Nigeria’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector looks destined for even more exceptional growth despite some challenges.

Today Nigeria’s ICT sector is the fastest and most robust sector of the country’s economy, contributing more than the manufacturing, banking and solid minerals sectors combined. But it wasn’t always this way.

The first telegraphic submarine cable was laid by the British firm Cable & Wireless in 1886. By the time political independence was declared from Britain in 1960, Nigeria still had just 18,724 fixed telephone lines. Between 1960 and 2000, the active subscriber base grew to 400,000 fixed lines for a population estimated at 120 million.

ict1The most eventful era for the ICT sector was from 2000 and 2011. The underlining factors include a strong desire on the part of a democratic government to liberalize the sector, and the subsequent creation in 1992 of a strong independent regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), staffed by professionals knowledgeable about global trends in telecommunications evolution. The commission explored the ICT sector business potentials and how to translate them for services delivery within Nigeria.

Revolutionary years

The period from 2000 until today has been described as Nigeria’s telecommunication revolution, given the quantum growth in the diverse fields of telecommunications services delivery and regulatory advancements. The National Telecommunications Policy enables the telecom regulator to reinvigorate the regulatory framework in a way that boosted the confidence of investors.

The result was the competition which followed the major auctioning of digital mobile licenses in Nigeria in 2001. Companies who were capable of rolling out basic services attracted millions of Nigerians who had hitherto been starved of basic telecommunications services. With the telecom operators rolling out services in an environment where individuals and corporate organizations were yearning for services, the nation’s active subscription and landline telephones in use (teledensity) rose dramatically.

With only about 400,000 lines in 2001, the number of active lines by end of January 2011 stood at 89 million, resulting in teledensity of 64.16. Today, according to the NCC, the mobile subscriber base in Nigeria is more than 95 million. GSM accounts for 92% of Nigeria’s telecommunications market, while CDMA has a 7% share and fixed line services account for just 1%.

Economic impact

Nigeria is ranked the largest and fastest-growing ICT market in Africa and among the ten fastest telecom growth markets in the world. This is as a result of its robustness to return on investments.

According to the NCC, private sector investment including direct foreign investment in Nigeria’s telecommunications industry grew from about $50 million in 1999 to more than $18 billion by end of 2009. Moreover nearly $2 billion was contributed to the coffers of the federal government within that time frame through frequency spectrum sales, enabling the government to plough back revenues earned from the sector for the provision of development infrastructure.

Nigeria’s telecommunications sector drives the ICT industry. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) stated in the Internet World Stats in March 2011 that Nigeria had 44 million internet users, the most of any African country. Its internet penetration rate per 100 people grew 17% in 2008 and 23% in 2009. But this increase in internet use is mainly through mobile phones. And although there are four major computer OEMs in Nigeria (Zinox, Omatek, Beta and Brian computers) only the first two are in active production and they do not have the capacity to service even a quarter of the Nigerian market. As a result of these two facts there is no clear-cut distinction between the telecommunication and information technology sectors in Nigeria.

The impact of ICT on economic growth has been impressive. The sector now contributes significantly to GDP, which was hitherto dominated by the oil sector. The percentage share of GDP from ICT rose from 0.06% in 1999 to 2.39% by 2007. However, it moved up to 2.9% in 2008 and 3.66% in 2009. By 2010, ICT had contributed 8.2% to the nation’s GDP.

Meanwhile, estimates by Pyramid Research in a 2010 report put the annual revenue from mobile services between 2% and 7% of all African countries’ nominal GDP, while in Nigeria the ratio is close to 4%. The Nigeria telecommunications fact sheet released by the United States Embassy in Nigeria in October 2011 states that “the ICT sector is the fastest and most robust sector of the Nigerian economy, contributing more than the manufacturing, banking and solid minerals sectors combined.”

The fact sheet shows that the ICT sector contributed 8.2% to the 2010 GDP and that ICT investment spiked 700% in 2001 and has received double-digit growth every year since. In 2009, investment rose by 31% to $18 billion.

Other Sectors

Growth in the ICT sector has had significant impact in the other sectors of the economy, especially the financial sector. In commercial banking services, the quantity of transactions, mainly through telecommunications services, has increased. Electronic banking facilities such as ATM services, online financial transactions, international credit and debit card facilities, airline ticketing and reservations, are some of the numerous ways that the industry has aided the growth and security of the financial sector.

Major players

Among the GSM players, MTN Nigeria has the largest share of the market with 48%, followed by Globacom which has 23% of the market. Airtel which purchased Zain in 2010 also has 19% market share while Etisalat controls 9%.

ict3There were also about eight Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators who played major roles in the development of the sector, although only about three of them (Starcomms, Visafone and MultiLinks) are operating today.

But there is imbalance in the operational strengths of the two genre of operators. Statistics released recently by the NCC put market shares of the GSM operators at 91% while that of the CDMA is 9%. It also said that 99% of all mobile users in Nigeria rely on the GSM platform.

NCC’s December 2009 to July 2010 subscriber data said active mobile CDMA lines which stood at 7.7 million in January 2010, dropped to 6.6 million by July 2010. This means that 1.08 million active lines had become inactive.

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Investment opportunities

There are still huge opportunities for potential investors in the sector, particularly in the area of broadband and data services provisions. Two Nigerian companies, Main One and Globacom, landed two private undersea cable projects which increased penetration while a third, the West African Cable System (WACS), is awaited.

ict4However, a major problem seems to be how to take the broadband services to rural areas where most Nigerians live. This is an area potential investors may also look at.

The sector is also challenged by fragmented legislation in spite of its convergent nature. The president of Nigerian Digital Bridge Institute (DBI), Dr Raymond Akwule, who chairs a 9-man committee to harmonize Nigeria’s ICT policies, lamented that “presently in Nigeria, policies guiding the ICT sector are treated under various legislation. These laws are however not comprehensive enough to deal with the convergence of all relevant ICT subsectors and other ICT related issues in the current digital world.”

Akwule explained that there was lack of a comprehensive and harmonized ICT policy in the country, inadequate infrastructure, lack of legal and regulatory framework, absence of Universal Access Service, lack of security and local content.

Success Story
Who wouldn’t come to Nigeria?

Huawei is a global information and communications technology company headquartered in Shenzhen, China and has been in Nigeria for more than a decade. It is the largest China-based networking and telecommunications equipment supplier and the second-largest supplier of mobile telecommunications infrastructure equipment in the world.

How long have you been in the Nigerian market?

Huawei was established in Nigeria in 1999 and more than 50% of our employees are local. Now we have a leading position in the Nigerian telecommunications market. We work with the major GSM operators in Nigeria including MTN, Etisalat, Airtel, Globacom, Visafone and Starcomms. In November 2004 we introduced Next Generation telecommunications technology to NIgeria. In 2004, we migrated Starcomms’ IN and SMS system, which enabled Starcomms to grow its subscriber base from less than 80, 000 to 200,000, an increase of more than 200%.

Why did you come to Nigeria?

Who wouldn’t come to Nigeria? The market is here. The environment is conducive, the population is huge, which counts for every investor. Besides, we have established end-to-end advantages in telecom networks, devices and cloud computing. We are committed to creating maximum value for telecom operators, enterprises and consumers by providing competitive solutions and services. Our products and solutions have been deployed in over 140 countries, serving more than one third of the world’s population

What has been you experience in Nigeria so far?

In every market, there must be issues but when you look at your bottom line and see that your business is moving in the right direction with expected return on investment, the challenges are always overlooked. In fact coming to Nigeria was our biggest move in West Africa. To demonstrate our long-term commitment to Nigeria, in 2006 we invested $10 million to build a training center for employees. Furthermore, we have cooperated with several universities in Nigeria to provide training for their teachers.

Five years down the line, what are your expansion and marketing plans?

We intend to be one of the top three handset vendors worldwide by 2015. We will embark on a marketing campaign to create the brand awareness that is needed to create the buzz around the brand. Benefiting from the rising popularity of Android, we will compete with other OEMs who use the operating system. Like I said, Huawei’s push into the Nigerian open market marks the company’s biggest step into the world of mobile devices in West Africa.

Closer look
ICT institutional bodies and activities

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), regulates the telecommunications industry while National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), champions growth in the IT sector.

The National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) is a parastatal of the federal Ministry of Science and Technology that carries out the evaluation and registration of technology transfer agreements; promotion of intellectual property; technology advisory and support services; commercialization of R&D results; research industry linkage; production of compendium management information system; publication of project profiles on R&D results.

Galaxy Backbone was established in 2006 to streamline the increasing proliferation of disparate IT networks and assets across federal government MDAs and to be the leading enabler of digital inclusion in Nigeria and Africa.

Nigerian Communications Satellite Company Limited, (NIGCOMSAT): Established in 2006 with its primary function to manage and exploit the commercial viability of the Nigerian Communication Satellite for the social economic benefit of the nation.

GSM operators: Other major contributors to the growth of the sector include the five mobile GSM operators, licensed in 2001 among which only four (Globacom, MTN, Airtel and Etisalat) are operational. They provide most of the needed growth infrastructure and build relevant backbones that aide the surge in penetration and growth.

In addition, two major Nigerian companies, MainOne Cable and Globacom landed two undersea cable projects in the country to increase broadband penetration and ease the strain in mobile telephony. A third, the West African Cable System, (WACS) is also expected soon.