Nigeria’s 5G market now has two of the biggest operators in terms of valuation pushing for a slice. Airtel which emerged as the sole bidder and winner of the December 2022 auction of 3.5GHz spectrum license, went commercial on Monday.
The company is projecting to be in all 36 states and capital as soon as possible. In the meantime, its 5G services would go live in four major cities including Lagos, Abuja, Ogun and Rivers State.
Airtel joins MTN which already has 5G footprints in 13 cities across the country. Mafab, the dark horse that beat Airtel to the licence in the first bid held in December 2021, continues to be missing in action.
18 months after securing the license alongside MTN, BusinessDay learnt Mafab is yet to assemble a leadership team for its telecom service, much less put together a coherent strategy to play in the market. The consultants the company engaged for its pseudo-launch in January 2023, have since moved on to other things and would not engage the company unless they are issued a contract letter. NCC insists that it followed due process in the auction that led to the emergence of Madab as a winner despite not having any market experience.
Airtel’s 5G launch is the first time the market will see real competition. Like MTN, Airtel’s route to the market is through 5G routers. According to the company, the Airtel 5G Router is a compact device designed to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity. It is also compatible with 3G and 4G LTE networks, ensuring seamless connectivity.
The key features of the Airtel 5G Router connects up to 64 devices simultaneously, catering to all the connectivity needs. It also provides lightning-fast 5G speeds, unlocking a new level of performance. Users can enjoy the benefits of 5G without the need to invest in a new 5G smartphone. The routers also allow users to receive a 10GB sign-on bonus when they complete the Know Your Customer (KYC) process. The router also comes with network stability, guaranteeing a reliable and uninterrupted connection.
Also, like MTN, Airtel can take advantage of the influx of affordable smartphones that are 5G-enabled by different manufacturers. According to Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), the number of announced 5G devices rose by 2.4 percent between March and April 2023, reaching a total of 1,942 devices. Out of these, 1,557 are understood to be commercially available, representing 80.1 percent of all announced 5G devices. This is an increase of 51.4 percent in the number of commercial 5G devices since the end of April 2022.
While MTN has a first-mover advantage, the company is plagued by the high cost of deploying the service in a tough operating environment like Nigeria. The largest telecom operator in Africa also tweeted a congratulatory message to Airtel on Monday. Carl Cruz, Airtel’s CEO said the company plans to democratise 5G offerings. Airtel will sell its router at N30,000, which is N20,000 lower than the MTN router.