Whither Mobile Internet, Etisalat?

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Mobile internet service has come of age in Nigeria. A few years ago when I got my first GPRS-enabled smartphone, most Nigerians had never heard of GPRS. Years down the road, demand for mobile internet service is a force that no serious operator ignores. From CDMA-based providers to GSM networks, each operator is waking up to the potentials of the mass of young Nigerians hungry for available, affordable and easy-to-use internet access.

On the CDMA front, players like Starcomms, Visafone, multilinks and Reltel are pushing the boundaries of mobile internet service. Reltel, in particular is on the edge of the game by providing feature-laden smartphones at affordable prices for its subscribers, who are now able to use the internet directly on their devices, as well as on their PCs.

Mobile internet on the GSM front was heated up with MTN’s recent bold moves. GloMobile has responded. Zain, typically, is neither here nor there. If history is anything to go by, the GSM mobile internet market is currently (and may always be) between MTN and GloMobile.

However, the question some of us are asking at the moment is, “What is Etisalat up to?

As a new entrant, Etisalat needs to demonstrate that it understands the trends in the market. One clear trend is that mobile internet sells. Can and will they rise up to the task? Without a 3G licence, does Etisalat have any chance of making a bold imprint in the mobile internet sector?

It is my opinion that they do. Setting up an EDGE-enabled network costs next to nothing compared to setting up a 3G-based network (licence fees inclusive). More interesting is the fact that modern EDGE networks deliver 3G speeds (384kbps theoretically). Etisalat can then later push for more advanced technology.

As such, with the will, Etisalat can stamp its foot on the mobile internet market right from launch. With innovative pricing and/or incentives, Etisalat should have a segment of that market cornered easilly. Incentives can include free bundled internet access for every airtime recharge monthly, or affordable flat monthly data tariffs.

But will Etisalat rise up to the occassion? We wait.

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