Business

COVID-19: Telcos double internet growth in 2020

28m users added in 11 months

Buoyed by the coronavirus pandemic that forced many to embrace the use of the internet, telecommunications operators in Nigeria recorded a double growth in data subscriptions last year. Between January and November, the operators were able to garner approximately 28 million new internet subscriptions compared with 14 million recorded in 2019.

This came as the highest growth ever recorded in a year, even with December figure yet to be added. According to the industry data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), internet subscriptions across the GSM, fixed wired and VoIP networks stood at 154.9 million as of November 2020.

In 2019, internet subscriptions in the country grew by 14 million to close the year at 126 million. While the telcos’ primary source of revenue had over the years been the voice calls, the table turned last year as the operators began to record minimal growth in voice revenue but a massive increase in data income. According to industry analysts, voice is becoming saturated while data is becoming the new mainstream source of income for the service providers.

The operators in preparation for this shift have also intensified their investments in building and expanding their 4G infrastructure across the country. According to the NCC’s data, the mobile networks, MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, remained the preferred choice of connectivity by many Nigerians as they accounted for 99.7 per cent of the internet subscriptions. While mobile internet subscriptions as of November stood at 154.4 million, subscriptions over fixed wired and VoIP networks stood at 440,580.

The report showed that MTN added 11.7 million new internet customers between January and November 2020. The telco, which had the largest subscriber both for voice and internet, had a total of 65.8 million internet custom- ers as of November. Airtel, which is the secondlargest operator, recorded an increase of seven million internet subscriptions in the period under review. This brought its internet database to 41.5 million in November.

Globacom gained a total of 10.9 million new internet subscriptions in the eleven months, which brought its customer base to 39.9 million as of November end. However, 9mobile maintained its fourth position with a decline in the number of its internet customers.

The telco lost a total of 828, 540 data customers in the period under review, which reduced its total subscription number to 7.2 million from 8 million it had in December 2019. Meanwhile, despite the record of 154.9 million active internet subscriptions as of November 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that Nigeria falls among the category of countries where only 40-60 people have access to the internet out of 100 inhabitants.

The body in its latest report on global internet access distribution said internet usage remains a luxury for many people as half of the world’s population does not have access to the Internet, either through a mobile device or through fixed-line broadband.

Nigeria, however, falls in the third category of countries with higher access and at the same level as South Africa, Algeria, and Egypt, where 60 out of 100 people have access to the internet. American and European countries such as the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada have the highest access rates with 80-100 having access to the internet out of 100 people.

Emphasising the need for universal internet access, IMF noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown have triggered a mass migration from analogue to digital and highlighted that access to the Internet is crucial for socio-economic inclusion. “High-speed Internet is key for working from home, for children’s education when they can’t attend school in person, for telemedicine, for benefiting from social support programs, and for enabling access to financial services for everyone, especially for those living in remote areas,” the body stated in the report.

“The digital divide—the gap between those who have Internet access and those who don’t—is more like a chasm, both within and between countries. Advanced economies like the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada have the highest access rates. Big emerging economies show large disparities in the proportion of Internet users in their populations, which range from about two-thirds in Brazil and Mexico to about one-third in India. “Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by many in emerging and developing economies in Asia, are among those with the lowest access to the Internet despite being world leaders in mobile money transactions.

There is also a large variation in Internet connectivity by firms in sub- Saharan Africa—only about 60 percent of businesses use email for business compared to about 85 percent in Europe and Central Asia,” IMF stated.

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