Telecom sector’s challenges cut-off five million users from networks in 2021
•Teledensity, broadband penetration dip by 2% and 5% respectively
By the end of 2021, some 4.75 million telecommunications users were cut-off from the networks in the country. This appeared to be a carryover from the year 2020, where over eight million telephone lines were disconnected from the network.
According to the latest subscription statistics released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) yesterday, the December statistics, which completed the data for the year, showed that Nigeria ended 2021 with 195.5 million active telephone lines.
The country began the year 2021 with 200.2 million telephone users.
As at the period, the sector contended with the enrolment and verification of the National Identification Number (NIN) to Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards policy imposed by the Federal Government, weak consumer purchasing power and Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). These challenges, combined with COVID-19, slowed subscribers’ capability at the time.
Specifically, the 200.2 million subscribers in January 2021 dropped to 196 million in February and further slid to 192.4 million in March 2021.
By April, the figure dropped further to 188.7 million and 187 million in May. By June, the figure rose slightly to 187.6 million. In July 2021, NCC statistics showed the number rose to 187.8 million and 189.3 million in August.
By the last quarter of 2021, the subscriptions saw a twist, as more SIMs became activated. By September 2021, Nigeria had 190.8 million users. It moved to 191.9 million in October and by November, operators gained over two million users to peak at 193.2 million and 195.5 million by the end of the year.
The country’s teledensity, which stood at 104.8 per cent as at the beginning of the year, dropped to 102.4 per cent by December 2021. Teledensity is the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area. It varies widely across the nations and also between urban and rural areas within a country.
In the year, both broadband and narrowband Internet services also went down. In 2021, Internet subscription via the narrowband dropped from 150.8 million in January to 141.6 million by December 2021. Broadband subscriptions also dropped from 81.9 million to 78 million within the period under review.
By the end of the year, MTN still retained its position as the largest operator in the country with 73.5 million users and 37.7 per cent market share, Globacom displaced Airtel to emerge second largest operator with 54.8 million users and 28 per cent reach.
With 53.9 million subscribers and 27.4 per cent penetration, Airtel is third, far ahead of 9mobile, which had 12.8 million users and 6.5 per cent market penetration.
Speaking with The Guardian earlier in the year, the Nigerian Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola said the impact of the NIN-SIM policy rippled through into the year 2021 numbers and still being felt in conjunction with a suppressed consumer spending due to job losses and unemployment and the impact of COVID-19 delta variant.
Essentially, he said the trend has flatlined Y-o-Y and growth remains slow.
He said the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) remains steady, stressing that the minutes used per subscriber and subscriber numbers have tapered.
According to him, the top end of the market has a mix of Over The Top (OTT) usage against the steady voice market, so data usage is the determinant for revenue stability across the market, “otherwise, the trend is flat to negative as expected.”
Teniola, a former president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), had said the Q4 2021 numbers are sensitive to FG policies.
He said: “It needs Twitter, other digital services and apps to provide an uptick in consumer usage on the back of 5G deployment circa Q2 2022 onwards. FG needs to adopt a light hand regulatory approach to ensure that any potential momentum in the market is not severely depressed.”