• GSM operators add 5.10m new subscribers to network
• 207 communities still without telephony access
Nigeria recorded a marginal increase in its teledensity in 2016, ending the year with 110 per cent growth in the spread of telephony services, including voice, data, and multimedia services, and a host of others to its over 170 million populace.
Telephone density or 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.
The implication of the figure is that operators still need to do more to roll out services, as some part of the country are yet to have access to telephony services in the country.
Though, the country could have done better, but statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), showed that there were fluctuations in the growth rate. Besides, market observers blamed the slow growth on the poor economic situation in the country.
While as at December 2016, the country recorded 154 million active telephony users, about 207 communities with about 40 million Nigerians nationwide are still without basic telecommunications services.
The NCC statistics showed that the country began 2016 with 108.11 per cent teledensity. It later slumped and fluctuated between 106.16 per cent and 107.33 per cent from February to July 2016. It picked up in August, recording 109.14 per cent and struggled around it until November with 109.96 per cent and by December, rose to 110.38 per cent.
In terms of subscriptions, Nigeria has connected 235.5 million telephone lines across the GSM, Code Division and Multiple Access (CDMA), Fixed wired/wireless and the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) networks, with 154.5 million of them being active subscriptions as at December 2016.
Expectedly, the GSM operators (MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat), whose technology controls 99 per cent of the market, added about 5.10 million new subscribers to their networks collectively.
While the growth is coming, the NCC claimed to have discovered gaps in terms of telecommunications access in some areas. The Executive Vice Chairman of the commission, Prof. Umaru Danbatta, said about 40 million Nigerians reside in 207 communities across the country where gaps in telecommunications services have been identified.
Danbatta also attributed poor quality of service in the country to neglect of fixed telecommunications services, which had put tremendous pressure on mobile wireless services.
Commenting, the Chairman, Association of Licenced Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, noted that generally, 2016 was a difficult one for all the sectors of the economy, “without being defensive, the telecoms sector still fared well and better.”
He said, “2017 will be better because of the 2016 lessons we have learnt, which were across board,” and appealed to the Federal Government to address some salient challenges for things to take proper shape in the sector and the economy.
According to Adebayo, the issue of foreign exchange must be addressed quickly, “most companies in the sector run on forex. Even international calls, I mean roaming services terminating on the networks in Nigeria are dollar-based; it has become difficult settling that area. Procurement of equipment for the sector for service roll-out is also foreign exchange based. So, where all these are missing, it becomes difficult to get things into shape. But despite all these, the operators are still investing. The appeal is to the Federal Government to consider telecoms as a priority sector that must have access to foreign exchange because of the recurring and non-recurring expenditures that are dollar-based.”
Adebayo, who said if all these challenges persisted, Nigeria might be left behind, also urged to Federal Government to fix power, stressing that operators contend seriously with vandals and theft of generating sets.
To his counterpart at the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, to boost growth in the sector, government must resolve forex challenges in the country.
Teniola said the Dollar to Naira uncertainty has led to anxiety within the investment community, which also mean that foreign direct investment (FDI) needed to fund network expansion and capacity upgrades for members capital expenditure (CAPEX) programmes have been “put on hold’.
“We need government to see that an enabling environment with clarity in policy formulation and execution that leads to transparency will encourage investors both domestic and foreign to bring funds to drive this expansion.”
Government needs to remove the fear, uncertainty and doubt that is prevailing in the economy in 2017, or there will be further contraction in the economy irrespective of crude oil prices on the global market.”
The ATCON president posited that until government allows telecommunication equipment to be on the preferred list of items that can access cheaper USD$ to the Naira, “it is hard to see where the further growth will come from in 2017.”