Telecommunication growth in Nigeria is among the fastest in the world with many network operators providing services all over the country. There are numerous operators to select from, and it is difficult to work out which of them will match your requirements. To decide which SIM card to choose, see below the comparison of the main Nigeria mobile operators.

Nigeria Mobile Operators

I. List of Nigeria Mobile Operators

1. Main Mobile Operators in Nigeria

There are three major Nigeria mobile operators:

Mobile Operator Year Launched Ownership No. of Subscribers Network Details
MTN Nigeria 2001 South African multinational Over 60 million Largest network with widest 4G coverage across Nigeria
Airtel Nigeria 2001 (as Econet Wireless, rebranded in 2010) Indian multinational Bharti Airtel Over 50 million Broad 4G coverage primarily in major cities and towns
Glo (Globacom) 2003 Nigerian company Over 45 million Extensive 4G coverage in major cities and large towns across Nigeria

As we can see, MTN has the longest operations in Nigeria and largest subscriber base while Airtel and Glo have also grown significantly. MTN leads in coverage while Airtel and Glo focus on urban and high population density areas. This overview offers useful insights on the telecom landscape in Nigeria.

2. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in Nigeria

Apart from the major networks, there are also some MVNOs operating in Nigeria:

  • Tier 2 MVNO – such as 9Mobile MVNO that can use 9mobile’s infrastructure to offer innovative products like an enterprise solution and rural connectivity.
  • Jumia Mobile – An E-commerce brand already existent in Nigeria, possibly as a tier one operator going only for data centric plan.
  • Blu Mobile – Tertiary Cellular operator that promotes cheap calls and OTT solutions for low-income audience via collaborations with MTN/Airtel.
  • Spectranet MVNO – A tier 4 broadband MVNO offering home and office WiFI packages in major cities on top of current 4G/5G networks.
  • Nollyworks Mobile – A tier 2 MVNO launched by major Nollywood production house to offer exclusive entertainment bundles to film/TV fans.
  • Cowrywise Mobile – A tier 1 fintech MVNO providing dataless banking and payment services utilizing MTN/9mobile network.
  • Konga Mobile – An e-commerce MVNO operated by Konga to offer discounts/rewards on goods and services for on-network telecom users.

Some potential MVNO models that can be launched in Nigeria as per the article which describes the MVNO tiers and opportunities.
Networks, for instance, help existing brand reach new customer segments.

II. How to Choose the Best Mobile Operator in Nigeria

operators in nigeria

Here are some key factors to consider when choosing Nigeria mobile operators:

  • Coverage – The check should be made on network coverage maps to establish which of the operators is giving better coverage at your area.
  • Data speed and strength – Compare data download/upload speeds using Speedtest apps or sites. MTN and Glo tend to have better data speeds.
  • Voice clarity – Make test voice calls to evaluate sound quality. MTN and Airtel are known for good voice calls.
  • Data plans and bundles – Look at prepaid data bundle rates and validity periods. Also consider data rollover and bonus offers.
  • Customer service – Ask friends about their experience with customer service for tasks like SIM registration, support calls, etc. Glo tends to have better customer service.
  • Value added services – Check for special services like music streaming, cloud storage, discounted calls to certain networks etc. Airtel offers good value added services.
  • Roaming – If you travel abroad frequently, look for operators that offer affordable international roaming. MTN is quite competitive on roaming.

III. Best Nigeria Mobile Operators – Detailed Comparison

Operator Market Share Bandwidth Network Coverage 4G Coverage Main Uses Average Price
MTN 38% (Largest) Wide bandwidth for seamless browsing and streaming Widest nationwide coverage of nearly 90% of areas Extensive 4G coverage of 80% population Calls, texts, data, mobile banking Affordable $0.5-$1.25/GB
Airtel 32% (Second) Excellent bandwidth for high speed data usage Covers majority of urban and rural towns Strong 4G presence in key cities and towns Calls, texts, social media, online payments Mid-range $0.75-$1.75/GB
Glo 28% (Third) Sufficient bandwidth for basic internet needs Wide coverage of 80% area nationally Continuously expanding 4G across country Light data use, calls, business solutions Competitive $0.35-$1/GB

In summary, MTN leads the market with the broadest reach nationwide, with Glo providing the most competitive pricing. MTN and Airtel offer premium connectivity best for modern usage, while all networks aim to improve coverage across Nigeria.

IV. Where to Buy SIM Card from Nigeria Mobile Operators?

roadside selles

There are a few options to purchase a new SIM card from these providers:

  • Operator offices and dealers – The easiest option is to visit the nearest branded shop, dealer outlet or service center of your chosen operator. Bring valid ID.
  • Roadside SIM sellers – You can readily find people selling SIM cards of all networks on the streets and in markets. Ask for latest packages.
  • Online purchases – Some operators allow you to buy a SIM card online and have it delivered to your address. However, you still need to go for biometrics capture.
  • Supermarkets – Many large supermarkets also retail SIM cards from major networks. This offers convenience for shoppers.

When getting a new SIM, ensure it is properly registered with valid ID proof and biometrics to avoid lines getting blocked later on. Also check data bundle activations.

V. Do Nigeria Mobile Operators Offer eSIM?

eSIM or embedded SIM technology dispenses with the physical plastic SIM card to store your number and identity on a device.

MTN – MTN launched eSIM services in Nigeria in 2022. It currently offers eSIM activation on Apple iPhones and select Samsung devices.

Airtel – Airtel Africa supports eSIM across 14 countries including Nigeria. It allows activation on latest iPhone and Samsung models.

Glo – Glo hasn’t introduced eSIM technology yet. You need a standard physical nano-SIM for mobile service.

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Which network has the best data plans in Nigeria?

A: Glo tends to offer more affordable data bundle rates for prepaid plans. But Airtel have more extensive data coverage.

Which operator has the widest 4G network in Nigeria?

A: MTN currently has the largest 4G coverage – over 160 cities and towns in 32 states across Nigeria.

Do Nigeria mobile operators offer monthly plans?

A: Yes, all the major networks have monthly contract plans for heavy voice and data users. These offer bigger data volumes and unlimited calls bundled in.

Can I use my SIM abroad?

A: Yes, Nigerian SIMs work globally but you need to activate international roaming service to use voice, text and data abroad. MTN and Glo have competitive roaming rates.

Where are SIM cards registered in Nigeria?

A: Following an NCC mandate, SIM cards must be tied to a National ID number or other government ID during activation. Biometrics are also captured.

VII. Final Words

Choosing Nigeria mobile operators involves comparing coverage, speeds, rates, bundles and services between the major providers – MTN, Airtel, Glo

The best performer overall is MTN thanks to wider 4G reach, competitive bundles and good roaming abroad. However, don’t rule out Airtel and Glo which also combine high speeds and great value. Ultimately your choice of mobile network depends on which features matter most to you, so go through this comparison to make the decision that fits your needs and budget.