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Nigeria calls for telecom investment

 Photo: Mobile services need foreign investment. (Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sproetniek)
 Mobile services need foreign investment. (Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sproetniek)
The growing demand for mobile services in Nigeria is shown by the extensive number of brands of mobile phones available at the Ikeja Computer Village in a suburb of the capital, Lagos.

Such demand is backed up by one executive at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), who believes the country needs additional investment in telecoms in order to address the huge variations in the quality of services.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Nigerian telecoms stands at US$25 billion, up from US$18 billion three years ago, according to reports quoting the NCC Executive Vice Chairman, Eugene Juwah.

Juwah believed that to expand existing facilities, the financing should come from external sources, particularly for broadband.

While Nigeria has seen rapid growth in mobile penetration in recent years, it is lagging behind when it comes to broadband data services.

According to the latest NCC figures, there were 98.3 million GSM subscribers in Nigeria at the end of June, up from 90.5 million at the start of the year, plus 3.5 million CDMA subscribers, but just half a million fixed line or fixed wireless connections.

This shows where demand overwhelmingly lies in a country of  around 170 million people.

The regulator does not provide active subscriber data for the years prior to 2010, but its database shows that at the end of 2003, there were just over four million connected lines in Nigeria, 3.1 million of which were GSM lines.

It was not possible to grow from zero to 100 million subscribers without feeling the impact of underpowered technology on the facilities, Juwah said.

Broadband is a technology that Nigeria believes it cannot do without. It is also one that should not be left only to telecommunication service providers, said Juwah.

The Nigerian mobile market is led by South Africa-based mobile telecom company MTN. Its local unit has a subscriber base of 43.1 million as at the end of June.

Other major GSM players are Nigerian telecom firm Globacom with almost 22 million customers, India's Airtel, owned by the large Bharti Group, with almost 20 million users and the UAE-based telecom firm Etisalat's EMTS unit with 13 million customers.

Top CDMA player is said to be Visafone Communications, controlling 68.5% of the market.

But of the many fixed line and fixed wireless players, only a handful have significant customer bases.

Locally-based Starcomms is the largest, with 192,000 customers, while Nigerian telecom pioneer Multilinks Telkom and US-based 21st Century Technologies have bases in excess of 70,000.

All have seen customer numbers fall quarter-on-quarter for the past year.

Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) has a static fixed line subscriber base of nearly 59,000. Its mobile unit MTEL has 258,000 customers.

from Ali Fakha, Dubai Office

Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)Tel: (234) 9-461-7000
Fax: (234) 9-461-7514
Web: http://www.ncc.gov.ng
Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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