[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.
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN
[ED NOTE: Can you believe he wrote all this on his BlackBerry? Amazing.]