Nigeria’s active internet connections hit 159.5 million, but what is 5G’s status in the country?

Omoleye Omoruyi
Internet in Nigeria

Nigeria recorded 159.5 million active internet subscriptions across fixed, mobile, and VOIP networks, in May 2023, according to data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

This means there has been an 8.6 per cent growth compared to the 158.2 million recorded in April 2023.

The NCC revealed that mobile network operators (MTN, Airtel, Globacom, and 9mobile) maintained their dominance of the internet market with 159 million subscriptions, while VOIP operators, which include Smile Communications and Ntel, accounted for 335,121 internet subscriptions as of May, while other internet service providers (ISPs) accounted for 204,810 internet subscriptions, as of December 2022.

The report showed that broadband subscriptions increased to 92.2 million in May 2023 from 91.8 million recorded in April 2023, representing 48.28 per cent.

What is enabling increased internet subscription?

Smartphones have become increasingly affordable in Nigeria in recent years, which has made it easier for people to access the internet, even though some reports argue that many still do not use their smartphones to access the internet, and there are signs of fewer people opting for smartphones in the coming years.

On the other hand, the 2G and 3G networks are not going anywhere yet, even as 4G and 5G have been launched, especially because many internet users access the internet through those old-generation networks.

Ejike Kanife, the editor at Technext, corroborates this in an article saying, “one of the more important reasons for keeping 2G and 3G alive, at least on the part of the telcos, is the wide coverage it gives them. Certainly, if MTN for instance, has a slogan which saysEverywhere You Go, it wasn’t referring to its 4G or 5G network.”

He continues, “the Chief Technical Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mohammed Rufai revealed that 90 per cent of Nigeria’s population has 2G technology, while over 83 per cent of the population has 3G coverage,” so those passé networks will still be in use for a long time.

Yet, just as former vice president Yemi Osinbajo said, “The percentage of 4G coverage across the country also increased from 23% to 77.52% [in 2022].” This widepsread penetration makes it easier to stream videos, download files, and play online games, and, in turn, encourages other smartphone users to do an upgrade.

Nigeria’s active internet connections hit 159.5 million in May 2023

Also, the Nigerian government has prioritised broadband development and invested in infrastructure and policies to promote broadband adoption.

For instance, the National Broadband Plan is a roadmap for developing broadband in Nigeria. The plan sets targets for internet subscriptions and identifies several policy initiatives to achieve these targets.

The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) Act was passed to bring about renewed hope in the quest for critical infrastructural development in Nigeria through the use of alternative sources of financing by attracting private investment capital into infrastructure development.

And the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), a fund that is used to provide subsidies for broadband infrastructure development in rural areas, has funded several projects to expand broadband access in rural areas.

Let’s not forget how the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to work and learn from home, which increased the continuous demand for internet access.

In addition to these factors, there are some other factors that are contributing to the growth of internet subscriptions in Nigeria which are listed below:

  • The literacy rate in Nigeria has been increasing in recent years, so more people can use the Internet.
  • The youth population in Nigeria is proliferating, and this is creating a demand for internet access.
  • Nigerians are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of the Internet, such as education, entertainment, and business opportunities.

But where is 5G in this conversation?

There is no single place to check the number of active 5G connections in Nigeria. Not when data is an almost non-existent conversation in Nigeria, and telecom companies can only be forced to release the data.

However, you can get an estimate by looking at the number of 5G-enabled phones that have been sold in Nigeria.


According to a report by the NCC, over one million 5G-enabled phones were sold in Nigeria in 2022. This number is expected to grow significantly in the coming years as more people upgrade to 5G-enabled phones, but that depends on affordability.

Another way to estimate the number of active 5G connections in Nigeria is to look at the number of 5G base stations that have been deployed in the country.

For instance, MTN Nigeria’s 5G services are in 13 cities (Lagos, Abuja, Owerri, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Abeokuta, Shagamu, Ifo, Warri, Enugu, Benin City, Kano, Port Harcourt) and over 700 sites in Nigeria, according to the company’s Chief Technical Officer, Mohammed Rufia.

In June, Airtel joined MTN to roll out its 5G network in four states, promising to cover the entire states in Nigeria by the end of the year. There is, however, no data on the number of base stations.

Of course, not all of the base stations out there are active, and not all of the 5G-enabled phones that have been sold in Nigeria are currently being used on 5G networks. However, there is definitely going to be higher demand for 5G connections, especially as there is now some level of competition and as more 5G base stations are deployed in the country.

It is also worth noting that the number of active 5G connections in Nigeria will likely be concentrated in urban areas. This is because 5G networks require more cell towers than 4G networks, and it is more expensive to deploy them in rural areas.

The number of active 5G connections in Nigeria is still minuscule.

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