More Nigerians are moving to 4G and 5G networks as telecom operators like MTN and Airtel increase their infrastructure investment nationwide. 

The number of 4G sites deployed by MTN Nigeria grew 2.7%, said Karl Toriola, the company’s CEO, during an investor call on Monday. That infrastructure expansion increased 4G usage among its customers from 79.1% to 81.5%. 

The number of MTN’s 5G sites saw the most growth rising from 588 to 2,106 sites and pushing 5G penetration to 11.3% from 3.1%. 

Airtel, another major telco, deployed its 5G networks in four cities, including Lagos and Abeokuta and is currently testing the network in Oshogbo. 

Telcos pour billions into infrastructure 

MTN Nigeria and Airtel Africa spent a combined ₦613 billion to expand their 4G and 5G networks by the end of 2022, regulatory filings from both companies show. 

MTN spent N504.33 billion on its network rollout, while Airtel invested N108.79 billion in the same period. Smartphone vendors also responded by increasing shipments of mostly 4G and 5G enabled devices, with data from Canalys showing a 12% growth in smartphone shipments to Africa in 2023. 

As of January 2024, TECNO leads the smartphone vendor market with 26.03%, followed by a sister brand, Infinix, with 20.88%. Samsung is in third place with 11.43%, while Apple is in fourth place with 9.66% of the market.

Growing infrastructure drives usage

By December 2023, 1.04% of internet subscribers in Nigeria used 5G. 4G users also grew to 31.33%, data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) showed. 

There were only 2.18 million 3G subscriptions in December 2023, while 2G usage, which still accounts for more than half of mobile internet subscriptions (57.84%), also declined.

The growth in 4G and 5G subscriptions happened despite supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures that raised the prices of smartphones by 30%, data from GSMA showed. In response to those pressures, telecom companies partnered with asset financing companies and smartphone manufacturers to offer flexible financing options. 

Airtel’s partnership with iTel allows customers to buy a range of well-priced smartphones. 

“These deals are helping subscribers acquire 4G/5G devices and routers,” Sam Adeoye, Airtel Nigeria’s head of public relations, added. 

There’s a rising demand for smartphone financing given rising inflation in Nigeria, said Aisha Hussaini, founder of Keza Africa, a device financing startup. 

“Even people who would not have opted for device financing are now choosing it because of the naira devaluation,” Hussaini said.  

Frank Eleanya Senior Reporter, TechCabal

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox