Airtel Nigeria, the local mobile unit of Indian telecoms group Bharti Airtel, is gearing up to launch its 4G LTE network ‘in the next three to four months’, as it aims to capitalise on the surging demand for mobile data services in the West African nation. Bloomberg quotes the firm’s CEO Segun Ogunsanya as saying that Airtel’s partnership with Chinese equipment vendor ZTE for the supply of a 4G network will enable it to add subscribers and help narrow the gap with market leader MTN. Airtel has invested more than USD1.5 billion in its Nigerian network in the past five years, but the country’s telecoms market has recently been impacted by worsening economic conditions. Speaking on the economic situation, Ogunsanya said an increase in dollar supply by the Central Bank of Nigeria has enabled Airtel to fund an improvement in service quality after a severe shortage of the US currency hampered investment, adding that access to dollars is ‘better than it was about three or four months ago’.
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database notes that Airtel is Nigeria’s third largest wireless operator by subscribers with a customer base of 34.7 million at 31 March 2017 (a market share of 22.7%), behind MTN with 60.4 million and Globacom with 37.3 million, but ahead of Etisalat’s subscriber total of 19.6 million. Airtel is the sole remaining GSM operator without a commercial LTE service, after its three main rivals launched 4G networks in the second half of 2016.