MNOs’ investments in base stations hit N1.2trn

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the country have so far invested approximately N1.2 trillion in building Base Trans-receiver Stations (BTS) across the country, New Telegraph has learnt.

This covers the cost of the infrastructure built by MTN, Airtel, Glo, Ntel, 9mobile and Smile Communications as at the end of 2018.

While a few may have been added this year, industry statistics just released by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) showed that base stations built by the operators stood at 30,637 as at December last year.

According to the operators, the average cost of building a base station or mast is N40 million in normal areas, while it could cost up to N50 million in difficult areas. Based on the N40 million average cost, the telcos’ expenditure on the 30,637 so far built modestly amounts to N1.2 trillion.

The number of base stations represents a six per cent increase from 30,598 recorded at the end of 2017. This indicated that the operators were able to build additional 39 base stations last year.

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A breakdown of the infrastructure ownership indicated that MTN owned the largest number of base stations standing at 14,715, while Airtel owned 7,966. Globacom’s base stations stood at 7,244, while Ntel had 562. 9mobile and Smile communications had built 148 and two base stations respectively as at the end of 2018.

Suffice to note that aside their personally built infrastructure, the operators are allowed to mount their radio on masts built by others under an arrangement called collocation, which involves payment of rent to the infrastructure owner. Non-payment of this rent constitutes part of the over N165 billion debt currently being battled in the industry.

According to the NCC report, Lagos State has benefitted the most from the operator’s investments in base stations as it had 4,764. Other states among top five beneficiaries include Ogun, with 1,931; Rivers, 1,676; FCT Abuja 1,684; and Oyo with 1,303.

The operators’ inability to build more of the facility across the country due to financial constraint is seen as the cause of poor quality of service.

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However, while residents of Lagos with the largest number of the infrastructure still experience service disruptions, service quality experience may be far worse in states like Yobe, Zamfara, Gombe, Jigawa, and Kebbi.

According to NCC, these are the states with least number of base stations. As at the end of 2018, Yobe State had only 205 base stations; Zamfara had 223; Gombe 286; Jigawa got 289; while Kebbi had 298.

An official of one of the operators, who spoke to our correspondent under condition of anonymity, blamed the low infrastructure deployment in some of the states on insurgency.

According to him, building the infrastructure is cost intensive and the operators are wary of destructions that would lead to losses. “Don’t forget that the insurgents had blown up some base stations in the past in some of those states. Apart from the cost, there is also the security concern, it would not make sense to risk lives of people because you want to build infrastructure,” he said.

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Meanwhile, NCC in the report noted that there was significant growth in the number of mobile subscribers in the country last year. In 2018, subscriber number increased by a total of 27.8 million from 145 million in 2017 to record high of 172.8 million active voice subscriptions as at December 2018. This represents about 19 per cent increase in total subscription within the period under consideration.

“Total prepaid voice subscriptions increased from 140,787,233 in December 2017 to 168,020,223 in December 2018, indicating a 19.3 per cent growth in prepaid voice subscriptions in the year 2018.

“Similarly, post-paid voice subscriptions increased from 4 million in December, 2017 to 4.6 million in December 2018, indicating an increase of 13.9 per cent growth,” NCC said. 

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