Telecoms: Inactive mobile lines rise to 139m

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Revenue-generating SIMs slide to 57%

A total of 139 million subscriber identity module (SIM) cards issued by the four mobile network operators (MNOs) in the country have become inactive, New Telegraph has learnt. This translates to a loss of revenue for the operators as the number of abandoned or unused SIMs continues to rise. The number of inactive lines, which stood at 110 million in June this year, rose by 19 million between July and August to hit an all-time high. According to the latest subscriber data released by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile had issued and activated a total of N328.1 million lines as of August this year.

However, active lines across the networks at the end of the month stood at 188.9 million. A mobile line is said to be inactive if it is not used by the subscriber to make or receive calls and/or access data services for 90 days, at the minimum. Such lines are separated from active lines as they generate no revenue for telecom operators within the stated period. With the rise in unused lines, revenue-generating SIMs for the operators had declined to 57 per cent in August from 63 per cent in June this year. While the telecom operators have always had inactive lines alongside the increase in active users and new activations, the ban on new SIM registration and the inability of many subscribers to retrieve their lines between December 9, 2020, and April 19, 2021, worsened the situation as abandoned lines continue to pile up each month. As of November 2020, the number of inactive lines across the networks stood at 90 million. The figure increased to 95 million in December and then to 99 million by January this year.

By February 2021, the figure had climbed to 102.7 million. In March, inactive lines stood at 105 million, while it increased to 107 million in April. In May, the figure rose to 108.6 million. As a result of the ban on new SIM registration between December 9, 2020, and April 19, 2021, the mobile network operators had lost a total of over 20 million active subscriptions. Meanwhile, industry analysts have also attributed the increasing number of inactive lines, which predated the recent ban, 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 for free. 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 subscribers has pushed many of them to be offering their SIMs for free, laced with promises of free credit and data upon activation. This newspaper’s investigations revealed that most of the subscribers often go for the new lines to enjoy the freebies, only to discard the lines once the gift period is over. But with the new condition that subscribers presents their National Identification Number (NIN) before buying a new SIM, industry analysts said the situation would improve for the better as people would now buy SIMs only when it is necessary and not just because an operator is running a promo. With the new number management policy recently intro-duced by NCC, subscribers whose lines have been inactive for 12 months would forfeit them.

In a recently released numbering plan regulation, NCC said it would henceforth withdraw inactive lines after 12 months. “Subscriber numbers that have not generated revenue by originating calls will automatically be recovered after 12 consecutive months,” part of the new numbering plan read. In the new plan, NCC said it would conduct a regular audit in order to ascertain the level of utilisation of numbers assigned to operators.

“The numbers issued will be categorised as follows: Assigned i.e. total number assigned by the regulator including operator codes; Quantity of numbers already assigned and sold to subscribers (SIM cards); Quantity of numbers in trade channels i.e. numbers with assigned SIM cards but not yet sold; Revenue generating subscribers during the preceding 90 days before the reporting period; and quantity of numbers in quarantine,” the Commission said. Describing the numbers as scarce resources that must be well managed by the regulator, NCC noted that recent developments in the global telecommunications industry such as machine to machine (M2M) communications, the internet of things, over-thetop services, and other services made possible by fourthgeneration networks and the futuristic 5G/6G technologies necessitated a review of the country’s numbering plan.


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