GSM In Nigeria: How, When And Where Did It First Begin? (Part One)


By Substance Nature

“We will have telephone lines that would have doubled the number that we have today…we will also have a country where many people can transact business on the internet, and where the quality of service would have improved significantly and where Nigerians shall become citizens of a country that has the highest number of telephones lines as well as internet subscriptions in Africa.” – Ernest Ndukwe, then Vice Chairman of NCC, in an interview with TELL Magazine, 2008.


By today, as you are reading this page, the Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) is approximately 16 years and three months in Nigeria. The mobile system was introduced into the Nigerian market and society precisely on 6th August, 2001. That was in the third year of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term.

The arrival of GSM in the country brought an abrupt or progressive end to the problematic and highly criticized services of the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), that then maintained monopoly over Nigeria’s telecommunications and data services. Right from inception, it was apparent that the new wave of wireless communications held better services, opportunities and promises for Nigerians who were already soaked in complaints of poor services typical of Nigeria’s public utility, corruption and lack of functional modalities to reverse the situation. The introduction of GSM in Nigeria was therefore consequent upon the deregulation of the telecomm sector, against all manner of controversies, bureaucratic red-tapism, politics, fears and expectations.

Despite the discourses and cynicism, it was not long when the overwhelming positive effect of the GSM was felt across the country, with chain-value variables that accelerated businesses and changed the tempo of small and medium scale enterprises, hence injecting fresh impetus into the socio-economic complexion of the country in a way that left no room for further debates or apprehension. The market was rapidly expanded beyond imaginations to herald healthy competition amongst Nigerians and foreigners alike.

Arguably, ECONET Wireless is

said to be the first network provider that made the first live call using GSM in the country on June 8, 2001. It was shortly followed by MTN that came on May 16, 2001 but began operations in August of the same year. Only three companies were initially licensed by the Nigerian government, namely Econet Wireless, MTN, and MTEL. Lagos first enjoyed gsm services, followed by Abuja, then Port Harcourt. The nw calletworks were launched under the 900 and 1800 MHZ spectrum, which sas made t at N50 per minute as there was no per second billing system until when Mike Adenuga’s Globacom Nigeria Limited ventured into the market in 2003.

As expected, to own a cell phone then became a status symbol or an indication of one’s exposure and compliance with the 21st century IT craze. Of course, owning a cell phone then made one a front-seat global citizen. But it came at a price so high that the poor had no hope of such luxury. The price of a cell phone then was as comparatively dear as that for a SIM. As at 2002, to buy a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) was about between Forty to Fifty Thousand Naira; while NOKIA 3310 and Samsung series, the trendy brands then, were upwards of Eighty to over One Hundred Thousand naira. They thus automatically became exclusive convenience and liability of the super-rich, as some middle-class families could only afford one for the whole house-whole. Dealers on this new wave of telecomm craze almost instantly realized how much they could make and shops were seen opening up by the day with different and

identical products and services.

Could you remember when you had your first phone, and the model, as well as how you felt? If you could still remember names of freaky phones like Nokia 3310, Nokia 1200, Nokia 1208, Motorola XT1032, Samsung C140 and other competitive models that introduced the dual SIM convenience, then, one way or the other, you were part of the frenetic genesis and a testimony of the present!

17 years after, it could be said that one of the best initiatives ever undertaken by the Obasanjo administration and indeed any successive Nigerian governments of recent memory was the introduction of the GSM, against the politics, pessimism and criticisms that had sought to mitigate it. And the value-chain or multiplier effect the GSM has brought on the socio-economic realities of the country remains a legacy and model for sound policies and a challenge to present leaders. The GSM revolution and evolution has been adjudged one of Nigerian government’s best policies in the area of citizen participation, self-reliance, job creation and national growth and development. International companies like Nokia, LG, Samsung, etc who are principal employers and contributors to the nation’s revenue may not have come to Nigeria if not for the foundation laid by telecomm. The effects in labour terms have been such that many have had to abandon comparable high pay in oil/gas and banking industries to seek greener pastures in the telecomm sub-sector.

More than half the population of Nigeria is connected to one telecomm network or the other, and the trend and need is growing rapidly by the day because the effect has not only been seen but felt with opportunities that have impacted positively on life. In specific reference, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in its February, 2017 Monthly Subscribers/Operator Data, active users of telecom services in the country stood at 154, 529, 780 in December, 2016. Out of this number, 154, 124, 602 active numbers could be located only on the GSM network services. As a regulatory body, the NCC has been empowered by Section 89 subsection 3 (c) of the Nigeria Communications Act of 2003, as amended, to monitor and report on trends in the telecom sector and provide statistical analyses.

Therefore, as you enjoy your GSM services on cell phones of your choice, you might have to pause once in awhile to ponder the beginning of things! Retrospect’s mandate is help us do such recall in practically every aspect of life. Next week, special attention shall be given to how GSM services specifically arrived Akwa Ibom State. Watch out!