Why it appears that Nigeria lost 5 million mobile subscribers

News media have been reporting that Nigeria lost 5 million mobile subscribers in April 2017. Mister Mo explains what really happened and why that news is not true.

Nigerian Communication Commission’s subscriber data for April 2017 is in and it isn’t looking pretty. For a country that has been used to recording subscriber increases for years, it is news that this time, mobile subscriptions dropped by 5.2 million lines. Yes, between MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat, 5.2 million lines blacked out and they ended up with a combined 149.2 million subscriptions.

What is interesting is that total mobile internet subscriptions which had dropped from 93 million recorded last year to 89 million in February, rose slightly to 90,124,428.

Why The Drop?

The question on many people’s lips is, Why the drop in subscriptions?

For starters, it is important to always draw the distinction between the NCC’s subscription numbers and unique subscribers. I doubt that Nigeria really lost any mobile subscriber (save in the case of death or emigration). NCC’s total figures refer to total subscriptions. If you consider that many people own more than one line, you will get a clearer picture. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this or we will be seriously off the mark.

Nigeria has much less mobile subscribers than the 149.2 million subscriptions that NCC reported for April 2017. What has happened is that quite a number of users have dropped one or more of their multiple lines. Why? There is an ongoing recession that has meant that people have had to manage their expenses better. Food, rent and other needs rank higher than a 2nd, 3rd or 4th mobile line.

If you are familiar with the Nigerian telecom landscape, you already know that a number of people keep multiple mobile lines for a variety of reasons, including: coverage, cheaper tariffs and quality of service. Sometimes, a user finds that one network is great for voice calls and another is better for mobile data, so he keeps two lines running.

When you look at the fact that number of mobile subscriptions is dropping (and mobile internet subscriptions have dropped too), you can have a better view of the issues raised in my article on Nigeria’s smartphone penetration in September 2016.

One day, the NCC will start publishing unique subscriber statistics, not just total subscriptions. In the meantime, you can be rest assured that the country did not lose 5 million subscribers; it merely lost 5 million duplicate lines. Our mobile telephony penetration is largely intact.

Hopefully, this recession and its effects will go away quickly. And hopefully, residents of Nigeria will also have no more reason to run multiple mobile lines. An improvement in quality of service from the various networks is key to making the latter a reality.

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3 comments

  1. U r on point. I v up to 10 sims with me, two Airtel lines are active for data, one Glo line for share data with a friend and two Mtn lines for calls

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