By Omobayo Azeez
- Abandoned SIM cards to blame
- 6.33m GSM lines became inactive in 10 months
MTN Nigeria, Globacom, Airtel, 9Mobile and ntel, the country’s main mobile network operators (MNOs), are losing monthly a handsome sum of potential revenues running into billions of naira to the rising profile of abandoned subscriber’s identity module (SIM) cards in the country, business a.m. has found.
As the total number of inactive SIM cards peaked at 85.49 million at the end of October this year, the total monthly amount lost by operators of global service for mobile communication (GSM) amounted to N118.983 billion.
Business a.m. arrived at the figure using the current average revenue per user (ARPU) in the industry which stands at $3.85 monthly at N362.464 to one dollar as benchmark exchange rate.
Experts in the industry have explained that by the Nigerian telecoms industry standard, a SIM card is labelled inactive after the subscriber failed to use it to access any telecommunications services for a period of 90 days at a stretch.
Data obtained from the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) revealed that since inception of GSM services in the country, a total of 265.61 million telephone lines have been sold and connected by the MNOs including MTN, Globacom, Airtel, 9Mobile, nTel.
Analysis of latest industry figure from the NCC shows that within the first 10 months of 2019, a total of 6.33 million lines were made redundant by their holders despite 7.63 million new lines that were activated.
The trend of inactive lines continued in the country despite the rise in active mobile phone lines and tractions recorded in teledensity which at the end of October stood at 180.12 million and 94.50 per cent respectively.
In January this year, out of 249.22 connected lines, 75.59 million or 30.33 per cent were inactive. In February, 75.17 million, an equivalent of 30.26 per cent of total 248.45 million connected lines went completely offline, and as at March, out of a total 250.26 million lines that have so far been issued by operators, 76.83 million or 30.7 per cent were inactive.
The percentage went up in April (31.49 per cent), May (31.98 per cent) and June (32.78 per cent) when 79.67 million, 81.51 million and 84.74 million of total 253.05 million, 254.92 million and 258.49 million SIM connections were redundant respectively.
In July and August, out of 259.14 million and 263.62 million connected lines, 84.74 million or 32.55 per cent and 87 million or 33 per cent in that order were inactive.
As at the end of September, 85.5 million or 32.34 per cent of 264.40 million total connected lines had been abandoned for at least 90 days, while in October, 85.49 million subscriptions or 32.19 per cent out of total 265.61 million were inactive, leaving 180.12 million as the current active subscriptions in the system.
Telecoms consumers in Nigeria have been found to live multi-simming lifestyle where one person is in possession of more than one SIM card registered to his identity.
This trend is further promoted by the design and configuration of mobile devices type-approved by the NCC as many of the devices are made to accommodate more than a SIM card conveniently.
The operators have also been accused of contributing to the rising trend of inactive telephone lines in the system as their sales agents are often seen aggressively giving out SIM cards to existing and potential customers for free, or selling and registering the lines at ridiculously low prices.
Some subscribers told business a.m. during informal chats with them that they sometimes activated a SIM card just to enjoy a promo service being offered at that time by the operators, after which they ditched the telephone lines.
While telephone numbers assigned by the NCC to operators in ranges is seen as a scarce national resource, some industry experts hold that the situation is still normal since total active lines outnumber abandoned ones.
According to Olusola Teniola, the president of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), loyalty of prepaid customers to their networks is minimal, hence, it is easy for them to drop a line and go for another one.
He said: “With increasing migration of prepaid subscribers, from a usage basis, this means that there is far less loyalty to remain with an operator and easy for expats and mobile road warriors to dispense with SIM cards and return to obtain another SIM card when they return to Nigeria.
“So it is still okay that number of active SIM cards exceeds the number of inactive SIM cards. If it happens otherwise, it signifies saturation or heavy churn due to alternative offerings over Wi-Fi or other non-based SIM devices,” Teniola said.
He, however, observed that the telcos needed to win more post-paid subscribers to reduce the number of inactive lines.
“With more post-paid accounts the number of inactive SIM cards should decrease, as the SIM is usually provisioned subject to a tenured contract being in place,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a recently released numbering plan regulation, NCC said it would henceforth withdraw inactive lines after 12 months.
“Subscriber numbers that have not generated revenue by originating calls will automatically be recovered after 12 consecutive months,” part of the new numbering plan read.
In the new plan, NCC said it would conduct regular audit in order to ascertain the level of utilisation of numbers assigned to operators.
“The numbers issued will be categorised as follows: Assigned i.e. total number assigned by the regulator including operator codes; Quantity of numbers already assigned and sold to subscribers (SIM cards); Quantity of numbers in trade channels i.e. numbers with assigned SIM cards but not yet sold; Revenue generating subscribers during the preceding 90 days prior to the reporting period; and Quantity of numbers in quarantine,” the commission said.