• Friday, April 19, 2024
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2021 IN REVIEW: Telecom sector in 5 numbers

Telecom sector

The Nigerian telecommunications industry had a most remarkable year in 2021. For operators, the year had begun with uncertainty over the ban on SIM card registration as a measure to have many more Nigerians carry out their National Identification Number (NIN) registration.

The ban contributed to months of voice and data subscriber declines recorded by each of the telcos as well as a drastic drop in broadband penetration. Even when the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy lifted the SIM card ban in April 2021, the sharp declines continued until July and August. By October, the industry was yet to recover most of the losses it had suffered.

However, the year has not been all about losses. One major milestone recorded in the year was the successful auction of two slots of the 5G spectrum license to MTN Nigeria and newcomer Mafab Communications Limited.

Here are five numbers that defined the industry in 2021:


The number of clusters of access gaps reduced from 217 to 112. Access gap describes Nigerians living in unserved and underserved areas. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) uses clusters to define communities were Nigerians who are unserved and underserved live. In other words, there used to be 217 communities with access gaps in the country, that number has now been reduced, according to the NCC, to 112.

The first study to identify clusters of voice telephony and transport network gap in Nigeria was carried out by the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) in 2013, with an estimated population of about 36.8 million people and 207 clusters.

In a recent update study carried out in 2019, the number of people living in the unserved and underserved areas was estimated to have dropped to 31.16 million and the number of clusters reviewed down to 114.

15 million

The number of digitally excluded Nigerians dropped to 15 million from 40 million in 2021. Umar Danbatta, the Executive Vice-Chairman of NCC, attributed the growth to increased telecoms infrastructure deployment across rural communities in Nigeria.

It should be noted however that earlier in the year, about four states asked telecom operators to shutdown services in order to enable the military to fight insurgency. In Kaduna for example, the shutdown was on for a period of two months.


Nigeria’s broadband penetration as of October 2021 was at 39.8 percent, signifying a decline of 6.04 percent from the same period in 2020. It is also the first time since 2017 the industry is ending the year in decline.

Broadband penetration was at 42.93 percent in January 2021 and went on a five-month consecutive decline. It recorded some gains in June when it climbed to 39.97 percent only to drop again to 39.79 percent in July. It bounced back in August at 41 percent but couldn’t sustain the gains in September and October, declining to 40.01 percent and 39.89 percent, consecutively.


The number of unique base transceiver stations (BTS) in Nigeria is currently at 40,000. Also known as a base station, transceiver stations refer to a central connection point for a wireless device to communicate. The BTS connects mobile devices to the network. It sends and receives radio signals to mobile devices and converts them to digital signals that it passes on the network to route to other terminals in the network or to the internet.

With 40,000 BTS, Nigeria is grossly underserved given its population of over 200 million people compared with other countries with much less population. For example, the United Kingdom with 67.22 million people has over 60,000 such stations.

$273 million

The winners of the 5G spectrum licence, MTN Nigeria and Mafab Communications Limited are expected to pay $273 million per lot of 100MHz.

The reserve price was set at $197 million but after nine hours and 11 rounds of auctions, the winners emerged. The first round of the auction, which took off with the three bidders, MTN Nigeria, Airtel Africa, and Mafab Communications, started with the price of the spectrum at $197.4 million to $199.3 million until it ended in round 10 at $263.1 million.

The provisional licence winners are expected to pay the winning bid price less the intention-to-bid deposit, by February 24, 2022.