The growth in telecommunications subscriptions that started since January this year took an impressive turn as Nigerians activated 11.2 million lines on the GSM networks in April.
This unprecedented monthly growth also brought the number of active mobile subscriptions in the country to an all-time high of 160 million, according to latest industry statistics released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
In the first three months of the year, (January-March), 4.2 million mobile lines were activated to bring the total number of active GSM lines to 148.8 million as at the end of March.
However, the April activations represent the highest monthly growth the operators have ever recorded. Active mobile subscrip-tions in the country closed December 2017 at 144.6 million, but by the end of January, the figure had risen to 146.8 million and by February it hit 147.9 million.
The NCC’s statistics also reveals that teledensity, which is the number of connected telephone lines for every 100 individuals living within an area, jumped from 103.6 in December 2017 to 114.6 in April, which is also the highest the country has recorded since the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in 2001.
However, the growth is largely driven by MTN, which accounted for 96 per cent of the entire figure, as it added 10.7 million subscriptions in the month. The operator, which recorded active 54.5 million subscriptions in March, grew its subscriber base to 65.2 million in April. Globacom followed distantly with 480,832 subscriptions to hit 39.5 million. Airtel garnered 235,059 additional subscriptions to reach 39.2 million as at the end of April.
However, 9Mobile, the fourth GSM operator by year of entry and number of subscriptions, continued its downward trend, shedding 170,143 subscribers in one month to be down to 16.1 million active subscribers.
Efforts to get NCC to explain the astronomic growth proved abortive as calls to the Commission’s Director of Public Affairs, Mr Tony Ojobo, were not answered as at the time of filing this report.
However, industry analysts are worried that the growing subscriber base without a commensurate upgrade on the operators’ networks may not be a good omen after all.
Their concerns are sparked by the current poor quality of service in the country, as they warn that the problem of network congestion and incidences of dropped calls may worsen with additional pressure on the networks.
Telecom consumers have lately been complaining about deteriorating service quality, which the operators have also blamed on their inability to secure forex to import equipment for upgrade and the indiscriminate shutting of base stations by government agencies over tax. According to the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, the telcos need forex concession from the Central Bank of Nigeria to be able to import equipment to upgrade their networks.
Adebayo blamed current subscribers’ experience on congestion on all the networks, noting that operators have not been able to optimise their networks as a result of increased operation costs.
He said since naira/dollar exchange rate had gone up significantly, it had become difficult for the operators to import equipment for network upgrade. Adebayo added that the telecom companies were also finding it difficult to meet their foreign exchange obligations to vendors.
He said the situation was worsened in some places like Abuja, where the telecom companies were finding it difficult to get approval to build base stations.
According to the President, of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Olusola Teniola, there has not been improvement in quality of service, because operators are still battling with high capital expenditure and could not afford to spend more on network expansion.
He said: “There has been a huge decrease in operators’ purchasing power relative to what was budgeted for in 2013. So, assumptions made on CAPEX (capital expenditures) planning then for 2018 can no longer be relied on as the revenue growth in Naira has not increased enough to compensate for the steep devaluation in Naira, experienced over the last 24 months.”