SOME unverified online reports in 2012 claimed that Nigeria had most active population of traffic on the Internet. This sounded like hubris for many people, and belonged to that classification that had ranked Nigerians as the most religious people in the world.
As people cynically asked then: How could a country notorious for corruption be said to be the most religious or has religiosity acquired another meaning? In this case, many also asked rhetorically: How could this be in a country with massive electricity cuts, poor telephone services and poor ICT infrastructure?
But as can be seen, this story cannot be isolated from the trend of ICT development in the country in the last 15 years. Measured and structured according to the government’s ICT policy coupled with the Nigerian Communications Act and gently guided by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), internet growth in the country has been gaining grounds against the many odds mentioned above.
The trajectory has seen service providers moving beyond voice to expanding data services in a slow, but steady pace. Besides the effort of the NCC is the proliferation of ICT devices and equipment in the Nigerian market.
Top of the range internet-enabled phones and tablets are some of the most patronised electronic wares in Nigeria today. They are more popularly called smartphones.
All makes and all sizes, from the most expensive and modestly priced, the efficient and affordable, to the really cheap grades that suit all classes of people, these wares are picked off the shelf more frequently than books, radio sets, television sets and possibly even newspapers.
There is no doubt that smartphones are playing an important role in deepening Internet usage in Nigeria. The NCC, in its Monthly Internet Subscriber Data obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), says the number of internet users on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks has increased from 76,322, 802 in 2014 to 81,892,840 as at January 2015.
A breakdown of the subscribers distributed among the four GSM networks shows that MTN Nigeria has 39,173,123 subscribers; Globacom has 17,671,405; Airtel Nigeria has 14,969,924; while Etisalat has 10,078,388 of its customers surfing the internet on its network as at January, 2015.
Added to the above is the limited but, nevertheless, significant presence of the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators – Visafone and Multilinks – which together provide Internet services for 153,798 subscribers.
And to these, the growing number of Internet service providers (ISPs) and the picture becomes more fascinating. Higher or busier Internet traffic is an indicator as to the deepening influence of ICT in the nation’s economy.
Online shopping, social media platforms and the excitement of virtual connectivity with friends and family will continue to bolster the demand for data, especially among the young and not-so-young. Nigerians are moving beyond voice and embracing data with excitement as the next phase of the digital revolution.
The deregulation and liberalisation of the telecoms and ICT sector has created ample room for ISPs to rev up competition with the GSM companies who are also competing for a share in the market for data services.
New entrants with 2G, 3G and 4G capacities are frequently emerging with enticing data packages for interested users. The attribute of spontaneous connectivity with people in distant places and the relative ease with which information whether as voice, text, pictures of videos can be exchanged is really the magnetic force that draws people to the web.
Thus a new form of social aggregation and interaction by way of groups and even whole communities are building up on the internet.
The need to belong as old school mates, advocacy agents, political interest groups, etc, is also an influence. The nation’s capacity to absorb the volume of surfers streaming into the Internet space in the face of poor infrastructure base, especially the abysmal supply of electricity, remains limitations that need to be overcome.
More infrastructure and bigger bandwidths have the potential to pull more subscribers into data usage. This is why the importance of the broadband programme cannot be over-emphasised.
As most businesses – small, medium or large – are migrating to the digital platform, they need enough Internet acreage to run their operations seamlessly. Needless to state, the Internet is the most potent virus in the 21st Century infecting virtually every literate child and adult in our urban and sub-urban climes.
It has made everyone into a citizen journalist as well as revolutionalised mainstream journalism for the professionals. Newspapering has become much less stressful as reporting and editing can be done from out of location.
Stories can be filed, copies edited, layout done – in short, the entire production process can run from beginning to end without much difficulties and constraints.
The Internet ecosystem is transforming the traditional broadcast media into a multimedia platform, which incorporates the social media interfaces such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Instagram.
Interactive programming and programme contents are ever more dynamic as phone calls or text messages are used to get incisive commentaries or responses from media consumers in remote locations. All these will significantly improve when the digital migration of broadcasting come into effect.
Already, the ground is being watered by the NCC, the ICT sector’s regulator, with the issuance of more licences for infrastructure companies and frequency spectrum. Considering how far the country has come in less than two decades, the future of internet services can only be better. •Nwakanma is an ICT commentator based in Abuja