5G users in Nigeria: Tracking the numbers and trends

The first 5G network was commercially launched in Nigeria by MTN Nigeria on August 25, 2022 and the first set of 5G users in Nigeria arrived on the scene, using MTN’s 5G router and compatible 5G smartphones. The launch covered certain parts of Lagos and Nigeria, and was expected to expand to six more cities: Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kano, Owerri, and Maiduguri.

New telecom operator, MAFAB, operating as Mcom, also launched their 5G network in early 2023, though there is no-one who is able to tell that the network exists or that they have used it. To all intents and purposes, there are no known 5G users in Nigeria using Mafab/Mcom.

 

5G users in Nigeria

Airtel Nigeria launched its 5G network in mid-2023 in four states: Lagos, Ogun, Abuja, and Rivers. It was the third telecom operator to obtain a 5G license in Nigeria, after MTN and Mafab Communications. The arrival of Airtel 5G to join MTN 5G has boosted the numbers of 5G users in Nigeria, though most of them are on the MTN network.

Number of 5G users in Nigeria as at May 2023

At at the 3nd of May 2023, 5G users in the country made up only 0.12% of the total number of subscribers.

Number of 5G users in Nigeria as at June 2023

As at the end of June 2023, the market share if 5G subscribers in Nigeria was at a mere 0.14%.

Number of 5G users in Nigeria as at July 2023

And in July, there was a mild drop in 5G marketshare, down to 0.13%.

Number of 5G users in Nigeria as at August 2023

However, in August 2023, 5G users in Nigeria jumped up from 0.13% in July to 0.83%, which translates to 1.8 million subscribers using 5G in the country.

What led to the massive 0.70% jump from the July figure? That’s an addition of 284,700 new 5G users in one month. I don’t have the details, but I sure would like to know.

What you need to use 5G

5G is the fifth generation of mobile network technology that offers faster speeds, lower latency, and higher capacity than previous generations. To use 5G, you need a 5G smartphone or router and a compatible SIM card. Thankfully, existing 4G SIM cards on the MTN and Airtel networks are 5G-compliant, so you do not need to swap your SIM card if you have one of those.

If what you have is a 2G or 3G SIM card, though, you definitely have to go swap it for a 4G SIM, to be able to use 5G in your 5G smartphone or 5G router.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear this: 2G is still the most popular mobile technology in Nigeria. About 60% of mobile subscribers in the country are still on 2G. That includes users of GPRS and EDGE.

4G is the next most popular generation, with 28% of mobile subscribers in Nigeria using it. Not bad at all. 3G has about 11% of the total mobile subscribers in the country.

The way forward

The challenge is to find affordable ways to migrate the 60% 2G users directly to 4G, skipping 3G entirely. That would be a win for any of the big 4 mobile operators, MTN, Glo, Airtel, and 9mobile. Affordable KaiOS phones is one way forward, as was done in India, but here in Nigeria, the few we have seen on sale are anything but affordable. 4G phones in the region of ₦10,000 to ₦20,000 is what is needed to make that jump from 2G to 4G happen.

In India, the network operators subsidised the costs of KaiOS phones to make those low prices possible. Here in Nigeria, none of the operators have risen to the occasion. And so, as at the end of 2023, we have 131 million mobile users in Nigeria trapped on outdated mobile technologies like GPRS and EDGE.

Pushing for more 5G users in Nigeria

In the meantime, as we see more affordable 5G smartphones launched in the market, the number of 5G users in Nigeria will continue to rise. As at the time of publishing this, there are no 5G smartphones below ₦100,000 in the country yet. The cheapest 5G phones in Nigeria currently cost a little over ₦140,000.

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