In 2005, I wrote the article, Mobile Data: Bridging The Internet Divide In Africa, in which I argued that a good level of internet penetration in Nigeria and the rest of Africa would turn to mobile data i.e. internet services from mobile networks. That is exactly what happened in every African country that invested in mobile internet.
Nigeria now has 82 million mobile internet subscribers. That is huge. That is a very large market. As our mobile networks invested first in GPRS, then EDGE, 3G, 3.5 and then 3.75G technologies, and as device prices and mobile internet tariffs dropped, more and more Nigerians have taken up mobile internet.
It is safe to say at this point that in Nigeria, the digital divide has been effectively bridged. In cities, on the highways, in towns and villages, anyone with an internet enabled mobile phone, modem or mifi can stay connected for the most part. There are blind spots here and there, but it is impressive that mobile internet connectivity is available almost everywhere within Nigeria.
The question is, What Next?
While availability and uptake are largely now non-issues, the subject of quality of service remains a nagging one. In other words, while we have a bridge in place, it isn’t a very robust one. Many times, the services are unreliable for mission critical needs. Mobile internet here is pretty okay for social networking and messaging. But try uploading a 100MB video file with it and what you have on your hands is a nightmare. Nigeria has met the needs of individuals who need internet access for basic tasks. What is required next is widespread internet service for more advanced users.
Thankfully, the NCC seems to be acting proactive about this. They have been licensing broadband providers who hopefully will rise to the occasion. Entire neighbourhoods are being wired. Dedicated 4G wireless providers are rolling out as well. These providers cost significantly more than the average mobile internet plan, but I argue that such is understandable.
In my opinion, the NCC is on the right track. What we now need are service providers who offer strictly data and will work to ensure speeds and quality that can be used for enterprise-grade needs. So, I expect to see individuals continuing to subscribe to mobile internet plans, and businesses and institutions patronise dedicated internet providers where higher quality is made available.
The GSM networks have bridged the gap and will help reach those millions who are still yet to be connected, but the next phase of digital connectivity in Nigeria will be made possible by dedicated internet providers who will provide high quality service to those whose needs exceed using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and email.