Africa presents a unique opportunity for internet development thanks notably to the fact that it lacks the legacy infrastructure present in regions that developed the internet. And because there are no legacy systems to update in terms of expensive hardware, certain regions in Africa have been able to leapfrog the technologies of the last few decades and skip right to the new ones. That doesn’t mean the continent is gearing up for something like 5G, but it does mean that rapid-fire mobile development is possible. Nowhere is that more evident than Nigeria.
Nigeria’s mobile internet market is one of the most successful in Africa. Indeed, the Nigerian Communications Commission reported this week that the number of mobile internet users is now 97.21 million, and there was an increase of 1.84 million users in September alone. That is a staggering spike. The N.C.C. says that in August, there were 95.37 million users. Those figures encompass users of both the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA).
MTN — Africa’s largest telco and the top provider in Nigeria — has over 62 million subscribers on its network. And the N.C.C. recently approved the renewal and extension of the tenure of MTN’s operating spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands, as well as Airtel Nigeria’s licenses. Both have to pay hefty sums for the renewals, but MTN has also experienced some scandal this year, resulting in an enormous fine from the government.
In late October, the N.C.C. fined MTN $5.2 billion for failing to disconnect subscribers with unregistered or incomplete SIM cards. The fine is over the timing of the disconnection of 5.1 million subscribers in August and September. Reuters reported that the fine is more than a fifth of the company’s market value, and is a result of stiffening regulation in the country.
Still, Nigeria’s mobile market is going full-steam-ahead. Reports have detailed how the NATCOM Consortium — the parent company of Nigeria Telecommunications or NITEL — has finalized plans to roll out 4G this month. Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt are the first cities to access the speeds. Next on the horizon will likely be the internet of things, although there is significant work needed to develop connectivity and improve attitude toward the web in the meantime. Nigeria is still a country that partly restricts internet freedom in terms of content. 38% of the country has access to the internet right now, and while that is not a huge portion, it’s big enough to censor in a meaningful way. But even so, Nigeria is attracting foreign investment in its internet-based markets. (In October, Blouin News delved into the country’s rising e-pay economy.) Expect to see leaps and bounds from mobile-based businesses over the next couple of years.