Nigeria Embarks on Major 5G Expansion: Telecommunications Sector Invests Billions


Telecom operators such as MTN and Airtel are increasing their investments in infrastructure across Nigeria, leading to more Nigerians transitioning to 4G and 5G networks. MTN Nigeria’s CEO, Karl Toriola, announced in a recent investor call that the company has witnessed a 2.7% increase in the number of 4G sites, enhancing the 4G adoption rate from 79.1% to 81.5% among its users.

Significant growth has been observed in MTN’s 5G sites, escalating from 588 to 2,106, which has boosted the 5G usage to 11.3%, up from just 3.1%. On the other hand, Airtel has launched its 5G networks in four major cities, including Lagos and Abeokuta, and is currently in the phase of testing this network in Oshogbo.

According to regulatory documents from MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa, the companies collectively spent a total of ₦613 billion on expanding their 4G and 5G networks by the end of 2022. Specifically, MTN allocated ₦504.33 billion towards network development, while Airtel spent ₦108.79 billion during the same timeframe. This investment has coincided with a noticeable response from smartphone manufacturers, who have increased the supply of devices compatible with 4G and 5G networks. This is reflected in a report from Canalys, which highlights a 12% increase in smartphone deliveries to Africa in 2023.

By January 2024, TECNO emerged as the leading smartphone brand in the market, holding a 26.03% share. Following closely is Infinix, another brand from the same parent company, with a 20.88% share. Samsung secured the third position with 11.43% of the market, while Apple maintained the fourth spot, accounting for 9.66% of the market share.

According to data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), as of December 2023, 5G subscriptions accounted for 1.04% of internet users in Nigeria, while 31.33% utilized 4G. The report also indicated that there were only 2.18 million subscriptions to 3G, and 2G remains predominant, making up 57.84% of mobile internet subscriptions, although its usage has seen a decline.

Despite facing challenges such as supply chain disruptions and inflation, which led to a 30% increase in smartphone prices, as reported by GSMA, the uptake in 4G and 5G subscriptions has continued to rise. This growth can be attributed to the collaborations between telecom companies, asset financing firms, and smartphone manufacturers, which have introduced flexible financing options to mitigate the economic pressures.

The collaboration between Airtel and iTel is providing customers with access to a variety of affordably priced smartphones. Sam Adeoye, the head of public relations at Airtel Nigeria, stated that these agreements are facilitating the acquisition of 4G/5G devices and routers for subscribers. Aisha Husseini, the founder of Keza Africa, a device financing startup, mentioned that there is an increasing interest in smartphone financing due to the rising inflation in Nigeria. She pointed out that now, even individuals who previously would not have considered device financing are opting for it due to the depreciation of the naira.




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