Africa’s largest telecom market with more than 110 million subscribers
Nigeria is one of the biggest and fastest growing telecom markets in Africa, attracting huge amounts of foreign investment, and is yet standing at relatively low levels of market penetration. Far reaching liberalisation has led to hundreds of companies providing virtually all kinds of telecom and value-added services in an independently regulated market. After a decade of failed privatisation attempts, the incumbent national telco Nitel and its mobile arm M-Tel are currently in liquidation.
The West African country has overtaken South Africa to become the continent’s largest mobile market with now more than 110 million subscribers, and yet market penetration stands at only around 70% in early 2013. Subscriber growth accelerated again in 2012, driven by lower prices and a growing demand for mobile broadband services. The rapid growth has led to problems with network congestion and quality of service, prompting the regulatory authority NCC to impose fines and sanctions. Every year the network operators are investing billions of US$ into additional base stations and fibre optic transmission to support the ever increasing demand for bandwidth.
Much of the remaining addressable market is in the country’s rural areas where network rollouts and operations are expensive. This in combination with declining ARPU levels is forcing the networks to streamline their operations and to develop new revenue streams from services such as third generation (3G) mobile broadband, mobile payments/banking, and others. Major infrastructure sharing and outsourcing deals have been concluded. Several LTE networks are being rolled out, but commercial launches have been hindered by delays with frequency spectrum allocations.
Nigeria is also the most competitive fixed-line market in Africa, featuring a second national operator (SNO, Globacom) and over 80 other companies licensed to provide fixed telephony services. The alternative carriers combined now provide over 85% of all fixed connections, the majority of which has been implemented using wireless technologies. This in combination with a unified licensing regime gives the network operators the opportunity to also enter the lucrative mobile market and has helped them to secure hundreds of millions of US$ in investments from local and foreign investors. However, fixed-wireless connections have declined in the past few years in favour of mobile services. This has prompted mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the sector, which is likely to continue in the coming years.
The arrival of a second international submarine fibre-optic cable (Glo-1) in 2009 and a third and fourth in 2010 and 2012 (Main-One and WACS) has broken the monopoly of Nitel’s notorious SAT-3/WASC cable and is revolutionising the country’s underdeveloped Internet and broadband sector by reducing the cost of international bandwidth by up to 90%. Additional submarine cables are scheduled to go online in 2013 and 2014. Significant consolidation has occurred among Internet service providers (ISPs) as new powerful players from the fixed-wireless and mobile sector have entered this market with 3G mobile and advanced wireless broadband services such as WiMAX. The Internet Protocol (IP)-based next generation networks currently being rolled out are enabling converged voice, data/Internet and video services, VoIP is already carrying the bulk of Nigeria’s international voice traffic. Applications such as e-commerce, online banking and e-payments, e-health, e-learning and e-government are rapidly evolving.
Although the market is one of the most competitive in Africa, the industry regulator is tightening price caps and mandating further reductions of interconnect rates. Following years of delays, mobile number portability (MNP) was finally introduced in 2013, promising to make the market even more competitive.