How MTN's 300 monthly free SMS is reviving dying tradition of texting

June 6, 2020
3 min read

From 2009 to 2011, Oluwatomisin Amokeoja sent text messages to no fewer than 20 family and friends every first day of the month and year, it was a tradition for him to wish them a 'Happy New Month' and 'Happy New Year' through SMS. But, by the end of 2014, the number had dropped to about 10, then five by 2018. Since 2019, he has stopped sending his usual new month and new year SMS but only responds to those who send to him.

What changed? Just the way email and mobile phones displaced letter writing, Instant Messaging (IM) happened and took away the texting tradition. It's not just Oluwatomisin, many people have ditched SMS (short message service) since the advent of instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram.

The tradition of SMS texting which used to be part of our lives in the early days of mobile phones in Nigeria has been on a steady decline in the last decade. A Deloitte study in 2014 shows that SMS messages declined by 7 billion in 2013 to 145 billion, while messages sent by instant-messaging apps have continued to spike as more people - old and young, embrace WhatsApp and other instant messaging apps.

Amokeoja, a media practitioner, described his texting habit in the early 2000s as superb, "as a matter of fact, that was my prioritised form of communication until we shifted to the Instant Messaging form of communication."

"I was always texting people new month and year greetings. That was like the tradition then but not anymore. I'm personally averse to it now, whether through the SMS or any other platform for that matter. The world no longer has the patience to wait for someone to reply a text you are not even sure you will ever get a response to," he said.

Like Amokeoja, Dolapo Dada, a civil servant, was also an avid texter when she started using mobile phone before Instant Messaging disrupted the way people exchanged messages with mobile phones.

She noted that "the funny thing is I'm more of a texting person than calling but since the advent of other chatting platforms, texting became easier because it gives me ability to use more words not minding if it's one page or not”.

Ruth Namadi, an Abuja-based banker, said she was not a fan of texting from her early days of owning a mobile phone, she prefers to call.

"In the early 2000s, I was doing more of MTN midnight calls than texting because I don't really like texting. I was more active on 2Go (an instant messaging app popular in the early 2000s)." she said.

Stephen Adoga, a journalist, said his conversation was mostly SMS based, due to the absence of easy-to-use alternatives available now.

However, for the first time in many years, the texting tradition was revived among Nigerians from March to April 2020, as the number of text messages sent by mobile phone users spiked during that period.

In an official media statement, the CEO of MTN Nigeria, Ferdi Moolman revealed that over two billion free text messages were sent by MTN subscribers in less than two months of the free SMS offer.

Earlier in March, MTN rolled out 300 free SMS per month for its over 70 million subscribers as part of the several measures put in place by the company to support its customers during the lockdown and also cushion the economic effect of the pandemic. The package allows MTN Nigeria subscribers across the country to send 10 free SMS daily for 30 days to all networks. The offer is gradually winning back subscribers who have ditched the use of traditional SMS for Instant Messaging.

The network service provider further revealed that about 3,000 terabytes of free data were used by customers to access zero-rated health websites and over 1.7 million free money transfers were transacted by nearly 100,000 people using the MoMo Agent Network.

Ruth, who is one of the millions of subscribers who have been using the free SMS, said the package has helped her to communicate whenever she runs out of data bundle and airtime.

"It has helped me to pass messages when I run out of data or call credit," she said.

Adebisi Adeyanju, a business woman based in Abeokuta, Ogun State, said the 10 free daily SMS has revived her texting tradition and has been saving her cost.

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