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History and Evolution of mobile phones and network service providers in Nigeria

In this article, we are going to peep into the history of phones in Nigeria and then talk about the changes that have taken place so far, in the telecommunication sector in Nigeria, since the arrival of mobile phones and mobile network service providers in 2001.

A peep into the history of Phones in Nigeria

Prior the arrival of mobile networks and phones in Nigeria, the country solely depended on Nitel (Nigeria telephone service), a national communication unit that saw to the installation and maintenance of land lines in Nigeria. The telephones were big and connected by wires that ran through the connections of Nitel and users of the service were billed for the service monthly.

The first phones in Nigeria looked like this. Source: Quora

The phones made loud bell-like noises when dialed. And the telephone numbers were 9 digits. Each city had a dialing code. When a user relocates to another city, they would be required to obtain a fresh telephone number, do a fresh telephone line installation — if none existed in the house or apartment.

This is unlike the present technology that allows network service providers to issue and manage mobile numbers in such a way that the number would never change — even when the subscriber moves from one city of the country to another.

The beginning of the revolution

Early mobile network service providers in Nigeria

In 2001, a revolution happened in the telecommunication sector in Nigeria. Mobile network service providers came up with masts and began installation of same across the cities of Nigeria — even down to rural areas. MTN (that came from South Africa), Glo (owned by a Nigerian) Econet (that later became Celtel, Zain and now Airtel — from Asia), are the big players in the revolution.

In a rather short time, mobile network masts were all over Nigeria and Nigerians embraced the change. In a little more time, in 2003, the network service providers began providing internet services. During this time, the general packet radio service (gprs) was the only available service for internet access. This was an always-on service was extremely slow — compared to the further ugprades.

Upgrade from the GPRS era to the Edge, 2G, 3G and 4G network

Gradually, mobile phone manufacturers took the game higher and launched mobile phones Edge network ready. From there 2G got established, 3G followed and as of this 2021 this article is written, the least network capability of any new mobile phone in Nigeria is 4G.

If we go back in time and remember the era of GPRS, we would really appreciate the 4G era which is gradually being upgraded to 5G. Although, the 5G mobile phones are not really rampant in Nigeria because it is still new and they are quite costly. Even if those who can afford them in Nigeria buy them now, there is yet to be full 5G infrastructure in place, in the country, to bring to life the 5G advantage.

Hopefully, in the next four to five years’ time, the 5G network will be fully available with its super speed advantage. As we all know, the telephone is a vital tool for faster communication and has made personal and business communications seamless.

The issue of class and pricing

When mobile phones were introduced in Nigeria, both the elites and people with no formal education embraced it. Although, in those days, only the rich class of people were able to purchase a mobile phone as a result of its high cost. For example, as of 2002, a sim card was sold for more than N15,000 and mobile phones were only for the rich. But now, anyone who wishes to own a mobile phone and a sim card can get them with less than N7,000. Although this is for non-smartphones.

What did low-income earners do those days the prices of phone and sim cards were extremely high?

They used call centres. A minute of a call then was charged between N50 and N100.

A typical example of the old era pattern (going to a phone boot to make a call)

They would line up to make calls at a phone boot. This also happened the time people depended on the landline alone.

People are able to do their assignments, participate live in virtual classes courtesy of the improved internet service. Thanks to the innovators.

Of recent, Nigeria is one of the African countries working to upgrading their network technology to meet or compete with the advanced countries. The Nigerian government needs to invest more in grooming young tech-minded individuals to achieve this goal.

design and appearance of the old era mobile phone (handset).

Written by: Timothy Onyebuchi and Fortune Osinachi

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