What to expect from the Nigerian mobile market in 2016

I started this article back in December 2015 and then thought, “See, nobody wants to read anybody’s opinion about what to expect in 2016”. If you’re reading this, you probably are interested. I was wrong; right? LOL. Sorry. 2016 has taken off in a very interesting tangent. The first quarter is over now and has reinforced the thoughts that I had in mind back in December. So, here goes.

Nigerian mobile market in 2016

2016 is the year of the budget smartphone brands

This is the year that many who have sworn, “I can never use a TECNO”, will be forced by economic circumstances to get one. And the truth is that the TECNOs, Infinixes, miFones, Xiaomis and UMis have gotten much better, and in some cases, really, really good.

The budget brands already have a good chunk of the Nigerian mobile market, but at the rate things are going, they should have a stranglehold on it by December 2016. Huge growth will happen at the bottom of the pyramid.

2016 is the year of 4G LTE mobile

Nigeria already has a few 4G LTE internet providers on ground but with limited coverage. What will set 2016 apart is that it is the year 4G will go grassroots. Mobile networks always have that effect of spreading the availability of a service far and wide. We are yet to see Ntel’s presence on ground, and no-one quite knows what is up with Intercellular’s plans for a comeback to offer 4G services too. The real splash will happen when Nigeria’s largest mobile operator, MTN, launches 4G mobile services – if legal ropes from rival Etisalat do not tie them down.

Nigeria will move closer to being a smartphone/app market

Sorry to disappoint you all, but we are still not quite yet a smartphone market. Much of the country cannot afford those things yet. On the app front, things are even worse. I have spent time looking at download statistics for many of the apps that are hyped on tech blogs and all. 500 downloads. 1,000 downloads. We are a country largely powered by hype.

E-commerce has the largest figures, with none registering 5,000,000 yet. None. In a country of 97 million internet users. What were you saying again? We are moving though and we will make great strides if we keep at it. Expect more and more apps and services. We cannot have enough of them.

Expect Ultra Low-Cost Voice Calls

This is a given. The 4G operators are not playing. Last year, SmileVoice made an appearance. I do not know how well it has caught on, but I use it and can tell you that voice calls over LTE (VoLTE) are incredibly cheap. This is because the calls are made over an internet connection. Think of WhatsApp/BBM/Skype/Facebook calls. Aha. And other 4G mobile players will follow suit. Like Smile, Ntel will offer VoLTE too. The old mobile networks will have to rethink their revenue models. I don’t envy those guys. It must be a bit uncomfortable watching the game change this way. But they have to adapt. Data is the way forward. Networks of the future will be all data and voice just a service that is deployed over data.

2016 Will Witness More Affordable Data

Once 4G LTE goes mainstream, tariffs will drop. That was what happened with the GSM networks. It will happen faster this time because time is of the essence and the new networks need to grab market. For example, Ntel’s Monthly Plan offers “unlimited data” for N9,000 monthly. For the sake of this discussion, let’s say it really is 3GB daily (based on terms and conditions of usage), which is 90GB a month. That boils down to N100 per GB. Let that sink in.

With Ntel offering such a bargain, Smile 4G will have to adjust their tariffs or lose subscribers. MTN. Etisalat. Glo. Airtel. Everyone will shift, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Of the GSM networks, if there is anyone that is likely to match that price point this year, it is Glo. The champion of the masses. Keep your eyes on Airtel too.

Conclusions

2016 is fixing to be an exciting year for mobile in Nigeria. It will be a year when online video production and consumption will witness greater growth. It is a year to start that e-commerce business, build that app, or get into digital media. No; it won’t be Utopia, but it will be a significant year when the chronicles of Nigeria’s mobile history are told. The question is, Are you going to ride on it or just be a spectator?

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5 comments

  1. “97 million internet users”? I’m more inclined to believe there are 97 million active lines with multiple owners, seeing that most people have more than one SIM.

    I’m yet to be convinced about 4G. The 4G LTE phones may be out there, and have been for a number of years, but 4G is still expensive (except maybe in South Korea) so for now, it will remain a niche service compared to 3G.

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