As coronavirus continues to exert ravenous might on the economy, the telecommunication sector appears immune to its strains. The number of subscribers to telcos in Nigeria is rising even with limited freedom that has impacted many businesses. There has been a significant increase in the number of internet and call networks’ subscribers. The report for the month of February showed that the increase started early in the year.
According to the data from the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), the number of subscribers rose to 187 million in February. The number indicated eight percent year-on-year increase considering the 173.28 million subscribers at the same time in 2019.
There were a total of 1.4 million additions to the customer base of the telecommunication industry in the month of February given that the telcos recorded 185.74 million in January. Internet users also surged by 15 percent, increasing from 114,725,357 in February 2019 to 131,647,895 in February 2020.
Among the telcos, MTN Nigeria leads with 1.7 million new subscribers to command a total of 72.47 million users.
Airtel gained 490,389 new subscribers to reach a total of 50.49 million users. On the other hand, Globacom added 48,798 new subscribers to book its place behind Airtel with a total of 51.8 million customers in February.
9mobile lost 913,733 subscribers in February, making it the only GSM company to lose customers within that period. Its total subscribers dropped to 12.24 million.
MTN leads with a wide margin even though it lost 1,058 subscribers through the Visafone spectrum. It maintains its place as the largest network operator in Nigeria with 38.73 percent market share.
Globacom took the second place with 27.68 percent market share while Airtel clinched the third place with 26.98 percent market share. 9mobile remained at the fourth place with 6.54 percent market share.
On internet users, Globacom gained the highest number for the month of February with 1.75 million subscribers to record a total of 30.95 million.
MTN mobile internet subscribers’ base expanded to 56.49 million in the month of February, an addition of 960.814 new users from the 55.53 million in June last year. However, the South African company lost 1,378 users on its Visafone subsidiary, bringing the number of new subscribers down to a total of 88,818.
Airtel recorded 670,474 new users for the month of February to make a total of 36.17 million users when merged with the 35.5 million internet subscribers it recorded in January.
However, 9mobile incurred loss of subscribers also in mobile internet service. The company’s mobile internet subscribers nosedived from 8.04 million in January to 7.94 million in February, a 96,220 loss in the number of users in one month.
9Mobile’s struggle to keep up with the pace has been attributed to the bullying dominance of MTN, Airtel and Globacom. It was the main reason its parent company, Etisalat exited the country as the company was in the verge of liquidation and was about to be seized by creditors. The exit of Etisalat offered a lifeline to 9mobile as it gave opportunity to indigenous investors to buy into the company.
However, the domineering presence of the “big three” has continued to intimidate 9mobile. As it is the case with businesses in other sectors in Nigeria, subscribers always go to where the crowd is, unless there is a compelling change to attract them to the underdog. 9mobile tried to pull off the magic through promos but it could only entice a few who ported as soon as it no longer served.
The big deal lies in efficient services like the 4G roll out that ensures improved data services for subscribers. Nevertheless, financial constraints stymied 9Mobile’s aim to compete with the “big three” as they flex their financial muscle on infrastructural upgrade of their network systems. The 4G roll out alone attracted a large number of users to the other operators. Apart from that, the expansion of their network coverage to places where it has not been, especially rural areas helped to increase the number of voice communication users.
The recent data is an indication that 9mobile is still under pressure to catch up in the subscribers race. And it may take a holistic approach to the existing strategy for the needed growth to take effect.
However, the constant growth in the telecom sector even in the face of global economic turmoil presents Nigeria with the opportunity to close the gap of the unbanked using fintech. Experts have called on the Central Bank of Nigeria to issue licenses to network operators to enable them to provide banking services to a wider range of people in Nigeria.