If like me, you live on the bleeding edge of mobile technology, you definitely have a 5G smartphone in your hand and it is connected to a 5G network, likely with MTN or Airtel. But we are serious minority in the grand scheme of things. 2G is still the boss technology. Over 56% of mobile subscribers in Nigeria are still connected on 2G phones. Wild, right?

MTN rolled out the first commercial 5G network in Nigeria in August 2022. Since then, two others have joined the cutting edge league of 5G mobile operators – Mafab and Airtel. It is almost two years of 5G being available in Africa’s largest country with a population of 219 million mobile subscribers, but the technology is yet to catch on seriously.

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), as at end of March 2024, there were only about 2.7 million 5G subscribers in the country. That’s a measly 1.24% of total mobile subscribers. What is the problem? Why are Nigerians not adopting 5G smartphones faster?

Firstly, there are effectively only two 5G networks available – MTN and Airtel. Mafab is largely invisible to most mobile users in Nigeria. A ghost network, of sorts.

Secondly, the high cost of 5G smartphones has kept it out of the reach of the average person resident in Nigeria. Till today, there are still no 5G smartphones below the ₦100,000 price mark. As far back as 2021, statistics proved that if you spend over ₦100,000 on a smartphone purchase, you are in the top 10% of the country’s mobile phone spenders.

The above two factors, the second one about gadget price especially, mean that 5G is still out of reach of most people on the country. But then, you’d expect that the most widely used mobile technologies in Nigeria would be 4G or 3G; right? If you thought so, you were wrong.

2G is still the boss

The most widely used mobile technology in Nigeria is 2G. If you are shocked, you really do not understand the economic spread of the population of the country. Those old-school style feature phones with T9 alphanumeric keypads are still the dominant type of mobile phones in the country. There are those who, for marketing reasons, have hyped Nigeria as a smartphone country. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nigeria is still firmly a feature phone market.

The NCC’s figures say so clearly. The official statistics from the NCC says that 56.96% of mobile subscribers are on a 2G phone. In case you no longer remember what 2G is, that’s a network that runs GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and/or EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution). These were the earliest types of data for mobile networks. GPRS is pure 2G, while EDGE is referred to as 2.5G technology to indicate that it is an enhanced 2G technology.

When we say 2G networks, we are referring to networks that provide GPRS and/or EDGE, and we are talking of speeds limited to a theoretical maximum of around 400 kbps. That is mega slow. 5G has a theoretical maximum speed of 10 Gbps. That is about twenty times the speed of EDGE.

How is 4G faring?

About 20% of mobile subscribers are on 4G. That’s about 65.7 million users connecting via 4G.

What of 3G?

Only about 11% of mobile subscribers in the country are currently on 3G networks. That’s about 24 million of total mobile subscribers. MTN and the others might as well shut down their 3G networks and free up resources for use elsewhere.

Practical Implications

Coming to terms with the reality that, despite advances up to 5G, 2G is still the boss mobile technology in Nigeria will help put a lot of things in perspective for you, depending on what you do.

For example, if you are running a media website that aims to reach as many Nigerians as possible, you suddenly see that a fancy website with all the bells and whistles might not be the best way to go about that. A website that is designed to accommodate the most basic web browsing capabilities would be a better approach.

Also, if you were thinking of developing an app to reach 150 million Nigerians, for example, does it still seem like a good idea, considering that a good chunk of that number do not have access to a smartphone? Perhaps a basic website would work better? Or SMS? Or USSD (now you know why USSD has been a massive hit in the country).

I love cutting edge technology as much as the next digital evangelist enthusiast, or entrepreneur. I have access to five different 5G smartphone right now. But I’d be mistaken should I suppose that is representative of the majority of Nigerians. It isn’t. I love 5G technology, but till further notice, 2G is still the boss.

PS: You can keep track of the trajectory of 5G adoption in Nigeria.

Get Notified of New Content on Mobility Nigeria

Don’t snooze on fresh, new posts. One email per day only! We do not share your contact with anyone.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Avatar of Mister Mobility

By Mister Mobility

Nigeria's foremost tech blogger and smartphone reviewer since 2003. He uses the phones he reviews as his main phone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *