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Mobile data prices fall by 75% as depletion crises rise

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Frustrations continued to heighten for telecoms subscribers over the rise in data depletion before the supposed expiration dates.

Checks showed that complaints cut across all the mobile network operators, including MTN, Glo, Airtel and 9mobile. It was also gathered that Internet Service Providers, including Spectranet, Smile, Tizeti are not left out. There were also complaints of unauthorized auto-renewal, call drops, illegal deductions and poor quality of service.

An MTN subscriber, Olusegun Adewole, who spoke with The Guardian, complained of airtime depletion without making calls or receiving notifications from the service provider as to what the deductions were meant for.

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Adewole explained: “I recharge N2000 for 4.5G for 30 days, I discovered that within a week, it had depleted to 2G. Hardly do I Facebook or Tweet. Something needs to be done. It is not now that we spend money anyhow, there is no disposable income again.”

On his part, a Glo customer, Ikechukwu Mbakwe, said although the network offered cheap data to customers, the quality of service has not made it possible for him to enjoy it.

“This is subtle corruption when you have to subscribe for data, your money is taken but you can’t even use the data at all. This is so pathetic,” he said.

A Spectranet subscriber, Nnenna Okolie, said though the service is great, “but what I cannot explain is the sudden depletion of data. Hardly do we get this before from the firm before. But lately, it’s like they have been infected with that syndrome.”

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Abuja based, Abdulai Musa, said: “services are extremely poor in Abuja, especially during the period of lockdown. From my investigation, I discovered that there are certain areas that enjoy better services in this state compared to others. For instance, areas like Garki, Asokoro, Wuse, Maitama can be said to enjoy relatively good services, but places like Maraba, Kuje, Jikwoyi, among others, the services there are very poor. We need serious intervention from the operators.”

Why data depletion persists
Speaking with The Guardian on possible causes, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, said the most likely causes without having the exact information have to do with the type of content the users consumed.

Teniola said typically, depending on where the consumers are located, the speed of downloads of multimedia content can be varied and this means that data of Gigabytes in nature can be consumed in a matter of minutes to hours. For downloads representing very large files or long conversations involving video interactions over OTT applications that provide virtual face-to-face meetings, more so if the data compression is not adjusted to limit the amount of data representing the quality of the video streamed.

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He recalled that during the stay-at-home directive, many home users have relied more on virtual online applications and have inadvertently noticed that data bundles that lasted for a period of time pre-COVID-19 are being consumed faster during lockdown – this is simply due to changes in user behaviour.

Teniola advised subscribers to seek unlimited data bundle packages if affordable, or seek OTT applications that are less heavy on data consumption.

According to him, it is very important to note that OTT applications in most cases assume unlimited data or cheap WiFi access as the underlying basis of their configuration.

In a public notice, signed by the Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, the Commission further explained that “the nature of technology (2G, 3G or 4G), the quality of the network, the speed of the download, the type of websites you visit, the specifications of your handset, and so many other factors contribute to your data consumption.”

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NCC disclosed that during the lockdown, which commenced on March 30 in some states, it received a total of 76 complaints, 58 of which were said to be related to unsatisfactory data services.

It, however, added that 68 of the grievances lodged with the Commission during that period had been resolved.

The Commission stated: “Your data is used whenever your phone connects to the Internet. The following activities are the most common uses that reduce your data: Sending and receiving emails; downloading and uploading files (pictures, documents, videos, among others.) – The larger the file, the more the data consumption; browsing the Internet – the more pictures, videos or graphics on the websites visited, the more data is used.

In a chat with The Guardian, the Chief Executive Officer, Spectranet, Ajay Awashti, disclosed that the firm prioritises its customers, and would continue to offer great services to them.

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“Spectranet by virtue of its robust network with industry-leading uptime figures, excellent customer service and an extremely strong brand, will continue to play its role as a leading Internet Service Provider. Our recent diversification into FTTx and WTTx based Fixed line services has further strengthened the position of the brand in the industry. We will continue to invest in cutting edge technologies to offer high-speed broadband in Nigeria, at par with international broadband standards,” he stated.

Awashti said being a technology company, Spectranet has been investing heavily in building up digital channels. The pace of digitalization needs to be hastened up now.
75% fall in data prices

In a related development, from 2014 to 2019, mobile data prices in Nigeria fell by 75 per cent.

Going by a study carried out by Research ICT Africa (RIA), titled: “1GB Basket statistics”, the average price of 1GB of data dropped from $11.15 in mid-2014 to $2.78 at the end of 2019.

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RIA is a policy and regulation think-tank and its 1GB Basket compares the average price of 1GB of mobile data across different African countries, in US dollars.

Analysis of the study by Connecting Africa showed that the declining price of data has been a trend across the continent, although different markets still have very different pricing structures. Nigeria is on the cheaper side of the scale, coming 14th cheapest on the continent in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The study claimed that Nigeria’s data prices declined steadily between 2014 and 2015 and then there was a big drop of 44 per cent between the second quarter and the fourth quarter of 2015, from $9.11 to $5.06.

According to it, a more steady decline came over the next two years, and since the end of 2017, the price of 1GB has been sitting steadily at around $2.80.

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Interestingly, when it comes to the different mobile operators in Nigeria, by the fourth quarter of 2019, all the operators had the same average price per GB at $2.78. In fact, they have maintained the same pricing since mid-2017, with the exception of Spectranet, which has had higher pricing.

The RIA data showed that MTN Nigeria’s data prices started off very low in 2014, at $1.67 per GB and then shot up to over $8 in early 2015, before coming down again to $3.25 in mid-2016 and then stabilized from 2017 onwards. In contrast, rival Airtel started off high in 2014, with 1GB costing $8.58, but this price dropped to just $0.12 by mid-2015, and then skyrocketed back to $9.71 in mid-2016, before falling to more reasonable levels at around $3 a quarter later.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet estimates that 1GB of data in Nigeria in 2019 was the equivalent of 1.7 per cent of the average monthly income of Nigerians. In comparison, the price of 1GB in Egypt was 0.50 per cent of average income; 2.17 per cent in South Africa; 3.10 per cent in Kenya; and 26.24 per cent of average income in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Telcos connect 2.5m new users
Meanwhile, the mobile network operators (MNOs) in April, activated about 2.5 million new telephone lines, though 1.7 million lower than what was activated in March.

According to the latest subscription statistics, the April edition, released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country had a total of 138.7 million Internet users in April, as against 136 million in March.

Further analysis showed that Globacom gained the highest number of new subscribers in April, adding 2.07 million new Internet users to its network to reach 35.94 million subscribers as against 33.87 million users in March.

MTN grew its Internet users by 698,593 new, which summed up to 57.98 million Internet subscribers in the month under review, as against 57.28 million in March.

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Airtel gained 41,791 new Internet subscribers during the lockdown to reach 36.87 million users from 36.83 million Internet subscribers in March.

The data indicated that 9mobile continued its losing trend with a loss of 302,125 Internet users in April down to 7.46 million subscribers in April as against 7.76 million users in May.

Largely, MTN remains the largest operator with 74.6 million subscribers with 39 per cent penetration; Globacom is second with 27.2 per cent penetration, and 51.8 million users.

Airtel, which at the weekend celebrated 10 years of operation with the brand in Nigeria, has 51.3 million users and controls 26.9 per cent market share. EMTS, operating as 9Mobile has 12.6 million customers with 6.6 per cent penetration.

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