Originally published on Gambling Insider.
If operators and suppliers want to take advantage of the growing online gaming market in Nigeria, they must address the unique characteristics of the market. According to PwC, Nigeria’s gross gambling revenues are expected to increase by 16% in the course of the next few years. Although sports betting is very popular in Nigeria with approximately one third of the population betting $4.6M daily, brick and mortar is still dominant. This comes as no surprise when you look at the market’s constraints in terms of connectivity, data cost, mobile device capabilities, and mobile internet usage habits.
However, when one of our clients owned by the Nigerian National Lottery requested for online-only operations, we did not step back from the challenge. We were aware this was a maverick approach for the Nigerian market and required innovative thinking.
The unique characteristics of the market
Nigeria is a mobile-first country with 84% traffic coming from mobile devices. The Nigerian smartphone market is dominated by cheap, low-powered Android devices with very limited storage. On top of this, MTN Nigeria’s lowest and cheapest data plan costs $0.28 for 50 megabytes of data, while more than 68% of Nigerians live on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank. Only 41% of mobile internet users have access to 3G or 4G connections, but still experience connectivity problems, high latency and never-ending issues and limitations with mobile online payments.
The price sensitivity has led to high popularity of the Opera Mini mobile browser, mostly used in Extreme mode. However, this option was compromising the user experience. Progressive Web Application (PWA) emerged as an option which delivers an app-like experience on an android device but was not feasible on the Nigerian market due to low-powered devices, the dominance of Opera Mini browser, etc.
Despite the identified challenges, we were determined to create a solution that will deliver an unparalleled experience to the customers. It was clear the best approach was creating a native app.
Minimising data traffic with the right technology
Our aim was to minimise data traffic, address high latency issues and provide an offline experience when needed. To achieve this, we used native libraries via HTTP/2 for the network activities which were cached by our intelligent on-device caching engine.
We also minimised data usage for third-party content (slots, table games, etc.) Users connected with cellular data get instant notifications about the number of megabytes needed for loading. They can proceed or wait for an available wi-fi connection. The first time the game is fully loaded, we cache all the games on local storage, thus next time the game is loaded it will not burn mobile data.
Small app size, but still seamless experience
Taking into consideration the device’s limited storage, we made sure our app came packaged with all the required native and web libraries and initial content, still keeping the app size below 3.5MB. The small size of the native app increased the download numbers even over mobile internet. When it comes to app updates, using Code Push makes every update just an incremental payload, small in size and downloadable only via Wi-Fi connection.
We replaced all the icons (wherever possible) and images alike with Unicode, which enabled us to shave off almost one megabyte from the app bundle size. We use our own Media Proxy solution, which optimises requested media assets on the fly.
To address payment-related issues, we integrated all major payment solutions which had support for mobile devices from Interswitch payment solutions to USSD payment solutions. Through cooperation with Opera, for the first time in Nigeria, we launched their payment solution ‘OPay’, which is tailored for mobile devices. OPay offers fully mobile-optimised card payments and bank transfers, as well as cash deposits and withdrawals through their agent network (40K active agents and growing).
Continuous innovation of the application
We built a product that provides an uncompromised native-like experience with biometric login, real-time sync with the website and smooth operation on low-powered devices with slow connection. The app has a built-in data usage meter with detailed analytics for the user. Being transparent about data usage helped the app quickly gain user trust and increased time spent in the app.
Based on telemetry about app usage and user feedback, we are continuously developing new features. One of the upcoming releases is ‘Cache Sharing,’ which allows users to share app cache via Bluetooth (such as pre-cached games). This feature is especially crucial in suburbs where the only internet access is via a cellular network.
This journey confirmed our core belief that a market’s limitations can be a source of opportunity. When implemented correctly, the Singular Native App proves the mobile-only approach is viable in Nigeria for online casinos and sports betting sites.