• Contributed 8.8% to GDP in three months through March
  • MTN lost ground on disconnections, rivals increased customers

Growth in Nigeria’s telecommunications industry picked up in the three months through March even as the economy shrunk for the first time in more than a decade, according to a government report.

Telecommunications expanded 5 percent in the first quarter, compared with 3.5 percent in the three months trough December, and contributed 8.8 percent to gross domestic product, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics said in a report on Thursday. The economy contracted by 0.4 percent in the period, the statistics office said two weeks ago.

Nigerian mobile-phone customer numbers have grown rapidly over the past ten years as handsets became more affordable and data services increased. Africa’s most populous country had 151 million subscribers at the end of last year, up from 19.5 million in 2005, according to the report.

“With the oil sector having really crashed over the last months, telecoms should be outperforming the other sectors,” Amy Cameron, head ICT analyst at BMI Research in London, said by phone on Thursday. “Consumers are still using these services and growth continues, even if it’s harder.”

While MTN Group Ltd. has been the fastest-growing mobile operator in the country, the Johannesburg-based company has lost ground since August 2015, when the Nigerian telecommunications regulator started to order it to disconnect subscribers who were unregistered. Bharti Airtel Ltd.’s local unit grew its customer base by 18 percent to 34 million in the year through March and Lagos-based Globacom Ltd. expanded by 17 percent to 35 million, the report showed.

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