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Reflections as NCC ranks Visafone 4th largest mobile operator

By Chinekwu Nwosu-Igbo

THE turn of the new millennium came with a revolution in technology especially in these part of the world. The Y2K saw the deployment of computers, the internet, mobile telephones etc as indispensable part of the daily activities of individuals and organizations. The information communication technology sector was a major landmark in the development of Nigeria as it ushered in a new era of telephone communication, investment and employment.   This development has greatly shaped the perception of the average Nigerian as Information Technology has opened the avenue for modern business, communication and learning.

Back in the years when NITEL held sway as the sole telecommunication provider, it is common knowledge that its services largely fell short of meeting the needs of its then teeming subscribers. In the year 2001, telephone communication was re-defined with the entry of Econet (now ZAIN) and following closely, MTN. This saw the introduction of mobile telephones which serve as very convenient means of communication. In 2003, Globacom joined the race for a share of the large Nigerian telecoms market. Years after, competition has stiffened as the market is fast expanding. These pioneers however are Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) networks.

The Code Division Multiple Access, another technology in mobile communication has Visafone, Starcomms, Multilinks and Zoom as key players. These networks operate at 800 and 900MHz frequencies and offer cost effective mobile telephone communication with fast internet connection. The operators are saddled with the responsibility of handset merchandizing and they offer handsets and RUIMs at highly subsidized rates in addition to their relatively low tariffs as the sector is yet to attain an Open Handsets Market.

The recent partnership between Visafone and Nokia saw the launch of mid and high-end Nokia handsets as a step towards creating an Open Handsets Market (OHM) for the CDMA sector in Nigeria. This allows the subscribers purchase Visafone compatible Nokia handsets directly from Nokia or from handset dealers. The partnership is significant because it is a progressive move towards opening up the CDMA market for the consumers to purchase their handsets from mobile phone shops just like with the GSM. An Open Handsets Market also gives the consumers the liberty of choice from a wide variety from different handset manufacturers. With this pioneering achievement, Visafone continues to pave the way for the growth and expansion of the CDMA market in Nigeria.

According to recent NCC reports, Visafone leads the CDMA sub-sector with 3 million subscribers; Starcomms follows with over 2.3 million while Multilinks has 2 million subscribers. Visafone has been declared the largest CDMA operator and the 4th largest mobile telephone operator in Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Visafone, an indigenous company won the license for operations in August 2007 and rolled out its network in February 2008. After 6 months of operation, the network hit the landmark 1 million subscriber base mark, breaking and setting a record as the fastest to reach this feat. Perhaps it is Visafone’s   very clear calls, fast internet connection, variety of handsets, wide reliable network coverage and lowest international call rates that have endeared it to Nigerians.

The GSM sub-sector still largely dominates the market as MTN records over 27 million subscribers, owning 40.23% of the total telecommunications market, GLOBACOM has 15.9 million subscribers with 23.44% of the market, ZAIN totals subscriber base to 14.6 million and owns 21.59% of the market. Etisalat, the newest entrant has over 1 million subscribers which constitute 1.54% of the market share.
Despite the success recorded by the GSM operators, the CDMA sector owns short of 15% of the total telecoms market this is largely due to the absence of an Open Handsets Market, a hitherto limitation which Visafone is fact tackling.

The CDMA sub-sector which offers to its subscribers low call tariffs and fast internet connection seems to be trailing behind the GSM but market watchers predict that the sector promises to bloom in the near future telling from the rate at which the sector, led by the very innovative Visafone is growing and expanding. Visafone is set to join the league of the big three in no distant future as the communication provider has concluded an upgrade of its network to 5 million capacity.
Nwosu-Igbo writes from Lagos


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