Thursday, 27 June 2013

Data uptake in Nigeria shows that its not what you do, but how that you do it that counts

Given the capital-intensive nature of the business, mobile operators need a payback. And that's the balancing act all operators have to perform; investing enough to remain competitive; ensuring that the basic service levels are maintained to stay the right side of the regulator, whilst also ensuring that offerings remain sufficiently 'must have' to win and retain custom. Showing a profit also needs to be on the list.
In the compelling offers stakes, in the beginning it was voice. And then it was texting (SMS). There has been a huge shift in mobile messaging, to the point that the booming rise of Over-the-Top (OTT) messaging apps (or ‘next generation’ messaging services) could herald ‘the end of SMS’. Last year Portio Research provided five-year OTT messaging forecasts which projected OTT traffic would exceed 20 trillion P2P (Peer-to-Peer) messages in 2016.

The contribution messaging makes to total MNO data revenues is actually set to grow over the next few, from 65.6 percent in 2011 to 66.4 percent in 2016, as other services suffer greater marginalisation. In its ‘Mobile Messaging Futures 2012-2016’ report, Portio reckoned that SMS yielded the greatest revenue for operators in 2011 and mobile IM gathered the lowest. In 2012, the global mobile messaging market was worth USD 231 billion.

Informa Telecoms & Media has more recently estimated that at the current rate at which OTT messaging is growing, the volume of global daily OTT-messaging traffic is set to be twice that of Peer-to-peer SMS messaging by the end of 2013. Daily OTT-messaging traffic has already overtaken daily P2P SMS traffic, according to newly collected data, with OTT messaging totalling an average of 19.1 billion messages a day in 2012, compared with an average of 17.6 billion P2P SMS messages a day.

But crucially, these new generation services need broadband, and what is apparent that not all MNOs are equal in this respect. Nigeria is now Africa's biggest mobile market by subscriber numbers, and the Nigerian Communications Commission has recently noted that nearly 30 percent of the country's 114.172 million active GSM subscribers now have access to data services.

Nigeria GSM mobile subscribers by operator and by technology Q1 2013
Source: NCC c. Blycroft 2013

However, this 30 percent is not evenly applied to all operators, and it is apparent that users have voted with their feet. Not only is MTN the largest player in the Nigerian mobile space, it is also the biggest 3G player, with some 44 percent of its mobile subscribers signed-up. Glomobile is the second largest GSM operator, but despite having its own submarine cable reaching back to Europe - which should be a major Unique Selling Proposition if there ever was one - has only signed 3 percent of its users for 3G.

Airtel Nigeria - who acquired the Zain/Econet operation in April 2010 - is ranked second with 26 percent of its subscribers now using 3G, whilst Etisalat has smaller numbers but has persuaded a third of its subscribers to take up 3G.

Despite its obvious success, the local regulator has continued to eye MTN, claiming that it is not meeting its Quality of Service KPIs, and threatening it with penalties for poor performance. At the other end of the spectrum Etisalat reckons that half the people who have ported their number since the introduction of Mobile Number Portability in Nigeria have joined its network.

The conclusion has to be that MTN appears to be the network of choice for people wanting broadband access, with Etisalat probably benefiting from recent investment and ironically having a smaller customer base, so having less congestion at in-town locations during the peaks.

However, perhaps the oddest thing about this data (see chart above) is not that MTN is under the cosh from the NCC, or that Etisalat is currently the biggest destination for ported numbers. Rather, it is that Glo appears to have completely failed to leverage the considerable advantage it has with its Glo-1 submarine cable, and yet the NCC, for whatever reason, has largely left it alone. May be being the local kid does have some advantages after all.

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