Nigeria’s first indigenous GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) operator and first private sector national carrier, Globacom, has been celebrating. Months ago, the company marked 16 years in the murky waters of the Nigerian economy with its head held so high.
Globacom is still trending and, perhaps, popping Champagne, and telling anyone willing to listen of its latest exploits. The company is beating its chest and giving itself a pat on the back at the same time for emerging as the preferred Nigerian network for two million new subscribers in September 2019.
Two million in one month, you would gasp, despite the harsh operating clime! And listen to this: The figure is said to be the largest in the industry, according to the latest stats released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
As it were, Globacom, in September 2019, added a record 1,945,846 new subscribers, a development that saw the company’s subscriber base jump from 47,265,628 in August to 49,211,474, thus placing it as the industry’s second largest customer base.
Airtel, which hitherto occupied the second position, from the latest figures, had a subscriber base of 48,909,678 at the end of September, after adding 987,787 new customers, thus representing 50 per cent of Globacom’s new addition within the period under review. Its figure at the end of the preceding month (August 2019) was 47,921,891 and by this development, Airtel became Nigeria’s third largest operator.
Incidentally, Globacom and Airtel are said to be the only industry players that added new subscribers, as MTN and 9mobile reportedly recorded a decline in active subscriptions for the month.
That notwithstanding, MTN remained Nigeria’s largest mobile operator, even when it reportedly lost 379,795 subscribers in the month under review, which brought its total subscriptions down to 65,328,104 from the 65,707,899 that it had in August. Do you wonder what was responsible for the MTN drop? Xeno…Yes? No? Whatever! Your guess is just as good, if not better than mine.
Similarly, the fourth biggest operator, 9mobile, reportedly lost 268,159 subscribers in September, going down from 15,602,255 in August to 15,334,096 in September.
Most importantly, and according to the industry regulator, the number of active mobile users rose from 176.6 million in August 2019 to 178.9 million in September. In other words, teledensity, which measures the number of active telephone connections per 100 inhabitants living within an area, also increased to 93.8 per cent.
Now, that puts a question mark to our population claim of about 200 million, since we cannot say for sure that almost every Nigerian has a telephone. But that is a topic for another day.
For now, what readily comes to mind is how Nigerians had managed in the past. Prior to GSM in Nigeria, gaining access to telephone in general was akin to the Biblical allusion to a camel and the eye of a needle.
The Lagos story was even worse, such that even if you had the money, without personal connections at the Telecom monopoly, NITEL (Nigerian Telecommunications Limited), you could take years on end to get a line. NITEL was the monopoly telephone service provider in Nigeria until 1992 when the Federal Government enacted the Nigerian Communications Commission Act that de-monopolized the telecommunications sector to encourage competition.
And when you eventually got lucky, I mean by getting a line, your next headache would be the NITEL technicians, who deliberately contrived faults on any line so that you would be forced to bribe them to repair same, most times. As a result, so many homes and even offices had dead telephone boxes lying around as decorative items.
As a student and even after in the 1990s, I recall the long queues we had to endure to make calls. And it would be your lucky day if at the time it got to your turn the line was not dead.
However, and as Mark R. Sullivan, then San Francisco president and director of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company was said to have opined way back in an April 11, 1953 report of the Tacoma News Tribune in the United States, there sure will be no escape from telephone. And so we have moved far away from that analogue era and now digitally moving to something better.
Everything said by Sullivan about the telephone, which then was as bulky as it could get, has come to pass.
Hear Sullivan then in an address, where he asserted that there would be no escape in the future from telephone: “In its final development, the telephone will be carried about by the individual, perhaps as we carry a watch today. It probably will require no dial or equivalent, and I think the users will be able to see each other, if they want, as they talk. Who knows but what it may actually translate from one language to another?”
Shamefully in our clime, a minister of communications, who later became Senate President of the Federal Republic, Major General David Mark (rtd), had espoused, in the 80’s for that matter, that telephone was not for the poor, although he came out later sometime during his political career to try to explain the context in which he made the statement that would be used against him.
Anyway, today, with GSM phone in your palm (now owned by both the poor and the rich), you can make both video and regular calls; send text messages without passing through an operator that would connect to another operator at the other end as used to be the case in the past before you could talk to whoever you were trying to talk to. All these just with a touch of the finger on the screen of your phone!
As a matter of fact, today, you can pair your phone that is neatly kept in your pocket with your wrist-watch or even your car speaker among other devices from where you make or take all calls and also send text messages with so much ease.
So again you ask: How did humanity get by without GSM, which made all these to happen?
Before the coming of GSM in the country in 2001, Nigeria could only boast of about 425,000 phone lines, mostly analogue, and was ranked among Afghanistan and other war-ravaged and economically strangled nations in terms of telecom development. The past 18 years, however, the number of active phone lines in Nigeria has risen to over 170 million, courtesy of GSM.
Also within the period, thousands of well-paying career jobs have been created with hundreds of thousands of ancillary jobs and countless economies of scale, including the sprouting of GSM cum information and communications technology (ICT) markets across the country.
According to a report of the NCC, for instance, GSM has not only created jobs, it has created wealth and empowered many homes. In the past 18 years, the telecom industry has grown from a $50 million sector in investments to over $68 billion, at least as at 2017, raking into the Federation Account within the period, over N15 trillion, “birthed a new socio-economic order in the manner Nigerians live and work, ramped up the nation’s profile and stature on the global stage and added new dynamics of transparency in governance, both in the private and public sector.”
In all and although a late entrant into the GSM market, the story of Nigeria telecom is said to be one of astute resilience, rapid growth, and quantum return on investment.
The first GSM service rolled out in August 2001 following a successful Digital Mobile Licence (DML) auction conducted in January 2001 by NCC, the nation’s telecom regulator. That auction, the first in Africa, was adjudged transparent and world-class by both the World Bank and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
NCC, it was gathered, had placed the asking price for each licence at a conservative $100 million. But at the end of the auction, each licensee paid as high as $285 million.
Little wonder, therefore, that Globacom would attribute its record performance in September and all others, as a matter of fact, to have been buoyed by improved service delivery following continuous upgrade of its infrastructure.
For a Nigerian company that was not given a chance at launch since at that time the sector was thought to be for foreigners, most industry watchers have rightly commended Glo, for making telephone accessible to millions of Nigerians.
As a matter of fact, fans of the indigenous operator always remind us of its introduction of the per second billing platform at launch in 2003, which caused a stir in the industry and ensured that people only paid for actual time spent on phone.
This, for sure, is one development that was regarded as the most innovative landmark intervention in the communications
industry since the introduction of GSM services in Nigeria in 2001, considering that the existing ones then claimed it was mission impossible at the time.
From putting telephone in the hands of the masses, to pioneering lifestyle-changing products and services and making massive infrastructural investments that have redefined how people live, communicate, socialise, work and do business, Glo as well as other operators have definitely made telecommunications the cornerstone of the people’s lives.
But it is not yet Uhuru as we still have issues with quality of services rendered, among others and the best way to reward the huge subscription base and loyal customers is for the GSM operators to improve on service which can be horrible at times.