Arguably Smart Telecom has the most compelling services any Telecom company has in Uganda. Its enticing offers will outright make you not miss Warid Telecom since they almost play the same cards. Smart caters for the price cautious Ugandan with attractive voice and data packages. Did I forget Mobile Money (Smart Pesa)? While this is not fronted in every corner of the country, Smart telecom barely eats at the same table with the likes of MTN and Airtel.
We should rather ask why with all this attractive arsenal at its disposal, it seems to be playing catch up to the big guns?
Being late to the game
The cited big guns have had a lifeline here stretching decades ago with equally others playing second fiddle. And here comes Smart Telecom! Having launched originally in 2014 as Sure Telecom before it finally embraced the Smart name in a crowd sourced naming drive.
It came at a time when some players were exiting the market and market leaders we consolidating their positions at the helm. It is a battle that Smart will forever play unless something changes in the due process.
Limited Network reach
Smart Telecom’s Network can’t be described with diction like brisk, seamless, superb blah blah. Average should be the right term and that depends on what locale. While you might register the best of service in the CBD, the same can’t be said of suburbs where the working class mostly reside. Stretching further beyond Kampala renders the brand nearly non-existent which further limits its reach beyond Kampala. Its apparent expansion drive is yet to yield any substantial consumer faith beyond price cautious Kampalans and mostly for its data packages.
Other players to strives to dislodge are well established across the country though not entirely.
Well at one time before MTN went by “Everywhere You Go”, it was “The Better Connection” Traversing lots of slogans over the course of its tenure but my personal favorite was “Live it, Love it”. As for Airtel’s case, it has switched hands than any other player and so i’ve lost count on the number of times its slogan has followed suit.
Many Ugandans have grown up with these brands and inreturn, they’ve created a bond whose probable disruption can only be attributed to better quality of service at an affordable rate from a different player.
Smart is a distant somewhere from fulfilling this. The only contender who was about to challenge the status quo was bought by one of the big guns and so it was maitained.
Low Mobile Money Subscriber base
MTN launched first and the benefits that have accrued towards it have left others jealousy. Not until Warid Pesa reinforced Airtel Money that at least MTN Mobile Money finally embraced a worthy competitor. Smart Telecom with its low subscriber base can’t command the same clout as the aforementioned two players with millions of customers.
However it goes without saying that Smart Pesa is the best Mobile Money service any telecom company has ever offered within boundaries of Uganda, reminiscent of what Tigo Pesa is doing down Magufuli land. Subscribers are rewarded for using the service and likewise purchases over mobile money are accompanied with discounts. Is so far the cheapest mobile money service across the entire divide in Uganda but subscriber numbers seem to disagree.
And then came the low agent network
MTN leads, followed closely by Airtel, Africell and ohh yeah, UTL. However UTL seems to be exhumed in debts which are also affecting its retail presence. Smart Telecom is just building up its own presence but you would be better served when you’re in Kampala than its outskirts or elsewhere. Still, a big blow to the fledgling telecom.
The UCC blow!
For any telecom operator to seamlessly operate here, they better be at good terms with the regulator, UCC for this case. Except, of course an adamant someone, whose name I won’t disclose for regulatory purposes. Away from the jokes, these operators therefore conform to set standards set by UCC otherwise you stand to lose a licence or face a fine in Trump dollars.
Smart on the other hand had its licence revoked only to be re-instated a few days later but still the damage caused could hardly be contained. This did not paint a rosy picture about the Clement Hill based Telecom and any potential suitor could have second thoughts about injecting money in the telco or outright buy them.
Containing these requires some serious effort and an effective PR and crisis management machine. Smart has long been rumored wanting to sale which might as well scare would-be customers onto committing to its services. It won’t only scare customers but potential investors too, otherwise a progressive business rarely looks at selling.
To add more insult to the injury, Smart Telecom hasn’t committed more investments in its assets portfolio to expand its reach beyond its self imposed Kampala walls and a few upcountry townships. This noncommittal gesture just catapults the exit rumors since a sane business mind wouldn’t sow somewhere they don’t expect to rip. Other players have since increased their investments to competitively position themselves outbidding Smart Telecom.
While all this doesn’t play in Smart Telecom’s favor, it is the cheapest Telecom in Uganda however much this doesn’t correlate with their quality of service. Voice call costs are a paltry of what others charge and so are their data plans that have since reduced on the number of night crawlers browsing the web using cheap data bundles from major players.
Smart Telecom is the cheapest at every front with mobile money inclusive but until they rectify some of the above issues, this dogma about them having a tough time will forever haunt them.