Henry Lancaster, senior analyst Europe at BuddeComm, offers important insights into Uganda's competitive but crowded telecom sector.
In recent years reforms have transformed Uganda’s economy, establishing consistent growth which is anticipated to remain above 6% into 2016. Reforms within the telecom sector have also established one of the most competitive markets in the region.
The entry of MTN as the second national operator to compete with Uganda Telecom in all telecom sectors revolutionised the availability and quality of services. To a large extent the incumbent has been left behind, as it suffers from high debt, insufficient assets, poor quality of service, and an inefficient management culture which has led to the appointment of three Managing Directors in as many years.
A simplified and converged licensing regime has significantly reduced barriers to market entry and increased competition, but this has also led to price wars. Fixed-line infrastructure remains poor, with low penetration, and in consequence fixed-line broadband penetration is also low. As a result, consumers have flocked to mobile infrastructure to provide voice and broadband services.
With seven mobile networks, Uganda’s mobile market is overcrowded. Some market movement during the last two years has resulted in consolidation, while Orange exited the market in mid-2014 when it sold its assets to Africell holding. The cost of international bandwidth has fallen dramatically following the landing of international submarine fibre optic cables on the African east coast, to which landlocked Uganda is now connected via a national fibre backbone extending to its borders with neighbouring countries. This has helped reduce the previously exorbitant cost of broadband and provided the necessary backhaul to carry the growing traffic which has resulted from the widening reach of LTE networks.
Uganda was one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to be connected to the internet. Being landlocked, the country depended entirely on satellites for its international connectivity until 2009 when several international submarine fibre optic cables landed on the African east coast. Uganda is now connected via a national fibre backbone extending to its borders, implemented by Uganda Telecom and MTN Uganda.
Since the initial connections to fibre cables in 2009 prices for international bandwidth have fallen to a fraction of their original cost, but retail pricing of broadband services is still relatively expensive, especially when considering purchasing power parity. However, wireless and mobile technologies such as WiMAX, EV-DO and LTE are now putting the internet within reach of a much greater proportion of the population than traditional fixed-line DSL services have in the past. These improvements in infrastructure are revolutionising the market and enabling converged voice, data and digital media services.
Henry Lancaster - senior analyst Europe, BuddeComm.