31 Jan 2009

Nigeria: new entrant sees big addressable market in under-served rural regions

On Tuesday this week Global Mobile Daily picked up a story from Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper, drawn from an interview with the CEO of universal access provider Gicell. The company, founded in 2006 and was awarded a National Unified Access Service Licence by the Nigerian Communications Commissions (NCC), which includes digital mobile services, fixed telephony services, full international gateway services and national long distance services.

Gicell CEO Usman Abubakar Gumi told the Daily Trust that his company is rolling out a CDMA 450 network to provide voice and data services, making its market debut in the five states of Adamawa, Borno, Cross River, Kwara and Oyo, all regions which have been identified as un-served or under-served. Mr Gumi noted that this was a condition of securing funding from a World Bank supported programme. Also, Gumi stated that "as a Unified Access licensee we intend to cover the country within the shortest possible time."

Gumi was asked about the size of the genuinely addressable market and how effectively he expected his company to compete with established GSM MNOs Globacom, MTN Nigeria and Zain Nigeria. Gumi argues that "Nigeria, with a population of over 140 Million, is the most populated country in Africa... [and has] a young and rural–based population with youth under 35 years old occupying the main parts of the population, [which means that] despite the 50 million subscribers, according to the current statistics, there are still additional 55 million addressable markets" (sic).

At our recent GSM>3G Middle East event in Dubai, a notable segment of the exhibitors were from power supply companies keen to showcase solutions to the challenges of providing telecoms services in areas with underdeveloped infrastructure. In the case of Nigeria's rural regions, Gumi says "there are lots of challenges but we would do it the way others are doing it and also as much as possible maximize the use of alternative source of energy such solar panels."

World Bank involvement seems to be an important part of the Gicell funding mix because, as Gumi argues, "the Nigerian banks are short term lenders and the industry is very capital intensive." The role of the World Bank in the project, says Gumi, "is to cushion the cost of the deployment of services in those [rural] areas and to maintain the services for at least five years whether is profitable or not." Mr Gumi feels, however that "based on our study it will be profitable."

Rural communications, bridging the digitial divide, extending service availability to under-served population segments: these are all buzz terms which seem to be resonating ever more persistently at the many Com World Series events covering emerging markets. So I hope my colleagues are able to secure the involvement of Gicell at the Abuja, Nigeria-hosted West & Central Africa Com conference and exhibition in June this year. It is always refreshing to have the established players joined in the panel of speakers by new market entrants.