Making sense of the increased data usage since COVID-19
Across various sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic changed consumer behaviours, altering trends and making nonsense of forecasts for the year.
The Q2 GDP report recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that while most sectors experienced a contraction, sectors like crop production, trade and telecommunications experienced positive growth.
Among other sectors that experienced positive growth, Telecommunications grew 18.1% contributing 14.3% to the total GDP. It is understandable that telecommunications would experience a surge in activities during a lockdown. People need constant relations to keep in touch, especially when they have been restricted to the four walls of their homes.
For MTN Nigeria, the Q1 and Q2 reports filed with the Nigerian Stock exchange showed that revenue from Data usage rose by more than N5 billion in Q2 when compared with the previous quarter. The company recorded N79.97 billion in Q2 against N74 billion in Q1.
In the same period, revenue for voice calls dropped by more than N20 billion, from N194 billion in Q1 to N174 billion in Q2.
Commenting on the report, the company had remarked that demand for data and digital services grew, even as other services were impacted by the economic constraints caused by lockdowns and movement restrictions. This is in spite of the 90-day free SMS initiative which was launched in April, where more than 4.3 billion free text messages were sent before the end of June.
Note also that the revenue from data does not factor in the visits to healthcare websites which MTN had zero-rated as part of moves to support Nigerians in accessing credible and reliable data. According to the Q2 report, customers used more than 3,000 Terabytes (equivalent of 3 million GB) of data in visiting these sites.
Towards the end of H1, this initiative was expanded to include a range of education platforms endorsed by Nigerian federal and state governments, but no data was given on this.
A look at Airtel Nigeria’s financials will also reveal same trend. Revenue from data grew by almost a billion naira, from N45.6 billion in the first quarter of 2020 (January to March 2020) to N46.4 billion in the second quarter (April to June). Revenue from voice calls dropped by N14 billion, from N88.9 billion in January to March 2020, to N74.8 billion in the subsequent quarter.
Airtel Nigeria usually reports its figures in dollars, so the figures given above were arrived at using an exchange rate of N380 to $1.
Chief Executive Officer, Raghunath Mandava, explained in the report that this is the result of people seeking new ways of socialising while trying to contain the spread of infection. To keep up with the trend, the company had to increase the penetration of digital recharges and expand its home broadband solutions.
More data, less calls! Why?
As soon as the realities of the lockdown set in, many companies set about activating the remote working framework. To do this, several applications came into use and employees had to set about adapting to them.
Working from home definitely played a role in increasing people’s data needs. A previous report from fabpulse had some workers admitting that their data consumption tripled because of the demands of working online all day. Irrespective of who bore the cost of the increased data demand, employees had to stay online to work, attend to customers and clients, attend meetings, e-conferences and seminars.
The lockdown also saw teachers being compelled to go online. Whereas the usual teaching system in Nigeria would have required students seated in the classroom with the teacher physically present. Private schools took their lessons online during the lockdown. Some ran the entire term curriculum and classes, and even took their examinations online at the end of the term.
These activities came with increased demand for data, from a group of people who barely had need for them before. If the teachers were giving out lessons online, parents also had to ensure that their children were available to take these lessons, and this meant even more data.
In addition, some consumers converted most of their voice calls into data calls, using apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, skype, Google etc.
Many brands also had to rethink their advertising and promotion strategies. There was hardly need for adopting electronic billboards and roadshows since people had been confined to their homes. Some of these companies took the options of online conferences, webinars, live sessions on Instagram and Facebook, and other opportunities to interact and engage with their customers online. These, of course, came with data implications for the audience.
A lot of information that could have been shared via voice calls are now being done through internet connectivity. Live sessions online have become the surest way to create activities with a customer base that you do not have personal interactions with.
Current data trends, as revealed in the American Business Council Economic e-conference recently held, indicated that hygiene concerns about cash could be responsible for the increase in e-commerce transactions and growing dependence on internet connectivity for both work and lifestyle needs.
Note that the data consumption figures stated in the article do not factor in the 3,000 Terabytes (or 3 million GB) of data consumed in visiting zero-rated sites during the period. One Gigabyte of internet data costs an average of N300, and multiplied by the free 3 million GB, we could be looking at almost N1 billion (N900 million) worth of data consumption.
Add this figure to the actual N154 billion of data revenue MTN recorded in the two quarters, and the N92 billion of data revenue for Airtel Nigeria in the two quarters, and we can see that Nigerians used at least N247 billion worth of data in H1 2020. This figure is not conclusive, of course as it does not factor in data revenue from the other two telcos – Globacom and 9Mobile.
According to Bola Asiru, Principal/Divisional Lead at MasterCard Advisors (Sub-Saharan Africa), consumer habits have been completely changed by the pandemic, and it is now more difficult to predict buying behaviours. However, what is certain is that there is going to be a lot of contactless business operations, and the data need will surge even higher among Nigerians.