Moving beyond Nigeria’s mobile rough patch
August 27th, 2007

Reuters is reporting this morning that “Nigeria Aims to Let Mobile Phone Users Keep Numbers.” The plan is to allow subscribers to keep their numbers as they switch among providers — hopefully to improve service through competition. The report includes this description of the roughness of present service in Nigeria, which is interesting to realize. Mobile has been making a positive transition in Africa in spite of the problems described below. When mobile service gets better, the transition should have important new impetus one would think.

Nigeria’s booming mobile phone market has grown from scratch to over 30 million subscribers in six years, making it one of the fastest-growing in the world.

It is seen as having potential for many more years of rapid growth as Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with 140 million people, the majority of whom do not have phones.

However, the quality of service from mobile phone providers has always been patchy and it has deteriorated over time.

Subscribers often have to dial several times before a call goes through. Sometimes no calls go through for hours. When they do connect, the lines are often so bad that callers cannot hear each other. Calls frequently cut off after a few seconds and text messages can be delayed by hours.

Mobile operators argue that services are impaired by frequent blackouts, forcing companies to provide their own power with costly diesel generators, and constant vandalism and armed attacks on facilities and staff.

The regulator’s move will put pressure on Nigeria’s biggest operator, South Africa’s MTN , to improve its service and defend its 45 percent market share.

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