The telecommunication industry in Uganda has registered tremendous growth over the past decade both in terms of increasing teledensity and expanding networks countrywide.
This is due to good stewardship by the regulatory authorities and a conducive environment by Government of Uganda which has liberalized and promoted competition while attracting investment in the sector. As a result, ICT in Uganda is a vibrant industry with vital infrastructure driving economic and social transformation.
According to the Uganda Communications Commission, telecom market performance report 2020, the industry posted 26.7 million subscribers at the end of December 2019.
The growth in subscriptions translates into a penetration of 66 lines per 100 that is 66 per cent tele density, of which 97 per cent of total subscriptions remain mobile, while three per cent are fixed.
In Uganda, it’s not a mobile-first strategy but a mobile-only strategy. The report further notes that at the end of December 2019, the number of active smart phones on the network had grown to 6.6 million, i.e. smartphone penetration is under 25 per cent. This relatively low penetration is due to slow migration from feature phones to smart phones conversion.
Reflecting on the last 10 years of Airtel in Uganda, I would like to share my perspective of the key trends, and changes in the sector.
The telecom sector remains highly competitive, achieving the objectives of the government in a liberalized sector to drive innovation and investment through competition.
The Telecom industry globally is consolidating to achieve economies of scale and ability to invest top dollar in ever changing technologies of 2G, 3G and 4G with fiber optic networks for enabling high capacity and high speed data networks.
In Uganda we have seen industry consolidation led by Airtel through the acquisition of Warid to build a large scale and robust network.
There has been separation and hiving off telecom towers to tower companies, thereby unlocking precious capital for investment in wider coverage and access technology.
Airtel’s sustained investment and innovation has led to a strong competitive telecom sector in Uganda, unlike the monopoly and dominance seen in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and many other African markets.
It is often said that 80 per cent of Uganda’s economy is within 80 kilometers of Kampala. The economic activity and consumer concentration is highly Kampala-centric. This is partly due to the delay in development of physical and social infrastructure across all regions and districts.
Airtel has played a pivotal role in expanding and modernizing telecom networks across all 127 districts, 211 counties, 1,466 sub-counties and 7,434 parishes, serving nearly 97 per cent of Uganda’s population.
With high speed internet access available across Kalangala, Kiboga, Kaberamaido, Katakwi, Kaabong, Kotido, Kanungu and Kiryandongo, the urban rural divide has been removed.
VOICE TO DATA
The most significant change in the last decade is the transformation of telecom networks from voice to data, data to digital. Airtel has pioneered this initiative of achieving 100 per cent 3G and followed up with 100 per cent 4G LTE across all its sites.
Uganda is among the few nations globally to achieve this milestone of its telecom network fully modernized. Airtel’s investment has made it possible for “Data the New Oil” being available across the country.
The telecom industry provides the critical infrastructure and connectivity to achieve digital transformation. Some of the notable digital transformation in the sector is the removal of airtime scratch cards to electronic airtime. This change has removed messy scratch cards, non-biodegradable paper polluting the environment to fully electronic.
Registration and KYC of customers is fully digital. A new SIM registration or SIM replacement can be completed within five minutes at any of the authorized outlets. Airtel Money has not only banked the unbanked, but it continues to drive financial inclusion at the bottom of the pyramid. During the pandemic, Airtel led the initiative of making person-to-person transaction at free of cost during the lockdown.
COMPLIANCE AND CSR
In the last 10 years, Airtel has emerged from a loss-making enterprise to be a sustainably profitable one. The DNA of Airtel is one of compliance and respect to the local laws of the land.
Airtel has been widely recognized for its compliance and seen as a partner to government to achieve the objectives of stated in the National Broadband Policy. Airtel’s partnership with Buganda Kingdom and FUFA has led to Uganda Cranes to grow from strength to strength and brand Airtel connecting with Ugandans to win their hearts and mind.
COVID 19 The pandemic has impacted each and every one of us. Life priorities have been redefined with the pecking order of essential requirements such as food, clothing, shelter and smartphone. The role of Airtel and telecom networks is of an essential service provider. We clearly see ourselves as the BCP to the nation, back up to businesses and protecting and powering people digitally.
As a long term investor with the single largest foreign direct investment from India to Uganda, Airtel has so far invested $850 million in the development of Uganda’s ICT sector with leading edge world class infrastructure.
Airtel Uganda has established and brought to Uganda a strong portfolio of global technology partners. These strategic partners include Mahindra Comviva, Huawei, Nokia, ZTE, Google, Facebook, ATX and Ison Technology have each contributed technological transformation of Uganda. This has helped compliment government’s initiatives in increasing broadband access and coverage across the country.
The government of Uganda launched the National Broadband Policy aimed at achieving the aspirations of the Uganda Vision 2040 by supporting the objectives of the second National Development Plan (NDP II) whose theme is “Strengthening Uganda’s Competitiveness for Sustainable wealth creation, employment and inclusive growth.”
The policy emphasizes the role of broadband internet in the socio-economic transformation process as a critical enabler. The policy is made a reality through Airtel’s investment and modernization program.
As we celebrate 10 years in Uganda, we believe that by working together with local communities, suppliers, governments, consumers and beyond, we can transform Uganda, ready for the 4th Industrial revolution.
The author is the managing director, Airtel Uganda.