My estimate of Nigeria’s smartphone penetration as at June 2016 is 22 million. Smartphone penetration is nowhere near the figures being bandied around in some quarters.

Analysis of Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration

First up, Nigeria’s smartphone penetration analytics is a troublesome subject. Statistics in this country is a problem. Even for the total population of the country, there are varying figures floating around. Smartphone penetration is defined as percentage of the country’s total population.

Nigeria’s Population

Nigeria’s official population as at 2013 was 173 million. One source puts the population figure in 2016 at 188 million. Others have it in between 177 million and 188 million. So, we have that range to work with. Trouble.

Mobile Internet Penetration in Nigeria

In 2015, the NCC said that there were 92 million mobile internet users in Nigeria. This figure has remained roughly the same till June 2016.

Users Versus Connections

As has been discussed before, chances are that the NCC’s figure captures total subscriptions and did not take into consideration the fact that in many cases, individuals own multiple lines. Let me explain this: one user can have multiple subscriptions (or connections). If a user has 3 active SIM cards, that means three subscriptions/connections belong to only that user. So figures of total subscriptions/connections do not tell us how many users/subscribers we have.

The NCC will do us all a whole lot of good by getting the subscription figures processed to pinpoint exactly how many mobile internet users we have. One thing is sure: because many users own multiple lines, the mobile internet penetration of Nigeria is much lower than the official 92 million being circulated now.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration: MobilityArena Estimate 2014

In 2014, I wrote about smartphone penetration in Nigeria. Back then, yours truly argued that the country would have not more than 10 million smartphones at the time. My words then:

Certainly, it wouldn’t be wrong to pin current smartphone ownership at a little over 10 million. Some have put the figure at closer to 20 million, which I strongly doubt.

If we have a compromise point of say 15 million smartphones in the country, that is still just about 12% of total mobile devices.

I still stand by that estimate.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration: McKinsey Figures

The Digital Finance For All 2016 report published this September by McKinsey Global Institute puts Nigeria’s smartphone penetration at 7%. This translates to just 12 million smartphones. According to the report, only 44% have mobile phones, though 87% have network coverage. The survey uses 177 million as the current figure for the country’s population.

12 million smartphones is a regression that is difficult to believe, considering the uptake in smartphone purchases that happened between 2014 and 2015 when the country was flooded with cheap smartphones. I am not sure how McKinsey arrived at the figure of 44% for mobile phones. That would put total mobile phones in Nigeria at 78 million. That figure sounds very off the mark.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration [2016]

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration: Africa Infotech Statistics

At this year’s Nigeria International Technology Exhibition and Conference (NITEC), Africa Infotech Consulting (AIC) submitted that the total mobile subscribers in Nigeria, if broken into smartphone and feature phone owners, would give smartphones a 30% share of the mobile market. Note that this is not 30% of the population but of users that have any kind of mobile phone. This is what I believe AIC says, contrary to reports by news media that AIC claims Nigeria’s smartphone penetration to be 30%

If however, what AIC really submitted was a 30% smartphone penetration i.e. of Nigeria’s total population, that would be unfortunate, as it is ridiculously high and untenable. 30% equals 53 million smartphones.

Anyone who has travelled around the country and done even a little bit of survey will acknowledge that outside of the large cities – Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt – smartphones are still largely a novelty. Smartphone penetration in Nigeria is nowhere near 30%.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration: NCC 2015 Statement

Note that in 2015, Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the commission at the time, Dr. Eugene Juwah, said that smartphone penetration in the country was just 12 per cent. That would translate to about 20 million smartphones.

My projections and calculations tell me that figure is very fair. No doubt, some growth happened between 2014 and 2015 and that could have pushed the figure from 10-15 million in 2014 to something close to 20 million in 2015. Not only does the NCC EVC’s statement conform to realities on ground in Nigeria, the NCC is the one body that should have the figures that we need. So, we have two cogent reasons why this should be held on to above others.

Facebook User Figures

We know that Facebook has 16 million users in Nigeria. That number includes users who access Facebook from all platforms, including PC, tablets, smartphones and feature phones. Think about it.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration: Statista Estimates

Statista, a portal that churns out statistics and studies from more than 18,000 sources, estimated that the number of smartphone users in Nigeria would reach 15.5 million in 2016. That sounds fair, but would mean that a drastic number of Nigerians have stopped using smartphones since 2015.

While, the present economic condition of the country may have prevented a significant increase in smartphone adoption, I do not think this is the case. We must not forget that there is also a fairly used market for smartphones that allows mobile subscribers to still pick up devices at fairly comfortable prices.

Pew Research Center

Pew put the the percentage of the population owning a smartphone in Nigeria at 28% in both 2015 and 2016. I find this highly exaggerated and unlikely. About 49 million Nigerians own smartphones? Everything else on ground says this figure is far out. My reasons are the same as to why a 30% figure by AIC above is untenable.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration figure by Opera

Opera’s 2016 Mobile Report puts the figure at 15.5 million. Again, the opera figure is far closer to the truth than what some others have submitted.

Staying Grounded About Smartphone Penetration in Nigeria

We are still asking the question, How many smartphones do we have in Nigeria? Perhaps nobody knows the exact figure. Nobody seems sure how many people are in Nigeria, for starters. So pegging an exact figure for smartphone penetration is going to be hard.

However, the most credible source of info that I have listed so far has to be the statement by the NCC EVC. Between 2014 and 2015, there was an explosive growth of smartphone purchases in Nigeria. That was the period in which budget brands like Innjoo, Infinix, and others flooded with cheap smartphones and Nigerians lapped them up.

Since mid to late 2015, however, the economic situation Nigeria has led to a jump in the prices of everything, smartphones inclusive. Purchases have been down on all sides. I do not believe that there has been a significant growth in smartphone ownership in Nigeria since 2015. That is if any growth has happened.

To expect growth of smartphone ownership where prices of devices have doubled in many cases is unrealistic. Chances are that ownership may have actually dropped a bit instead.

Looking at all the metrics of Nigeria’s population and the earning power of citizens, it is outrageous to suggest that Nigeria’s smartphone penetration can be anything above 22 million. That’s about 12% of the country’s population. This is a country where only 3% of adults earn more than N70,000 monthly, after all.

Nigeria’s Smartphone Penetration: The Potentials

Nigeria has huge potentials for smartphones. However, it does not look like those potentials are going to be converted into serious results soon. App download rates are small.

For perspective, GTBank has the most downloaded mobile app among Nigerian banks. The stats in Google Pay indicate it has been downloaded between 1,000,000 – 5,000,000 times. Note also that the app is used by GTBank customers across the countries the bank operates in. So, the actual Nigerian user base of the app is nowhere near 5 million.

Nigeria’s viable mobile/web/e-commerce market has been exaggerated for far too long. Consider that Kinnevik’s Q2 2016 report puts Konga’s active customers at 184,000, and the picture gets even clearer. 80% of those customers access the site via a mobile device.

The poverty level across the country is huge, and things have been tougher since 2015. In this recession, most mobile subscribers have tightened their belts further. Quite a number of budget smartphones that cost N20,000 last year now cost as much as N40,000. It is now hard to find any smartphones below N15,000.

Perhaps the country’s smartphone penetration will drop even lower. Nigeria is very far from being a smartphone market, and in the last 12 months, it has gotten harder for that lofty dream to come to pass. For now, and for the foreseeable future, feature phones rule Nigeria.

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By Mister Mobility

Nigeria's foremost tech blogger and smartphone reviewer. Call me Daddy.

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