Comparing the cost of mobile money services in Uganda: Which network is the best for you?

Mobile money in Uganda

[jumbotron heading=”What matters? Reliability or affordability?”]There are several reasons why people opt to use one mobile money MNO (Mobile Network Operator) apart from the fact that it’s their default carrier. MTN Mobile Money, Airtel Money, M-Sente and Orange Money; aside from some networks being more reliable than others when it comes to mobile transactions, perhaps its time we ask ourselves which is more affordable, or can we say which is best for you?[/jumbotron]

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The mobile money service footprint is as good as your Mobile network’s coverage. Today, the mobile money market in Uganda is dominated by, MTN’s mobile money at 7.3 million subscribers but it is safe to say that Airtel money is close behind and giving MTN a run for their dime. Not only did MTN launch the first service, in March 2009, but it still dominates the m-transaction space, with an estimated 50% market share of mobile subscribers in Uganda.
(Table 1 below provides an overview of the mobile money operators available in Uganda.) Each of the mobile money players offer similar types of services, although Airtel has of late taken the notch up higher to distinguish themselves in various ways as we shall see in the analysis below.

Please note: In this article, Africell’s mobile money service will be referred to as Orange Money as we wait for the company to re-launch their own re-branded service.

Mobile Money ServiceMobile Subcribers (MIllions)Date of Mobile Money LaunchMobile Money SubscribersNo of Mobile Money Agents
MTN Mobile Money10.4March 20097.342,000*
Airtel Money7.531st Jan 20123.412,000*
ULT M-sente 225th March 20101.3N/A
Africell Money0.615th Jan 20130.5400*
* Estimated Values
Table 1: Mobile Money Statistics in Uganda (Q1 2015)
A great population of mobile money users have dual SIM phones or more than one phone. Many of us don’t give a hoot to know which operator will cost less especially when it comes to sending money across networks, paying utility bills (UMEME, NWSC, Multiplex, Pay TV), depositing over an ATM  or paying for goods and services. You have to know where you will save a shilling or two.
HINT: You can interact with all graphs below

Sending Money Within Network to Registered users

The price differences between MNOs in this category is an indicator on whether you are getting a good deal when you send money from MTN to MTN or from UTL to UTL. Here, the user has no choice since the carriers have tried to make it as cheap as possible. From the graph 1 below, it’s clear that Orange Money is the cheapest although its biggest set back is that it lacks reach. Seriously, you would be lucky to find an Orange money agent. To put it in perspective while it will cost you UGX 2,200 to send UGX 2 million on Airtel, Orange Money is more than half the price at UGX 1,000. In this category it would also be cheaper to use MTN than Airtel Money.
[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]: Orange Money

Sending Money to Unregistered & Other Networks

Now this is the category where price competition is expected to be at its peak, as MNOs have to make sure their m-transaction service is the go to service for all clients irrespective of the network they are on. One thing we noticed is that UTL is not supporting this or can we say doesn’t have a tariff plan indicated in this category, leaving Airtel, MTN and Orange/Africell to compete. Once again Orange Money is the cheapest here but not by much with difference of about 0-12%, and that will be treated as negligible. MTN and Airtel money have the same charges digit by digit, so we guess it’s safe to say that it doesn’t matter which MNO you use to send money across networks since the pricing is similar.
[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]: MTN Mobile Money, Airtel Money and Orange Money

Withdraw Money from Agent

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MTN’s charges are the highest in this category and you can’t really blame them, since they have the biggest number of mobile transaction agents. From the data, it’s clear that not only is it cheaper to  withdraw from an Airtel Money agent, as the carrier has a wider range of withdraw options unlike other MNOs.

[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]: Airtel Money

Paying for Bills, Goods & Services

When it comes to paying for bills, it seems MTN has a better deal than any other Operator even if Orange Money is cheaper overall. M-Sente proves to be the most expensive, such as when you want to pay for goods worth UGX 400,000 it will cost you UGX 2,500 on UTL’s M-sente while on other networks it’s half that figure. They however try to keep the charges flat at UGX 2,500 for any goods worth UGx 125, 000 and above. In this case users have to be strategic, for goods less than UGX 125,000 you are better off using Orange Money or MTN Mobile money. Airtel Money and MTN’s charges are not far off either.

[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]:  Airtel Money, Orange Money and MTN Mobile Money

Paying for Utility Bills

Whereas MTN, Africell/Orange and Airtel have the option to pay for utility bills like electricity and water, UTL mentions nothing about it in their tariff plan. You can also renew your subscription for pay TV on MTN Mobile money and Airtel Money unlike other MNOs and these two telecom giants will charge you the same amount for these m-transactions. You are better off paying your utility bills with Orange Money keep in mind it’s only limited to only water and electricity bills. For other bills like pay TV and Multiplex parking you have to use MTN’s mobile money.


[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]:  UTL’s M-Sente and Orange Money

Withdraw from ATM

MTN, Airtel and UTL will give you an option of withdrawing money via ATM with selected banks especially those under the Interswitch partnership. Among the trio, UTL seems to give a better deal, Airtel’s pricing is neck to neck with MTN. UTL’s M-sente also has the edge of giving users the ability to withdraw large sums of cash up to a tune of UGX 4 million and above if your bank’s ATM allows.


[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]: UTL’s M-Sente and Airtel Money

 Interact with your Bank Account

Airtel gives a unique offer that lets its subscriber interact with their bank. In an exclusive deal with Stanbic Bank, the big red telco allows users to send money to their bank accounts, make a balance inquiry, request for mini statements and do bank to bank transactions. Since they have monopolized this category they clearly deserve to take the accolade here.

[icons icon=”thumbs-up” color=”#0ba033″ size=”20″]: Airtel Money


Ultimately, what matters most is how reliable the service is, and the ease in which one can get a mobile money agent. It is safe to say that MTN Uganda and Airtel are a safe bet when it comes to Mobile money transactions in Uganda even if Orange Money and UTL’s M-sente remain the most affordable in some categories.