Thursday 25 June 2020

Nigeria: The Dual-SIM World Leader

Nigeria is Africa’s largest mobile market, with about 173 million subscribers and a penetration rate of 123%. The number of subscribers fell in 2017 as consumers responded to a poor economic climate and as regulatory measures that required operators to disconnect unregistered SIM cards, though growth into 2019 was strong. The initial rapid growth in the number of subscribers had led to problems with network congestion and quality of service, prompting the regulator to impose fines and sanctions on network operators. These operators have responded by investing billions of dollars in base stations and fibre transmission infrastructure to support the increasing demand for data. The migration from the CDMA platform to GSM technology is almost complete, and though GSM still dominates the market there is a growing shift to services based on LTE. Although LTE coverage remains relatively low, investment among operators is extending the reach of services and is helping to develop consumer use of mobile data services.

Efforts are also being made to encourage network sharing and to outsource the management of tower infrastructure to third parties. There remains considerable growth potential in rural areas where development of network infrastructure and operations is expensive, and consequently mobile penetration is lower. The government’s plan to increase broadband penetration to 70% by 2021 largely depends on mobile infrastructure.

The mobile penetration is above 100% because many locals have 2 or more SIM cards. Nigeria is dual-SIM world leader with a market share of 66% dual-SIM phones in 2015. Nowhere else in the world devices holding two SIM cards are more popular. This is because of the variable network situation, many promotions and low starter prices.

Nigeria has four main mobile operators.

South African-based MTN is the mobile market leader.  MTN has invested heavily in Nigeria in recent years. They also bought CDMA-provider Visafone and moved their clients to the MTN network. In 2016 MTN launched 4G/LTE in the cities of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt and coverage will be expanded to other parts of the country in the near future (LTE coverage map). It utilises the 2600 MHz (band 7) frequency so far for LTE, but received additional spectrum on 800 MHz (band 20) from the Visaphone acquisition.

Over the next three years, MTN plan to invest about N600 billion in their network. This
investment will enable them to accelerate their 4G network expansion, deepen population
coverage and support the Federal Government’s broadband initiative. MTN have also conducted a 5G trial and have 5G demo centres in Abuja, Calabar and Lagos. However despite the successful 5G trial, MTN is not abandoning older generation cellular networks any time soon. According to a top executive, they will continue to roll-out 3G and 4G networks across the country for the next few years.

Glo Mobile by Globacom is the second major mobile operator in Nigeria.  Globacom Ltd. is a Nigerian privatly-owned multinational telecommunications company headquartered in Lagos. It currently operates in 4 countries in West Africa under the Glo brand.

In 2016 their 4G/LTE launched in 9 cities across the country, namely Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Jos, Warri, Eket, Benin City, Yola and Zaria. The 4G network will be extended to other major cities in the near future.

Airtel Nigeria is a subsidiary of Indian telecoms group Bharti Airtel. Airtel and Glo are competing fiercely for the number 2 operator spot in the country. Airtel started to roll out its 4G/LTE network in 2018 in major cities and towns in Anambra state, including Onitsha, Awka, Nnewi and are now available in Onitsha, Awka, Amawbia, Nkpor, Obosi, Ogidi, Ogbunike, Umuoji, Nsugbe, Onitsha and Nnewi. Airtel is playing catch-up with its three main rivals which launched LTE services in the second half of 2016.

9mobile is the smallest of the 4 major providers. Formerly Etisalat Nigeria and owned by Etisalat from the UAE until summer 2017. Etisalat suddenly exited the country after debt restructuring talks failed. They were taken over by Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd. (EMTS), who rebranded the operator as ‘9mobile'.However they continue to struggle and are losing subscribers.

With a population estimated at around 200 million, it’s often the case that more than one Nigerian subscription will be held by the same person. However, recent laws on the registration of SIM cards – making both registration and multiple SIM card ownership more difficult – may affect future mobile take-up calculations. Nevertheless the growth of mobile communications can be seen as positive news for Nigeria’s operators at a time when 4G coverage is being phased in/developed across the country.

Due to Coronavirus COVID-19, closure of Nigeria’s schools during lockdown has hit access to learning for poorer children. In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, about 20,000 children have been given a phone containing an app called Roducate to bridge digital divide. Local authorities plan to roll out the scheme to 300,000 children in the coming weeks. The freely distributed smartphone loaded with data and an app containing the curriculum and video, audio and chat-based classes. Exams will still be held in schools, she said, but officials will conduct studies on the effectiveness of digital learning on results.

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