For years here in Nigeria, we complained about MTN data tariffs not being competitive compared to say Glo. Meanwhile, Glo QoS was mostly crap. In late 2019, MTN stepped up with data tariffs similar to Glo. They introduced the new Jolly Data plans. Guess what has happened: MTN quality of service (QoS) has gone downhill too, joining Glo’s. That has been my experience and the experience of many other MTN Internet users I have been in contact with in the last few weeks. Even Girl Mo, my teenage daughter, curses at MTN now. Okay; that was a bit of an exaggeration. She gripes. A lot.
This fall in the quality of service of MTN Internet does not come as a surprise, actually. Anyone who understands business operating environments can see why. I explain it below.
The key point is that these mobile operators function in the same environment and deal with the same problems – horrible public power supply, mad logistics, and same pool of human resources. It is easy to say MTN should increase capacity to take care of the increased demand on their network. But in a limited environemnt, it is difficult to invest in capacity significantly above the competition without something suffering in some way. And so, if an operator drops data tariffs, quality takes a hit.
Unless one player introduces some disruptive technology to upset the balance, there cannot and will not be significant differentiation. Generally speaking, they will all suffer together, or when things improve, they will all improve together. This is an environmental issue.
This is why year after year, new ISPs come up, promising the world – and all failing eventually. I have been here long enough to see it happen. IPNX. Swift. Spectranet. Smile. InterC. There is a blaze of publicity in which the new entrant claims to be the saviour in the industry. They will revolutionalise everything and delight customers with exciting value-packed offers, they say. I have read those lines so many times that I can almost repeat them verbatim. But months and years down the line, customers are still making the same old complaints. Environment matters.
Which reminds me of how new tech blogs show up every other day, with lots of hype, but going the way of the dodo soon after. Each time, the founders claim they can do it better, but the blogs keep coming and going. Since 2004 when I began blogging till now, it has been the same endless cycle. It is the same principle behind that. Let me flesh it up.
When a new tech blog shows up, what does it want to report that is not already being reported? What are the new things happening in the Nigerian tech space often enough that the blog wants to thrive on? If you can answer that, you are ready to disrupt the tech blogging scene in Nigeria. But you are not likely to be able to do it unless something changes.
For example, in India, one phone model is sometimes recorded as having sold over a million units in one month or two months. In Nigeria, all of the smartphone shipped into the country in a quarter may not be more than 2 million units. All of them – Apple, Samsung, Nokia, TECNO, Infinix, etc, put together. In India, a new model is launched every other day. In Nigeria, that happens every few weeks. How do existing blogs scale on such limited content opportunities? And how is a new tech blog going to outshine existing ones under same conditions?
That is exactly what plagues many sectors in Nigeria. People say that the banks are copying one another; the mobile networks are copying one another, the blogs are copying one another – all doing similar things and offering similar products. Well, in an environment like this, differentiation is difficult, even close to being impossible. Once one player identifies an opportunity in an environment of scarece opportunities, it is unavoidable that others in the same space will look in that direction too.
It is what plagues the mobile operators too. Until a major factor in the environment changes, do not expect much difference from any player or service provider. While I understand that there are multiple factors involved, my focus in this article is the operating environment. You cannot out-innovate the environment beyond the competition. This is the same reason why most great footballers come from great footballing nations. A thriving environment creates more opportunities for all.
So, it looks like we will have to bear these painful experiences from mobile network operators for a while till the next gamechanger shows up and makes it possible for them to offer more data at lower costs without sacrificing on network integrity. When we have a more robust operating environment, we will get more options from the mobile operators. We will see more differentiation.
For now, it is more of the same everywhere you go. Pun intended.