In Nigeria’s fully deregulated telecoms market, private sector players and not government will account for growth in yet-
to-be-connected rural areas where Ovum already predicts the next billion mobile users would emerge. By MARTIN EKPEKE
Ten years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria initiated a rural telephony project to hasten provision of telephone
services to rural dwellers, but owing to government’s tottering commitments among a mix of factors, the dream of connecting
rural communities through affordable communication tools has remained unachieved. But a recent report by London based
research organization, Ovum, the next billion mobile connections are bound to happen in rural areas and Nigeria is likely
to account for a remarkable share of those connections.
According to Ovum, the next billion mobile users will come from rural areas in emerging markets in Africa, most especially
in Nigeria with the highest mobile connections. Nigeria accounts for 93 million out of the 650 million mobile subscribers
on the continent as at January 2012 meaning that almost two of every active six mobile phones would be found in Nigeria.
What this portends is Mobile Networks Operators and phone manufacturers must be looking at the country’s rural area which
makes up 65% of Nigeria population as their next big deal.
Although users in such areas typically do not have access to basic infrastructure or utilities, but they are aware of the
transformative potential of mobile phones and are eager to invest in a convenient device. They can best be described as the
emerging markets, and will account for the bulk of the next billion connections. Despite increasing awareness of
smartphones, these mobile users will primarily purchase entry-level and feature phones, with a distinct hierarchy of
expectations from these devices including durability, problem-solving features, versatility and connectivity which is most
Shiv Putcha, Ovum telecoms analyst noted that despite popularity of smartphones rising sharply, they do not envisage the
prices of such phones to fall considerable enough to be viable options for the next billion mobile users, who will rely on
feature phones instead. And also, in spite of the increasing sophisticated use of mobile handsets with the growing
popularity of mobile money transfers which is bound to be popular among rural folks, low-cost features phones will remain
phones of choice for purely economic reasons as well as their ability to perform the required tasks for money transfer and
Available statistics indicated that about 35 million to 40 million Nigerians living in the rural areas are still not
connected to telephone services, it was also discovered that there are over 850 villages that have never had access to any
form of telecommunications services. There is no gainsaying the fact that the advent of GSM in Nigeria has recorded a
resounding success especially in the urban and semi urban area, leaving a chunk of the populace that resides in the rural
area unreached 10 years after.
Faced with increasing competitive needs to service other sectors such as health and roads, Government is not likely to
intervene in this area; more so as it has fully deregulated the sector and encouraged complete private investment. What
this means is that private businesses not government will open up the unconnected flanks housing more than 45 million rural
Nigerians. What government has sought to do through its Ministry of Communication Technology and Nigerian Communications
Commission is to encourage private investments targeting rural areas.
The Fulani cattle rearer, palm wine tappers, the local farmers in the remotest part of the country need access, they want
to know what communication is all about rather than moving from their abode to a far distance to access communication
devices. Apart from the social impact mobile connections will have on these people in the rural context, it provide
enhanced opportunities to generate income and combat poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy. As ICT has been used
constantly to reshape the way the world communicates, it is most appropriate to connect such benefits to the most
disadvantaged sections of the society.
The benefits of mobile communications in the rural areas are enormous, both for networks operators, phone manufacturers and
the country. One of such benefits is the fact that it will accelerate economic growth in the rural areas leading to the
stoppage of rural to urban migration. It will help to curb poverty as the deployment will attract a lot of opportunities
for wealth creation to the rural populace, thereby making MNOs and phone manufacturers smile to the bank, as a result of
small and medium scale enterprises that will spring up in such area.
The development recorded in the western world, pace setters of the digital revolution through constant advancement in
technology is a desirable thing that needs to be duplicated across all parts of Nigeria.
Private businesses not government will open up the unconnected flanks housing more than 45 million rural Nigerians.
Low-cost features phones will remain phones of choice for purely economic reasons as well as their ability to perform the
required tasks for money transfer and the likes.