Internet access in Nigeria is set to triple in the next two years, Reuters reports. According to Funke Opeke, C.E.O. of the Main One Cable Company, a leading West African submarine cable company which has laid a 7,000 km fibre optic cable linking West Africa to Europe “at least one in three people in Nigeria could have direct Internet access by 2013. We would say a number in the 35-40 percent for Internet access penetration over the next 18-24 months would be a worthwhile objective.” In a nation of about 150 million people, this portends strong prospects for web based businesses.

The market potential in Nigeria is huge. Already, the mobile phone subscription market in the country is the continent’s largest with South Africa’s MTN Group, India’s Bharti Airtel, Abu Dhabi based Etisalat and Nigeria’s Globacom serving as key industry players. As of May this year, the country’s telecommunications regulator estimated that there were 80 million plus mobile phone subscribers. At the same time, mobile Internet is quickly becoming the platform of choice for young Internet users in the country. A survey conducted by Opera in its State of the Mobile Web report last year revealed that 90% of Nigerian Internet users between the ages of 18-27 said they use their mobile phones more than desktop or laptop computers to access the Internet.

“We have a large young population, if you think of all the students in tertiary education and if you think of businesses which are not yet fully automated. If access now becomes more available and prices are within reach then all of those groups stand to benefit and would enable the attainment of 35 to 40 percent number, which we believe will have significant impact on the economy,” Opeke said.

Web based services especially those with a strong mobile component appear poised to experience a boon in the next two years given these projections. It would be interesting to monitor Nigeria’s web start up scene as more entrepreneurs respond to the favourable growth rates in the country’s Internet market.

For more on Nigeria’s Internet market, read this interview with Nigerian Internet entrepreneur/former NBA player, Obinna Ekezie.