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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 12:21 GMT
Nigeria's impatience with phone revolution
MTN poster
Nigerians are impatient for service to improve
Nigeria's telecoms market may have got more competitive, but consumers are still suffering from high costs and poor service.

The privatisation of Nitel and sale of mobile licences raised hopes that Nigeria would soon have a reliable and competitive phone service.

Until recently, Nigeria - which boasts a population of some 120 million people - only had about 500,000 fixed phone lines.

Econet webgrab
Econet is one of three GSM operators in Nigeria
Politicians and phone operators say that while the situation has improved, the cost of fixing the neglected network means that it will be some time before prices fall and service gets better.

Zimbabwe's Econet, South Africa's MTN and the recently-privatised Nitel all have licences to offer GSM mobile phone services in Nigeria.

The government also wants to licence a new fixed line operator, which will also have a mobile phone network.

Enthusiasm for the new services is high and local radio stations are clogged with advertisements while new shops have sprung up all over Lagos to sell phones.

However, many feel that the promise of a reliable phone service has yet to be delivered upon.

Communications minister Bala Mohamed said : "What we inherited was a telecoms sector that had been terribly neglected by long years of military misrule. By the end of the first 12 months, they will have at least 1.5 million land lines and two million mobile lines."

Investment needed

MTN's Karel Pienaar agrees that part of the problem is the poor state of the existing network.

"We initially aimed to have 30 base stations a month, we have upped that now to 60 a month, which is very aggressive. Half of those are going to existing coverage to provide more capacity, the other half is going to coverage expansion," he told the BBC's World Business Report.

Econet's chief executive Zachary Wazara believes it will be some time before prices fall.

"When you look at tariffs in general in an African setting, we believe that charging anything less than 25 cents a minute would not permit us to deploy, maintain and extend communciations the way we would want to," he told the BBC's World Business Report.

The BBC's James Whittington
"The revolution has only just begun in Nigeria"
See also:

30 Nov 01 | Business
Nitel price tag raises doubts
28 Aug 01 | Business
Nigeria's digital mobile bonanza
15 Oct 01 | Business
Nitel launches GSM amid storm
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nigeria
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