As we usher in the new year, telecom companies in Uganda need to looked as more closely than ever before especially in an industry dominated by big players like MTN and Airtel. Will UTL survive in 2017? Shall we have better data services? Will regulation of telecoms in Uganda be more enforced than ever before in 2017? All these questions are just a tip of the iceberg. So, lets find out in our top 7 predictions for 2017.
4G LTE and LTE -Advanced
Airtel is still catching up with the likes of Africell, MTN, Smile and Vodafone when it comes to 4G LTE network. Airtel’s 4G network is long overdue having failed to launch in Kampla last year. However this year, the launch is imminent since many Ugandans are embracing speedy networks driven by heavy data usage and the cost of 4G handsets is gradually dipping.
Already equipped with 2G, 3G and 4G-LTE, we believe MTN and Africell are some of the few carriers in Uganda that can consider an LTE Advanced network that’s if it makes business sense for them. LTE-A networks can support speeds of up to 300-450 Mbps.
Vodafone needs to increase its footprint in the country beyond the Kampala metro and extend upcountry. It is a strong value proposition given how hard it is to enjoy Vodafone’s 4G speeds outside Kampala and it suburbs. Also, it might have to reinforce its position as a true telecommunication company by reinforcing its 3G footprint since the MVNO agreements in place falls short in terms of quality.
Back to the drawing board
We believe companies like UTL, Smile and Roke Telecom need go back to the drawing board in order to remain competitive. Uganda telecom (UTL) is a dying company and is currently being investigated by government due to mismanagement ever since the majority shareholder stopped re-capitalizing into the telecom. We believe that once all financial UTL wrangles have been resolved, they will need to modernize the network with the latest equipment and technologies. Other carriers like Smile and Roke telecom need to look at other ways to increase their subscriber base in both the mass population and enterprise.
More Mobile Money innovations
MTN Uganda takes the lionshare when it comes to mobile money in Uganda followed closely by Airtel whose muscle was reinforced with Warid Pesa subscribers. Others like Africell, UTL and Smart are underdogs with numbers not enough to scare the duopoly.
MTN scored big with MoKash in 2016. Mokash is a micro-savings and loans product. The service from CBA leverages MTN Uganda’s vast network resources and its mobile money platform to disburse micro-loans, accept deposits and savings to eligible applicants. We need to see other big telecoms like Airtel and Africell with such products.
The volume of mobile payments increases two-fold each passing quarter but the applicability of mobile payments solutions is limited to only sending and receiving money or payment of services.
We anticipate MTN and Airtel to launch tap and pay merchant payments using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology on their mobile Money platforms. Users will tag their smartphones which they’ll swipe on point of sale terminals to pay for goods purchased without the hassle of using cards that remain unpopular. This product has already been rolled-out in Rwanda.
We believe MTN and Airtel can promote more innovation by opening up their APIs especially to more start-ups with great ideas in order not to stifle tech innovations on top of mobile money in Uganda.
If their road-map is to be followed, Vodafone might join the mobile money bandwagon, however with a limited footprint in Uganda, they might suffer the same issues SmartPesa and Africell Money are facing.
This reinforces our assertion that 2017 will be the year companies like Vodafone and Smart went beyond the self imposed walls of Kampala.
Network Quality of Service
Dropped calls, Dropped calls, Dropped calls! In 2016, UCC never released any official benchmarking results on their website as they usually do, but this doesn’t mean the telecoms performed any better in 2016. All telecoms needs to further optimize their networks to reduce this consumer nightmare, by further improving their quality of service (QoS). This QoS should also further be extended to data services not only voice so as customers can get value for their money. In 2017 we’d like to see a better and more improved network QoS from all telecoms.
Mergers and Sell-offs
Airtel Uganda, originally Celtel has switched hands more than any other telecom in Uganda. But with an improving balance sheet and management shake up, it seems to be turning around, something that has since silenced the selloff rumours to Tigo or any other interested player. 2017 might be a year of miracles that the brand remains Airtel even with Bharti looking to relinquish its hold on it African operations that are yet to turn a profit at group level.
Some circles assert that it is the sole reason Airtel Africa sold off some of its units especially those in Francophone countries with more set to join them. However, we anticipate Airtel Uganda will survive a sale this year.
Beyond Data bundles
We are already making calls via 3rd party applications like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as long as you have a smartphone. This has made services like VoLTE (Voice over LTE) less attractive for telecoms to invest in.
Smile was the first to launch VoLTE call but they were quite unpopular and hasn’t shared numbers ever since. Vodafone might sail the same waters but we hope this will manifest with a different touch than one employed by Smile.
The nitty gritty here being that VoLTE bypasses the traditional circuit-switched calls to deliver calls/data over LTE network. In other words, calls shall be charged against one’s data volume not talktime.
Fiber to Home
We’ve talked about this before and seems a one company called Wananchi a leading business providing affordable entertainment and connectivity in East Africa might be closer than any telecom to provide fiber to home. The company is already doing this in Kenya and they have been building their fiber network around Kampala in partnership with Google.
Do you have any predictions for our telecoms 2017? Please leave a comment below.