The bearish trend in the telecommunications market in Nigeria persisted last year as the number of dormant telephone lines increased significantly to over 93.3 million or 38.5 per cent since 2001, New Telegraph has learnt.
According to data obtained from the telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), from the total of 241.3 million connected lines, only 145 million were active at the end of December 2017. This indicates inactive telephone lines of 93.3 million, which is equivalent to 38.5 per cent of the total connected telephone lines in the country.
From 2001 till date, the country has witnessed a geometric growth in telecoms subscriber base, having jumped from less than 500,000 lines to over 155 million active subscribers as at December, 2016, at which time total connected lines stood at 235 million. It was gathered that despite having reached 155 million active subscriber base in December 2016, a bearish trend where telecoms operators were losing subscribers set in in January 2017, a development that also subjected teledensity to a dip.
From 155 million in January last year, it fell to 154.1 million last February; 154.4 million in March; 149.2 million in April; 145.3 million in May and in June, the figure fell further to 143 million. In July, active subscribers were 139.1 million and 139.4 million in August while the September figure rebounded to 139.9 million In the same upwards swing, which started in August, the figure increased to 140.7 million; 142.3 million and 145 million in October, November and December respectively.
The crash in active subscriber base between January and end of July represents about eight per cent loss of the total subscriber base in the country. But analysis of the latest subscriber data showed that the subscriber loss was recorded overwhelmingly on the networks of global system for mobile communications (GSM) operators such as MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile, which control over 98 per cent of the total subscribers in the country.
According to the NCC data, as at last January, GSM firms collectively had 154.6 million subscribers. This figure crashed to 144.6 million by end of December, 2017.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the subscriber base loss on GSM networks has been traced to the wanton subscriber loss on the network of the recently troubled Etisalat (now 9mobile) where its active subscriber base crashed from over 22 million to 17 million subscribers. Reacting to this in an interview in Lagos, the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, Mr. Sunday Dare, said the speculation on sales of 9mobile, in particular, has culminated in millions of subscribers dropping their active lines on the network, thereby making them inactive.
According to him, “the unconfirmed report being peddled in the media in the course of the sale has had a negative downturn on the company’s subscriber base from 22 million subscribers to 17 milliion subscribers. We should know that the sales process of 9mobile is still on-going and speculations will not do the already-troubled brand any good.”
Meanwhile, between January and December 2017, the code division multiple access (CDMA) subscribers remained unchanged at 217,566 throughout the six month, but fixed wired/wireless networks’ and Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) subscribers increased from 151,088 to 139,344 (fixed) and from 84,447 to 70,926 (VoIP) respectively.
Similarly, the teledensity has also been negatively affected as a result of the decline in subscriber base dropping consistently from 110.80 per cent in January to 102.19 per cent at the end of June, but peaked at 103.61 per cent in December, 2017. Telephone density or teledensity is the number of telephone connections for every 100 individuals living within an area.
Already, industry regulator and other analysts have been consistent in their positions regarding the factors responsible for the crash in subscribers. According to Dare, the crash in subscriber base could be linked to the tripartite factors, including economic recession (though this is said to have been over), SIM churning and technology convergence, making most telecoms consumers opt for over the top (OTT) platforms such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Vibre, Facebook calls and Blackberry Messenger, among others.
Meanwhile, President, Medallion Communications Limited, Mr. Ike Nnamani, said the issue of OTT will continue to affect subscriber base, which will compel operators to be more innovative as the development eats into their revenue base.
Commenting on the potential loss by telcos due to rising number of inactive lines in the country, Innamani, said: “It is unassailable that if a subscriber abandoned his or her registered line instead of using same to access mobile services, the affected operator is losing potential revenue and this, I believe, runs into billions of naira monthly.”
According to him, “no operator, whether small or big, wants to lose its subscriber to competitors or have them not using their lines for access services.”
Also commenting on the development by telephone chat with New Telegraph, Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, said: “Competition in the telecoms sector is getting keener by the day and this makes subscribers have the tendency to change their existing line for another preferred network, since they now have multiple options.”
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