidelines, Wi-Fi hotspots shall, inter alia, be deployed in the 2GHz ISM band and must be registered and authorised by the NCC. In addition, commercial Wi-Fi hotspot operators must hold a licence for the provision of internet services.
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