Airtel's recent 4G announcement meant all the Nigerian telcos now had a 4G LTE offering so we decided to test all of them and measure their data speeds to see what’s what.
Last week, Airtel announced the roll out plan for its own 4G LTE service, four years after it concluded initial trials and way after its competitors have launched theirs. That meant all the Nigerian telcos now had a 4G LTE offering (or had one on the way re Airtel) so we decided to test all of them and measure their data speeds to see what’s what.
We’ll start with the worst news.
Airtel doesn’t actually have 4G capability yet. No, you did not read that wrong, and I know they don't really have any business being in this test. When I purchased the Airtel SIM card I used to perform this test at The Palms Shopping Mall, Victoria Island, Lagos, I specifically asked for a SIM with 4G LTE capability.
“We don’t have 4G yet o!” the teenage looking guy attending to me exclaimed. “We only do 3.75G for now.” I was taken aback because I had just published the widely reported story on the Pulse website. Apparently, that was just an announcement - Airtel has not actually started rolling out 4G LTE services yet.
Test and verdict: Interestingly, Airtel didn’t do too bad even though it was the slowest (in comparison to the other telcos of course). Despite having the lowest capability for connectivity at 3.75G, I was still able to record 3.1Mbps data speed. Terrible from a global standpoint, but not bad in the Nigerian context.
Etisalat did not do well too. After purchasing the SIM card [and registering it], I was told to recharge, dial 200, then make a phone call. If I did not do all of that, the consequence of which was a complete barring of the SIM. It was the most complicated post-purchase experience of the bunch.
Worse still, the SIM still got barred even after following the instructions to the T. I had to go to another ‘experience center’ to get it fixed so I could perform the test. As if Etisalat could not be any more ludicrous, it also has the most expensive data plans (yeah, I know! We all thought MTN too). Let me just leave it.
Test and verdict: Etisalat has the most expensive plans of the bunch and also the second slowest data speed. With all that supposed 4G goodness, it only barely pushed Airtel out of the way to clock in at 4.4Mbps. (N500 = 500MB).
Glo has the cheapest plans. Sadly, that’s as good as it gets. The few times I was able to get any 4G connectivity, it was piss poor. And that’s an exceedingly diplomatic way to put it. At the office (Lekki, Lagos Island), it was literally none existent. I’m dead serious.
On the Lagos mainland (Maryland, Palmgrove and Surulere, to be precise), the most i could do most of the time was ‘H+’. The few times I got a 4G signal, it might have just been the same old ‘H+’. Yes, I got the most data for the same price compared to the other telcos, but I barely to use any of the it.
Test and verdict: I couldn’t test Glo’s speed because I was never anywhere long enough to get an test figure. The network would either flip constantly between 3G and 4G or there wouldn’t just be any 4G network at all. So that’s that. (N500 = 800MB).
MTN was the best by miles. I could get 4G almost anywhere except sometimes in large buildings and coastal areas (beach or places near large bodies of water). There were periods when there would be 4G network but the internet speed would still be lousy. But overall, it was the network that came through the most in terms of quality and coverage. Oh, and it was the easiest and cheapest SIM to get and start using immediately.
Test and verdict: This is where MTN buried all the other telcos. I even tested it repeatedly just to be sure I was getting the right number. Somehow, it always ended up between 18Mbps and 27Mbps. That is way ahead of the numbers the other telcos posted. (N500 = 750MB).
Note: All tests were carried out with brand new SIM cards and the new Infinix S2 Pro smartphone. Tests were only conducted in certain environments and locations so this is by no means a comprehensive/exhaustive test.