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MTN is doubling down on broadband in Nigeria even as its record fine looms

By Yomi Kazeem

In the last decade, Nigeria has seen a rapid growth in smartphone subscription and internet usage. This year, smartphone subscription is expected to hit 43.7 million and the Nigerian Communications Commission announced last November that internet users in country had reached 97 million.

This means mobile broadband remains the most popular mode of connection (pdf, page 4) to the internet in Nigeria and mobile networks are locked in a race to improve broadband speed and capacity in Africa’s largest mobile market.

MTN Nigeria, the country’s biggest operator with the 62.5 million connections via its GSM-based network as of Sept.30, is hoping to improve its broadband offering with this month’s acquisition of Visafone. The acquisition of Visafone, which runs Nigeria’s sole remaining CDMA network could mark the end of the US technology in Nigeria’s mobile market.

MTN struck the deal to help further develop its broadband services with a plan to integrate Visafone’s 800 MHz spectrum frequency. Acquiring the spectrum should help accelerate MTN’s launch of 4G LTE services in Nigeria and improve voice and data services. As part of the deal, Visafone’s subscribers, around two million, will be moved to the MTN Nigeria network.

”Voice is still king,” said MTN executive Amina Oyagbola in a statement. “However, data is becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives and our energies are focused on enhancing data and internet services to the benefit of our customers and the country at large.”

MTN, Africa’s largest phone company, has endured a rough few months in Nigeria, its biggest market. In October 2015, it was hit with a record $5.1 billion fine for failing to disconnect unregistered sim cards. A personnel shake-up followed as the fine also resulted in a historic decline in share price. The company is now challenging the fine in court even though the Nigerian government announced a 25% reduction. Despite its troubles in Nigeria, it appears MTN is getting on with business in the country, first renewing its license for an additional five years and now doubling down on boosting its broadband capacity.