By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The GSM telecom war of numbers for market share has never been this fierce as all sorts of weapons are being deployed by the telecoms companies to have a strong foothold and market advantage over competitors. While some are celebrating their gains, others are counting their losses.

The beleaguered 9Mobile appears to be sinking into deeper crisis as the war gets fiercer. But its losses are the gains of others. In 2019, the struggling network lost a total of 210 subscribers to the other networks. Airtel, another big loser lost about 100,000 subscribers during the same period, thus losing its second position on the leadership log.

The big gainer in the current war has been Glo, which, for the first time since rollout in 2003, is trailing MTN, the undisputed market leader. Mr Bode Opeisetan, Director External Communications and Public Relations, Glo, told BusinessHallmark that “Glo is subscriber-friendly and recognises the need of customers, and this is appreciated by our teeming customers which accounts for more subscribers joining the network.”

Since the management change in the company a few years ago, 9Mobile has been like an orphan, unwanted and unloved. The new management of ailing mobile telecommunications giant, formerly Etisalat Nigeria, has devised strategies aimed at turning the company around amid continuing financial and ownership crisis.

The management, after taking over, decided to adopt 9Mobile as its new brand name after a meeting in Lagos. According to a source privy to discussions at the meeting, board members voted for the adoption of 0809 number plan, which the network had debuted within 2008.

It was also resolved that 9Mobile should drop the domain name, www. Etisalat. com.ng after it was unable to reach an agreement with Etisalat International of the United Arab Emirates and its Nigerian partner, Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Ltd, in the wake of a crisis over a $1.2 billion loan package, which defied solutions.

BusinessHallmark reliably gathered that all efforts to get the approval of Etisalat International for the continued use of its Etisalat franchise and provision of technical support failed, leaving the new management of the networking giant with no other choice than to severe all links and partnership.

It would be recalled that the CEO of Etisalat International, Hatem Dowidar, had said that “All UAE shareholders of Etisalat Nigeria, including United Arab Emirates-owned investment fund, Mubadala, exited the company and left the board and management.

Findings revealed that the 13 consortium banks, namely Guaranty Trust Bank, Access Bank, Zenith Bank, UBA, Fidelity Bank and First Bank, among others are now the owners of the network in a new share-restructuring arrangement.

Before the takeover, UAE’s Etisalat Group had 45 per cent stake in Etisalat Nigeria, followed by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, with 40 per cent stake and the Hakeem Bello-Osagie-led Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services (EMTS) with 15 per cent stake. All their shares (100 per cent) have been ceded to the banks, it was learnt.

As of December 2019, Globacom witnessed a sizable rise as 1.61 million internet subscribers joined the network. The total number of data subscribers on Glo network rose from 27.6 million data subscribers in January to 28.9 million subscribers as at December 2019. Glo has been promoting its data products which give it an edge over voice giving the growing shift from voice to data.

The reverse was the case for 9mobile which ended the year abysmally without attracting any data subscriber. According to the NCC data, 9mobile continues its steady decline, as a total of 1.81 million subscribers dumped the network for others. In November alone, 210,374 internet subscribers dumped the GSM telco, a rise from 122,711 internet subscribers in October and 156,065 recorded in September.

The big surprise for many people is that the Internet remains slow in Nigeria despite the advent of the 4G network. The advent of 4G/LTE in the global telecom industry was accompanied by the expectation of fast internet speed. The 4G is the fourth generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology, succeeding 3G. Potential and current applications include amended mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, video conferencing, and 3D.

In the course of its metamorphosis from Econet to its present reincarnation as Airtel, the telecoms company has struggled against many odds. In the last few months, it has embarked on a massive media campaign to woo more subscribers. But despite it, Airtel has lost more than 100,000 subscribers in Nigeria between December 2019 and January 2020. Airtel’s loss has been its rivals’ gains –MTN Nigeria and Globacom–as the duo recorded growth in their total number of their respective active subscribers.

Relying on the performance indicators for January 2020, it would seem the Airtel’s strategy of using movie stars in its numerous commercials have not made any mark on the emotion of market audiences.

In a recently released telephone service report by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Airtel Nigeria accounted for 49.9 million subscribers in January 2020, a slight dip compared to the 50.1 million it had in December 2019.

Of late, the telecom war has been largely between  Airtel and Globacom as the duo battled for a second-place position to MTN. Like MTN, Airtel recently went to the market to list its shares which have been worsted by the plunging market performance. MTN only listed by way of introduction.

Going by the latest report Glo has succeeded in notching its rival to the third position but the question remains: how will the telecoms company be able to consolidate on this position.

About six years ago, the then Etisalat which has transformed into 9mobile was the kid in the block with its superb data service and efficient service delivery, threatening the dominance of MTN. But time has changed, especially with the divestment of the original core investors of the telecoms company, as it has fallen on bad weather. In the meantime, 9mobile continues to struggle as it has been losing its subscribers since a recent change in ownership led to a brand name change.

Relying on the latest figure by the NCC, 9mbile is now the highest loser, with its subscriber base steeping by over 484,000 in January alone. Before January 2020, 9mobile had 13.6 million subscribers in December. That number has now nosedived to 13.1 million. The last time the network provider surpassed 15 million active subscribers was in May last year.

The NCC report revealed that Globacom’s subscriber base increased by 55,509 to hit 51.75 million in January, up from 51.70 million in December 2019. It is believed that the surge in Globacom’s subscribers has been its aggressive marketing which has helped it to secure 27.85% of the market share.

As done by Airtel Nigeria, Glo has been using star celebrities to push for market share. It paid off for Globacom, the expensive media budget has been reflective on its subscriber base. Unfortunately, the same cannot quite be said for Airtel Nigeria which holds 26.92% of the market.

The South African telecom, MTN Nigeria has continued to maintain its position as the leader in the Nigerian telecoms industry. The company was the biggest gainer in January, having added 1.93 million subscribers to its already existing 68.7 million subscribers as of December. This has, therefore, increased MTN’s total active subscribers to 70.6 million in January 2020.

This means the Yellow firm accounts for 38.06% of the market share. Altogether, the industry recorded an increase from 184.4 million telephone subscribers in December to 185.7 million subscribers in January 2020.

It can be said that Globacom is ahead of Airtel Nigeria in total subscribers, but Airtel Nigeria is second highest in terms of data; right behind MTN Nigeria. Airtel Nigeria’s data subscribers increased to 35.5 million in January from 34.5 million.

Globacom was behind with 29.2 million subscribers, although this is an increase compared to the 28.9 million it recorded in December 2019. The difference between Airtel and Globacom in the total number of data subscriber is network service for browsing. Globacom users have often complained about poor network service.

In the data war, MTN Nigeria has continued to be leading the pack. The company continues to lead in both total active subscribers and data subscribers. MTN Nigeria’s subscribers increased to 55 million in January from 54 million in December.

But while MTN Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, and Globacom experienced a surge in their subscriber base, 9mobile keep declining. The company’s total data subscriber base dropped from 8.06 million in December. For now, Glo and MTN have cause to smile.