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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Nigeria's digital mobile bonanza
A mobile advertisement
Nigerian is blanketed with mobile advertising
By the BBC's Sam Olukoya from Lagos

Telecommunications companies doing business in Nigeria are set to make a fortune with the launch of digital GSM cellular services in the country.

In less than three weeks of operations, the two private mobile networks licensed to run the services say they have already attained the one year target set for them by the Nigerian Communication Commission, (NCC).

MTN's chief executive Karel Pienaar told the BBC's World Business Report that they forecast one million connections for the entire market - all three operators - by March next year.

The third company licensed to operate GSM services, Nigeria's State telecom company, NITEL, is anticipating higher subscriptions when it starts business because its tariffs will be lower than those of the two private companies.

The number of mobile phone subscribers is expected to grow hugely in the coming years.

"It is predicted that within the next five years there will be between six and 10 million mobile subscribers in Nigeria," says Dave Imoko, Public Affairs manager of the NCC.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
The government hopes to encourage private investment

Such high projections mean good business for the companies producing GSM phone sets and accessories.

Samsung, Siemens, Ericsson, Alcatel, Nokia, Motorola, Mitsubishi and Sagem have been licensed by the NCC to sell their products in the lucrative Nigerian market.

Hundreds of local business men are signing up as distributors and retailers.

Promising market

With a population of 120 million which is about one sixth of Africa's population, Nigeria is the largest telecommunications market in the continent.

This huge business opportunity however remained untapped until now.

Before now, the country relied on less than 500,000 land lines provided by NITEL. With only one person in 250 owning a phone, Nigeria has one of the lowest "teledensities" in the world.

Theft of expensive copper cables and corruption by NITEL staff made the expansion of the telephone network impossible.

The problem was further compounded by reluctance of past governments to commit public fund to telecommunications which was a government monopoly.

Liberal laws

But now, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has liberalised the sector in an effort to attract the much needed funding from the private sector.

The private telecommunications operators say they are willing to inject the money.

The companies seem to mean big business with their numerous bill boards lining major highways.

Nigerians are already dreaming of how things will change for the better in a Nigeria where everybody clutches a mobile phone.

"We are excited at the roll out of the GSM network in Nigeria because we know this is a giant stride," says Imoko.

The economy is likely to witness the most significant impact of the network.

"The new system will certainly help the economy grow as development economists have agreed that a percentage increase in a nation's telecommunications network usually leads to a significant growth in the overall economy itself," says Tayo Ekundayo, NITEL's Public Relations General Manager.

Doing business without telephone was a nightmare for millions of Nigerians. Many have to travel long distances wasting time and money for business transactions which could easily have been done by a phone call.

Karel Pienaar, MTN Nigeria
"We have had queues around the block"
See also:

07 Aug 01 | Africa
Mobile use to mushroom in Nigeria
15 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese going mobile crazy
28 Jun 01 | South Asia
India mobile giants merge
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