Nigeria’s lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the usage of SMSs – the quintessential short message service used all across the world – as subscribers were discovered to have sent over 1-billion messages within the last month.
Though this mass of messages was largely free, checks on some operators revealed the rate of how customers made use of the SMS platform to send messages to one another.
For instance, a check on MTN showed that within the first five weeks of lockdown, where people all across the country began to work remotely. Over one billion text messages were sent by customers within the first four weeks of the pan-African telecom introducing a new free SMS package – the package allows MTN Nigeria subscribers across the country to send 10 free SMS daily for 30 days on all networks.
The Guardian Nigeria writes that, normally, the cost of a single SMS in Nigeria pegged at $0.01 (₦4). If all customers were to pay, they would have expended a total of ₦4-billion in one month alone. Predicting what will happen in the next two months will be next to impossible, however, the promise to offer SMS incentives was based on statistics which shows that over 30% of MTN customers are not data subscribers and are among the most vulnerable Nigerians being severely impacted by the virus outbreak.
Other incentives available during to the roughly 70-million MTN customers during the period include free 100MB daily to access verified information on health platforms such as Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO) and educational materials on MTN’s Teens platform, mPulse.
In addition, the company suspended transaction fees for all Cash2Cash transfers via its Mobile Money (MoMo) Agent Network.
No doubt MTN’s free packages have come in an important time where people have no other way to get in contact for business and important work other than through SMS and other messaging services.
It is still to be seen if the rate of message sending with continue to be as high as MTN’s 30-day period begins to expire and messages begin to cost again.