The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has revealed that the number of unused or abandoned mobile lines across the networks of MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Globacom, and 9Mobile, has declined by 13 percent in 2022. This shows that more Nigerians used their lines in that year. According to the NCC latest subscriber data released, inactive lines on mobile networks was recorded at 94.4 million as of December 2022, which is down from the 109 million that was recorded at the end of 2021.
Revealed data by the NCC showed that the four mobile network operators had a total of 316.6 million connected lines as of December 2022. However, at the end of the month of December, the number of active lines was 222.2 million. According to these numbers, the telecom operators were able to generate revenue from 70 percent of their customers in the period under review. A mobile line is considered to be inactive by telecom operators if it is not used by the subscriber to make or receive calls and/or access the internet for a minimum of 90 days. These lines are separated from active ones because they generate no revenue for telecom operators within the stated period.
Line usage was impacted by NIN mandate in 2021.
In 2021, the Federal Government, through the NCC, mandated the linking of subscribers’ National Identification Number (NIN) to their line. Otherwise, the lines would be barred. Many Nigerians have had to abandon their mobile lines that year because of the government’s policy. While the deadline for the exercise was shifted several times from December 2020 until April 2022, millions of lines were affected as the government ordered the telecom companies to block unlinked lines around that period.
Airtel Nigeria, for instance, reported that 13.6 million of its customers were barred due to the non-submission of NIN information by the deadline of April 2022. This was published in its 9-month financial statements for the period ended December 2022. The company stated, “As of December 2022, 6.2 million customers (46 percent) have subsequently submitted their NINs and 3.2 million customers (23 percent) have been fully verified and unbarred.” It was also stated that the revenue growthy for the first nine months of the year was impacted by the effect of barring outgoing voice calls in Nigeria for customers who had not submitted their NINs.
The policy impacted the revenues of telecom operators.
Consequently, Airtel estimated that this has resulted in the loss of approximately $87 million of revenues in the nine months. MTN Nigerian also provided an update in its financial report for the year ended December 2022. It said that 19 million of its subscribers did not link their lines as of April 2022 and were barred from making calls. “As a result, in Q3, we recorded a higher churn from affected subscribers who stopped activity after the initial restriction, some of whom opted to obtain new SIMs. Therefore, we continued to ramp up gross connections and roll out NIN recovery offers to mitigate the impact of churn,” the company said.
Apart from the NIN issue, industry analysts had also attributed the increasing number of inactive lines to the fact that SIM cards are now easy to acquire and dump. According to them, the MNOs were also contributing to the increase through their aggressive marketing strategy of offering SIMs to customers cheap or free in some instances. Overall, the impact of the Federal Government directive was felt by the telecom operators in 2021, but the industry bounced back in 2022.
Having to activate a SIM with NIN contributes to inactive lines.
At the beginning of the telecoms revolution in 2001, a SIM was sold for as high as N60,000. However, the stiff competition among the telecom operators for the subscribers has pushed many of them to be offering their SIMs for free, coupled with promises of free credit and data upon activation. Presently, with the requirement of having to link NIN before a SIM can be activated, people no longer acquire SIMs for the fun of it but only when the need arises. This is contributing to the decline in the number of inactive lines on the networks.