Telecom trends in Uganda getting interesting

Since the introduction of mobile telephony in Uganda in 1995, the tide is changing. With two national telecom operators, one cellular telecom operator and two more to be launched later this year, the fight for the telecom market is not just getting bizarre but interesting.

In the recent survey by Hallmark Events and Promotions, findings reveal that the two giant telecoms – MTN and Uganda telecom run neck to neck in the fight for the share of the market, which also means that they have the most subscribers on their respective networks.

The survey also reveals that of the two giants, Uganda telecom is the fastest growing owing to the fact that it is doing a lot to perfect its network coverage but above all, offering its services and products to subscribers at affordable rates.

However, with the expiry of the duopoly – a market situation that authorised only two national operators to offer full board telecom services, telecom organisations have laid focus on extending services to the rural. Initially, the rural market was underestimated and underserved yet each service providers had an obligation to extend services there.

On pulling the plug on duopoly and the announcement that more service providers were free to join the market, the existing telecoms have been running the race of extending services to the rural through network installation efforts and also perfecting services where network exists. Price wars have also characterised the fight for the precious subscriber. Road show promotions as a new form of experiential marketing have become common as the most effective below-the-line mode of communication.

Another dimension that has added to the flavour of the rush for the market is the focus on the East and central African regional market spearheaded by Celtel. With just cellular operator status Celtel has set the trend and the two national operators - Uganda telecom and MTN, have followed suit. This means that whether Celtel subscribers are in Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda, they can still enjoy the same rates.

The Hallmark survey confirms that the most crucial factors that influence subscription or choice of a service provider in Uganda are Network Coverage, Affordability of Services and products and Value Added Services. Of late, the three attributes have come in some considerable proportions.

Network coverage in this case refers to how available, reliable and stable the signal of a particular service provider is. A key observation is that since service providers started improving and perfecting their respective networks, the avid desire for subscribers to switch from one network to another so easily has reduced.

In the past, subscribers were in the habit of either switching networks or carrying more than one phone. Any visitor to Uganda would find this bizarre but carrying two or even three phones was more to do with catching the elusive network, to stay connected and to stay in touch. In Uganda, different service providers may have different strengths and weaknesses in network coverage. But because communication has become a crucial ingredient in the day to day operations or dealings of the people, subscribers endure the habit of carrying more than one phone, with each connected to a different network.

Later this year, two service providers will grace the Ugandan airwaves. Having laid their infrastructure already, the new entrants are just waiting for the date to switch on their services. whether these developments will be significant it's only time that will tell. Watch the space!

[Posted by Abubaker Basajjabaka]