What it’s like owning a BlackBerry in Nigeria

85 Comments

Nigeria mobile carriers

[The following is a letter from a BlackBerry Cool reader in Nigeria, writing about what it's like to own a BlackBerry in that part of the world.]

I couldn’t have written about BB in Nigeria without writing about the history of telecommunications in the country.

About 8 years ago, we only had about one hundred thousand wired lines for all of us. When I say “all of us”, I mean about one hundred and forty million people. In order to use a phone, we often had to wait in lines that could be as long as one thousand people.

Only one service provider, MTEL, which is a subsidiary of the national carrier NITEL, was offering mobile analogue (etac) in about four cities.

In 1999, licenses were given to three GSM operators: MTN Nigeria, V-Mobile and MTEL.The nation was about to witness a phenomenal change in telecommunications. A change in the way we communicate, a permanent change for the rest of our lives.

Around five years after, in 2003, another license was given this time to the second national carrier GLO Mobile.

Two years after that, GLO Mobile became the fastest growing telecommunication company not only here in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole. The company began to introduce new technologies into the industry.

First they came up with the GPRS, then MMS and the mobile internet just to name a few. Additionally, after all these possibilities (I say possibilities because some of the innovations they brought were thought to be impossible), the direction has now changed and others have to follow suit. At this point the industry has grown tremendously and we have twenty million subscribers and still counting.

Three years after, in 2006, BlackBerry was introduced to the Nigerian market. There were lot of issues in India when BlackBerry was introduced, as well as Russia. But here in Nigeria, a lack of access to information as well as a preoccupation with other aspects of life, meant BlackBerry landed here without making much of a scene.

All the carriers started with old BlackBerry devices such as the 7290 which was a shame because the 8xxx series was already out. The BlackBerry was a great mobile device to introduce because like one provider’s slogan, it was “the power to do much more.”

When BlackBerry was introduced into the market by Glo Mobile, it was only for the post paid customers. However, till this very day that has not really changed and they are yet to include prepaid customers.

Then came the V-Mobile that has now been changed to Zain. The company began offering the service to their postpaid customers only but that has recently changed. As I was putting this together, I received a text message from Zain saying that they have included prepaid customers into their BlackBerry service.

In 2006 however,  MTN,  my network, began to offer BlackBErry to its customers this time to both prepaid and postpaid customers at $34 a month. Here in Nigeria, not many people can afford a BlackBerry. And in situations where people just want to talk, most of the people here just forget their cell phones inside their hand bags until the phone rings and they remember they own a mobile phone.

The majority of mobile phone users here in Nigeria just want to talk. That is all they use their device for. I met a lady few days ago when I was trying to gather information concerning this write up inside one of the carrier’s offices. She uses a BlackBerry but she has never used the phone for anything other than making calls.

Unlike the advanced countries where the carriers take charge of providing both the cell phones and services to the customers, here the customers get the phone elsewhere and buy the SIM from the carrier. All the cell phones coming into the country are already unlocked.

You hardly see people with BlackBerry and when you are seen with one, you often get: “WOW! He uses BlackBerry, he must be big or something.” That is what it feels like having a BlackBerry in Nigeria. The other day, a guy walked up to me and said, “this guy uses BlackBerry, I saw this stuff on a billboard, it’s a powerful machine!”

I remember once a rumor that BlackBerry can scan for pregnancy when placed on the stomach of a pregnant woman. I think it calls for an investigation. For now, there are still so many issues with having one and using it. One couldn’t have purchased a phone like this without it fully functional. Most of the technologies we use here are obsolete.

Fortunately, all the carriers are now bringing in the latest BlackBerry models.

Most of the cities here are still on GPRS. EDGE and 3G are still trying to spring up. The majority of the messengers will not work because the network does not have the service books for the applications. Only the BlackBerry messenger works. Since Zain has joined the queue I will have to check it out if they have better service than my network.

But till then, I remain my loyal self.

God bless,

-Temitope O.

Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN

[ED NOTE: Can you believe he wrote all this on his BlackBerry? Amazing.]

  • http://lechampiondumonde.com/ Paul

    This was a (blackberry)cool backgrounder piece. Thanks a lot for sharing! Amazing that you typed this all on your BB too! I knew that cell technologies were blowing up in Africa but had no idea to what extent. If you could, I think people on this site would be interested in hearing more.

    Now that you have a Blackberry, do you think you could ever go back to a standard cell phone? What functions or apps do you use on the phone that are unique to BB? Sure, access to 3G is limited so only BB messenger works but with not many other people having Blackberries, is BB messenger even useful?

    When I was in Kenya last summer, I became fascinated by the cell technology there and how people used it. $1.60 sim cards (they cost $40 in Canada). Twin-sim phones? I was using an unlocked SE W810i there and to Kenyans, even though I hadn’t showered in two weeks and my shoes were filled with holes, my phone was a sign that I must be a big shot. “Very executive,” they would say.

    Are Nigerians talking about the iPhone yet?

  • http://lechampiondumonde.com Paul

    This was a (blackberry)cool backgrounder piece. Thanks a lot for sharing! Amazing that you typed this all on your BB too! I knew that cell technologies were blowing up in Africa but had no idea to what extent. If you could, I think people on this site would be interested in hearing more.

    Now that you have a Blackberry, do you think you could ever go back to a standard cell phone? What functions or apps do you use on the phone that are unique to BB? Sure, access to 3G is limited so only BB messenger works but with not many other people having Blackberries, is BB messenger even useful?

    When I was in Kenya last summer, I became fascinated by the cell technology there and how people used it. $1.60 sim cards (they cost $40 in Canada). Twin-sim phones? I was using an unlocked SE W810i there and to Kenyans, even though I hadn’t showered in two weeks and my shoes were filled with holes, my phone was a sign that I must be a big shot. “Very executive,” they would say.

    Are Nigerians talking about the iPhone yet?

  • Ben

    I have been to a lot of different places in the world thanks to my time in the Army and it also amazed me how we take things like mobile devices for granted. I mean really, here in this story is a guy telling how much technology has changed in his country but for most of us, owning a BlackBerry means nothing more then your work supplied it or you wanted a device that allows to to stay in touch with your friends and family easier. I see teenagers carrying around Pearls, Curves, Storms, Bolds and so forth like it is nothing (keep in mind, my first cell phone was a bag phone :D ). I think it is really neat to see how things have changed in just one country.

  • Ben

    I have been to a lot of different places in the world thanks to my time in the Army and it also amazed me how we take things like mobile devices for granted. I mean really, here in this story is a guy telling how much technology has changed in his country but for most of us, owning a BlackBerry means nothing more then your work supplied it or you wanted a device that allows to to stay in touch with your friends and family easier. I see teenagers carrying around Pearls, Curves, Storms, Bolds and so forth like it is nothing (keep in mind, my first cell phone was a bag phone :D ). I think it is really neat to see how things have changed in just one country.

  • Nick

    Main thing that blew me away was that he typed it all on his BB. Its weird reading something like this, I use my BB and take it for granted that I can enjoy a piece of technology so freely. Times are changing however, and as these markets emerge, the more competitive it gets for everyone. A really interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nick

    Main thing that blew me away was that he typed it all on his BB. Its weird reading something like this, I use my BB and take it for granted that I can enjoy a piece of technology so freely. Times are changing however, and as these markets emerge, the more competitive it gets for everyone. A really interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.arizonacharliesboulder.org/ Arizona Charlies Boulder

    we have almost the same here in Central America. but still no data plan or 3g.

  • http://www.arizonacharliesboulder.org/ Arizona Charlies Boulder

    we have almost the same here in Central America. but still no data plan or 3g.

  • http://www.arizonacharliesboulder.org Arizona Charlies Boulder

    we have almost the same here in Central America. but still no data plan or 3g.

  • http://beyondthebleedingedge.blogspot.com/ Andrew

    Fantastic post – I would encourage a follow up, on how camera’s/video on handhelds impacts the way they use their devices and social interactions. As this is probably the first time pictures can be taken for a majority of the population.

  • http://beyondthebleedingedge.blogspot.com Andrew

    Fantastic post – I would encourage a follow up, on how camera’s/video on handhelds impacts the way they use their devices and social interactions. As this is probably the first time pictures can be taken for a majority of the population.

  • ed

    I just got a PIN message asking for my bank account. It sounds like I can make a lot of money if I help out this Doctor Abdullah fellow.

  • ed

    I just got a PIN message asking for my bank account. It sounds like I can make a lot of money if I help out this Doctor Abdullah fellow.

  • ThaWiz

    Wow! What part of Nigeria are you from? Wait in lines up to a thousand long. ALL my family there have and have had their own wired lines for as long as I can remember. I went home to Lagos in the summer of ’07 and was amazed how many people had cell phones and how nice they all were. There were some very cool designs I had never seen before. But still Blackberrys were looked upon with reverence. I had my 8700g when I was there and all my family thought I was a big shot over here.

    @ Andrew: no it wont be the first time the majority of the population could take pictures. Nigeria is nowhere near that destitute.

    @ ed: don’t you think that’s a little too low of a blow. Not very funny

  • ThaWiz

    Wow! What part of Nigeria are you from? Wait in lines up to a thousand long. ALL my family there have and have had their own wired lines for as long as I can remember. I went home to Lagos in the summer of ’07 and was amazed how many people had cell phones and how nice they all were. There were some very cool designs I had never seen before. But still Blackberrys were looked upon with reverence. I had my 8700g when I was there and all my family thought I was a big shot over here.

    @ Andrew: no it wont be the first time the majority of the population could take pictures. Nigeria is nowhere near that destitute.

    @ ed: don’t you think that’s a little too low of a blow. Not very funny

  • Um No

    So running 419 scams should be easier now, right?

  • Um No

    So running 419 scams should be easier now, right?

  • artie

    Great letter, thank you.

  • artie

    Great letter, thank you.

  • artie

    Great letter, thank you.

  • http://9jasite.com/ African Boy

    I am a Nigerian, I have had experiences using blackberry and dont intend using one primarily. I use a Nokia E61i and I get the same response as one who uses a blackberry. I am not moved to using a blackberry or using a data plan on my e61i because our data plans are still outrageously expensive.

    A queue of a 1000 people to make a call. Where? The highest I have ever seen was 2 people and that was because we preferred to make calls at that location (the operator was a pretty lady).

  • http://9jasite.com African Boy

    I am a Nigerian, I have had experiences using blackberry and dont intend using one primarily. I use a Nokia E61i and I get the same response as one who uses a blackberry. I am not moved to using a blackberry or using a data plan on my e61i because our data plans are still outrageously expensive.

    A queue of a 1000 people to make a call. Where? The highest I have ever seen was 2 people and that was because we preferred to make calls at that location (the operator was a pretty lady).

  • asktemi

    African Boy,

    It takes about $100 US (#15,000)Nigeria money a month to have a data plan on your Nokia E61i while it takes about $34 (#5,000). My brother has Nokia E71 and what is E71 without a data plan? We are talking about productivity here. Instead of me buying a phone that expensive I rather just go for a cheap phone just to make calls.

    uh! pretty lady you say; very few ppl were able to own a phone 9 years ago. Thank God I was one of the prileged few.

    Nitel was the only carrier we have in a country of about 140,000,000 and 100,000 lines what do you get check the stat.

  • asktemi

    African Boy,

    It takes about $100 US (#15,000)Nigeria money a month to have a data plan on your Nokia E61i while it takes about $34 (#5,000). My brother has Nokia E71 and what is E71 without a data plan? We are talking about productivity here. Instead of me buying a phone that expensive I rather just go for a cheap phone just to make calls.

    uh! pretty lady you say; very few ppl were able to own a phone 9 years ago. Thank God I was one of the prileged few.

    Nitel was the only carrier we have in a country of about 140,000,000 and 100,000 lines what do you get check the stat.

  • http://9jasite.com/ African Boy

    @asktemi , a basic data plan. Yes. What is the data through-put allowed per month?

  • http://9jasite.com African Boy

    @asktemi , a basic data plan. Yes. What is the data through-put allowed per month?

  • dbl

    I read this post with a huge smile on my face, its good to know technology is being appreciated in Nigeria. I agree with the writer that about 8 yrs ago, it was a completely different story.

    @Ed et @Um No
    As for the scams and whatnot, its simple -dont be greedy! you have the right to ignore such messages just the same way you ignore spam emails that ask if you want to enlarge any body part.

  • dbl

    I read this post with a huge smile on my face, its good to know technology is being appreciated in Nigeria. I agree with the writer that about 8 yrs ago, it was a completely different story.

    @Ed et @Um No
    As for the scams and whatnot, its simple -dont be greedy! you have the right to ignore such messages just the same way you ignore spam emails that ask if you want to enlarge any body part.

  • dbl

    I read this post with a huge smile on my face, its good to know technology is being appreciated in Nigeria. I agree with the writer that about 8 yrs ago, it was a completely different story.

    @Ed et @Um No
    As for the scams and whatnot, its simple -dont be greedy! you have the right to ignore such messages just the same way you ignore spam emails that ask if you want to enlarge any body part.

  • Dan

    what fascinating incites into present day Nigerian culture! I really appreciate someone taking the time to post this. It would be great to see a few from around the globe. Makes me remember how blessed we are in our daily lives and I think it does us good to be reminded of that. And yes, I too remember bag phones (and no cell phones) and very expensive minutes here in the U.S. Who knows… BBs and the free flows of information could well bring about great changes in Africa. Thanks, God Bless you also.

  • Dan

    what fascinating incites into present day Nigerian culture! I really appreciate someone taking the time to post this. It would be great to see a few from around the globe. Makes me remember how blessed we are in our daily lives and I think it does us good to be reminded of that. And yes, I too remember bag phones (and no cell phones) and very expensive minutes here in the U.S. Who knows… BBs and the free flows of information could well bring about great changes in Africa. Thanks, God Bless you also.

  • Dan

    what fascinating incites into present day Nigerian culture! I really appreciate someone taking the time to post this. It would be great to see a few from around the globe. Makes me remember how blessed we are in our daily lives and I think it does us good to be reminded of that. And yes, I too remember bag phones (and no cell phones) and very expensive minutes here in the U.S. Who knows… BBs and the free flows of information could well bring about great changes in Africa. Thanks, God Bless you also.

  • ozoro

    I have used a Nokia E61 in the UK & Nigeria for voice & data (2007/8). I really enjoyed the blackberry function on E61 both in Nigeria & UK. Many providers in both the UK & Nigeria argued with me that the E61 could NOT use the Blackberry function.

    My recent upgrade was to a blackberry 8310, fantastic phone, nuch better than the Nokia, am going to be hard pushed to use anything other than a blackberry in future.

    In Nigeria once I change my sim to my Nigerian number, all my settings for emails remain the same, I have at least 5 seperate emails (BIS not enterprise) and all my emails come straight through. When I have roamed using my UK mobile account it is horrendously expensive – over £300 for a two week period!

    My big questin/ challenge to BB users and suppliers is small business men like have tried to legitmately buy unlocked BB handsets and export to Africa (as the providers don’t provide subsidised handsets of any model), but we meet such resistance from suppliers in Europe & the UK. Can anyone explain this why this is?

    I know there is the usual suspicsion of fraud, etc, but suppliers should be able to tell geniue buyers and I have asked for goods to be shipped to my UK address.
    In these days of credit crunch I would have thought my money is as good as anybodyelse’s…………………….

    any takers……………………

  • http://Blackberrycool ozoro

    I have used a Nokia E61 in the UK & Nigeria for voice & data (2007/8). I really enjoyed the blackberry function on E61 both in Nigeria & UK. Many providers in both the UK & Nigeria argued with me that the E61 could NOT use the Blackberry function.

    My recent upgrade was to a blackberry 8310, fantastic phone, nuch better than the Nokia, am going to be hard pushed to use anything other than a blackberry in future.

    In Nigeria once I change my sim to my Nigerian number, all my settings for emails remain the same, I have at least 5 seperate emails (BIS not enterprise) and all my emails come straight through. When I have roamed using my UK mobile account it is horrendously expensive – over £300 for a two week period!

    My big questin/ challenge to BB users and suppliers is small business men like have tried to legitmately buy unlocked BB handsets and export to Africa (as the providers don’t provide subsidised handsets of any model), but we meet such resistance from suppliers in Europe & the UK. Can anyone explain this why this is?

    I know there is the usual suspicsion of fraud, etc, but suppliers should be able to tell geniue buyers and I have asked for goods to be shipped to my UK address.
    In these days of credit crunch I would have thought my money is as good as anybodyelse’s…………………….

    any takers……………………

  • TT

    I would like to purchase an unlocked Blackberry Bold for use in Nigeria and am currently located in NYC in the US. Specifically, Port Harcourt. I have a few questions:

    1. What is a good source for an unlocked Blackbery?
    2. Can I get a regular Blackberry and unlock it myself or have it unlocked in Nigeria?
    3. Does anyone have one of these in PH? How does it work for you?
    3. How much are sim cards and who do you suggest? How do I get my data plan to work so that I can receive my messages and connect the Blackberry servers for email retrieval and BBMessenger?
    4. Can I purchase prepaid phone service (local and international) and a dataplan and how much will that cost?

    Any other suggestions would be welcome. I will be traveling to PH indefinitely and need access to meet work obligations.

    Thank you,
    TT

  • TT

    I would like to purchase an unlocked Blackberry Bold for use in Nigeria and am currently located in NYC in the US. Specifically, Port Harcourt. I have a few questions:

    1. What is a good source for an unlocked Blackbery?
    2. Can I get a regular Blackberry and unlock it myself or have it unlocked in Nigeria?
    3. Does anyone have one of these in PH? How does it work for you?
    3. How much are sim cards and who do you suggest? How do I get my data plan to work so that I can receive my messages and connect the Blackberry servers for email retrieval and BBMessenger?
    4. Can I purchase prepaid phone service (local and international) and a dataplan and how much will that cost?

    Any other suggestions would be welcome. I will be traveling to PH indefinitely and need access to meet work obligations.

    Thank you,
    TT

  • ozoro

    Hello TT

    I supply BB’s to retailers and resellers (although I can supply to end users if need be)

    1.Blackberry Bold will cost no less than N90,000 unlocked.
    2. Numerous places in Lagos such as Mega Plaza in Victoria Island will supply, am not familiar enough with PH to suggest an outlet.
    3. MTN, Glo & Zain will sell you a sim card for less than N500, you can even use pay as go for some networks with Data/BB function.
    4. Costs about N5000 per month for BB function.
    5. My settings for email have remained the same when I swap sim card in Nigeria using MTN and 02 (UK based).
    6. However the mobile main shops will set you for BB if you want to use new Nigerian settings.
    7. Anywhere there’s a GSM signal in Nigeria I can send/recieve emails.

    trust this helps, contact me if need be.

    thanx………………..

  • http://Blackberrycool ozoro

    Hello TT

    I supply BB’s to retailers and resellers (although I can supply to end users if need be)

    1.Blackberry Bold will cost no less than N90,000 unlocked.
    2. Numerous places in Lagos such as Mega Plaza in Victoria Island will supply, am not familiar enough with PH to suggest an outlet.
    3. MTN, Glo & Zain will sell you a sim card for less than N500, you can even use pay as go for some networks with Data/BB function.
    4. Costs about N5000 per month for BB function.
    5. My settings for email have remained the same when I swap sim card in Nigeria using MTN and 02 (UK based).
    6. However the mobile main shops will set you for BB if you want to use new Nigerian settings.
    7. Anywhere there’s a GSM signal in Nigeria I can send/recieve emails.

    trust this helps, contact me if need be.

    thanx………………..

  • asktemi

    Ozoro,

    Ozoro should get in touch with me on asktemi@yahoo.com or BB pin:25165797

  • asktemi

    Ozoro,

    Ozoro should get in touch with me on asktemi@yahoo.com or BB pin:25165797

  • Oluseyi

    For those doubting the “lines 1,000 people long” – particularly for the Nigerians doubting it – think outside of Lagos, Ibadan and other very urban areas. Think peri-urban outskirts or even rural areas. Consider that of the 100,000 land lines that were available at the time, probably something like 25% were in use in Lagos – the smallest of the states by land mass! (But also the most densely populated, and second in overall population, at the time, to Kaduna.)

    In 2006 I went to Nigeria and took my Blackberry 7100t with me, unlocked (T-Mobile will give you an unlock code for your device every 11 months; I’ve since upgraded through an 8300 from work to my new, personal 8900 Curve), and enjoyed excellent call services by simply slipping in cheap SIM cards and purchasing prepaid minutes. MMS was just being introduced at the time (by V-Mobile), so I didn’t get a chance to check it out. I’m hoping to be back in Nigeria later this year, so it’d be interesting to see how cellular services have advanced since my last visit.

    As for the length of the piece, I once went through a period when my BlackBerry was my only “computer,” and I learned to compose truly lengthy missives on it. Worse, it was a SureType keyboard, so I’d have to correct spellings and involve the scrollwheel… That experience convinced me to always go QWERTY! :)

  • Oluseyi

    For those doubting the “lines 1,000 people long” – particularly for the Nigerians doubting it – think outside of Lagos, Ibadan and other very urban areas. Think peri-urban outskirts or even rural areas. Consider that of the 100,000 land lines that were available at the time, probably something like 25% were in use in Lagos – the smallest of the states by land mass! (But also the most densely populated, and second in overall population, at the time, to Kaduna.)

    In 2006 I went to Nigeria and took my Blackberry 7100t with me, unlocked (T-Mobile will give you an unlock code for your device every 11 months; I’ve since upgraded through an 8300 from work to my new, personal 8900 Curve), and enjoyed excellent call services by simply slipping in cheap SIM cards and purchasing prepaid minutes. MMS was just being introduced at the time (by V-Mobile), so I didn’t get a chance to check it out. I’m hoping to be back in Nigeria later this year, so it’d be interesting to see how cellular services have advanced since my last visit.

    As for the length of the piece, I once went through a period when my BlackBerry was my only “computer,” and I learned to compose truly lengthy missives on it. Worse, it was a SureType keyboard, so I’d have to correct spellings and involve the scrollwheel… That experience convinced me to always go QWERTY! :)

  • taipan lee

    Hey guys good work.
    I only want to add a few details.
    MTN and Glo now offers BB for prepaid customers.
    You can get all the features and applications that are available in advanced countries (yahoo messenger, msn, googletalk, minuet browser, opera mini, cnn ….et al) working. All you need is the right service book and configurations.

    I can supply the missing links for free ,as i have all these features running on my own BB. Get in touch :amos007ng@yahoo.com

  • taipan lee

    Hey guys good work.
    I only want to add a few details.
    MTN and Glo now offers BB for prepaid customers.
    You can get all the features and applications that are available in advanced countries (yahoo messenger, msn, googletalk, minuet browser, opera mini, cnn ….et al) working. All you need is the right service book and configurations.

    I can supply the missing links for free ,as i have all these features running on my own BB. Get in touch :amos007ng@yahoo.com

  • http://www.zimplifier.com/ Terra

    SO SO SO cool that you are blogging about this. I have read two posts, are their more?

  • http://www.zimplifier.com/ Terra

    SO SO SO cool that you are blogging about this. I have read two posts, are their more?

  • http://www.zimplifier.com/ Terra

    SO SO SO cool that you are blogging about this. I have read two posts, are their more?

  • http://www.zimplifier.com Terra

    SO SO SO cool that you are blogging about this. I have read two posts, are their more?

  • http://www.pidginguide.com/ Tochie

    Hello there,

    I would appreciate a little advice from you. I want to get a blackberry and i really like the bb storm, 2nd choice is curve 8900. I’m always very choosy when it comes to electronics and for days, i’ve been looking at reviews from bb storm users. Most of them have been negative. But i want to hear from a bb storm user here in nigeria, what the phone is like.

    2. I’d also like to know where I can get a blackberry at a decent price, then get the MTN bis..mtn offers the curve 8900 @100k and bold 9000g @110k…I think i can get it cheaper from a seller then subscribe.

    What do you think??

    Thanks

  • http://www.pidginguide.com Tochie

    Hello there,

    I would appreciate a little advice from you. I want to get a blackberry and i really like the bb storm, 2nd choice is curve 8900. I’m always very choosy when it comes to electronics and for days, i’ve been looking at reviews from bb storm users. Most of them have been negative. But i want to hear from a bb storm user here in nigeria, what the phone is like.

    2. I’d also like to know where I can get a blackberry at a decent price, then get the MTN bis..mtn offers the curve 8900 @100k and bold 9000g @110k…I think i can get it cheaper from a seller then subscribe.

    What do you think??

    Thanks