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As part of its ongoing pan-African strategy, MEF is  hosting the inaugural MEF Connects Nigeria later this month in association with Basebone and Mozilla. Co-located with Mobile West Africa 2015,  attendees can learn more about this mobile-first market while networking with local carriers, pioneers and innovators. Here, Matthew Dawes, founder and CEO (that’s Chief Enabling Officer) of All Amber and Mobile West Africa 2015, shares his thoughts on why Nigeria is such an exciting place to do business.

I’ve been involved in Nigerian telecommunications development (you might as well say “mobile development”) since the mid noughties and have been fortunate enough to visit the country over 10 times.

As a mobile market it’s massive, in the top ten globally, and is also one that I believe is incredibly interesting (do you know it was the first country in the world to auction off its 3G spectrum?).  It just doesn’t follow the trend that you’d expect.  Let’s get the scale in perspective first though:

  • A population of approximately 170 million people
  • As of November 2014, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) reported that there were 136.6 million active phone lines and that less than 0.2% of those were fixed line
  • The NCC also reported that 75 million Nigerians are connected to the Internet by GSM Networks
  • But there are only 12 million smartphones in Nigeria; that is less than 9% of the active lines

africa-mobileWhen you consider those statistics it’s pretty staggering.  The GDP of Lagos, the business centre, is larger than that of Kenya.  I recall being at a large government conference there when the speaker who got the biggest appreciation roared “No matter how big Ghana becomes, it will always be smaller than Lagos”.  Humorous and true, but let’s get back to mobile.

63 million Nigerians are connected to the internet without a smartphone; that’s worth a moment to ponder.  Indeed, I’ve been quoting the 9% smartphone penetration rate a lot recently because I thought it was slightly higher, maybe nearer the 12% mark, and there is obviously a lot of pressure to get those figures up.  That’s especially when you get people as senior as Dr. Eugene Juwah (Executive Vice Chairperson, NCC) being quoted as saying it is “abysmally low for the largest telecommunications market in Africa” and he is right, it is terribly low.

Whilst I know the OEM sector has got much more competitive over the last 12 months with new Android players such as SOLO, InnJoo and Wiko all joining the scene with the usual array of likely suspects, who are currently being led by TECNO, the cost of devices and data are still two of a number of reasons why that hasn’t picked up yet.  It will though; there won’t be an overnight jump to 20%, but it will increase and keep on increasing.  Let us not forget that in a very youthful market, those current and future smartphone users are the ideal demographic to target – middle/upper class, savvy, intelligent and with disposable incomes.

An excellent example of how the country doesn’t follow the global trend is in social media platforms, and mobile social media is massive in Nigeria, have no doubt about that. Amongst Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and BBM (yes, that BBM) there are two companies that over the past five years have taken the sector by absolute storm and came virtually out of nowhere – 2go and Eskimi.  2go is said to have twice as many monthly active users as Facebook; Eskimi is reported to have between 3 and 4 million monthly active users who are spending almost an hour a day on the platform.  Both are mobile-first platforms that targeted internet connected feature phones and then developed smartphone apps; both latched on to the cost conscious consumer; both have enthused and engaged users; and I consider both to be at the forefront of the evolving advertising landscape, which is still dominated by billboards and in the digital world, strangely in my opinion, by desktop.

Back in 2011 when I first ran Mobile West Africa, I made a commitment to have a long term outlook.  Five years later the conference has organically grown into what is regarded as the best technology event in the region, which is great news for me. From a mobile market perspective, I’ve been lucky enough to witness it growing from embryo into infancy.

matt_a-e1427802178808Matthew Dawes

CEO & Founder

All Amber

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Has it yet emerged as a beacon of mobility?  Nowhere near.  Has it progressed?  Undoubtedly.  Is its mobile industry soon to match its status as the continental economic powerhouse?  Nowhere near.  South Africa is still a long way in front.  Are Nigerians concerned?  Not a bit.  They appreciate where they are and where they are heading.  What everyone is keen to see is that next stage of evolution.  Who are going to emerge as successes?  What will be the products and services that really take hold?  How will the mobile device continue to have a multiplier effect for Nigerian citizens?

In ten years’ time the traffic in Lagos will still be terrible, the humidity will still be stifling, it will still have a bigger economy than Ghana and Kenya, and I can guarantee that the mobile market will still be different from anywhere else in the world.

49c63da9-1c27-47b5-915b-5d7a7d2a7d4aMEF Connects Nigeria supported by Basebone and Mozilla is on 22nd April part of Mobile West Africa which takes place 21st – 23rd April in Lagos. MEF Members get a 20% discount on Mobile West Africa 2015 passes – visit the MEF website for more information.