Internet key to growth, Airtel boss

The 100 per cent mobile broadband creates opportunities for social-economic growth by ensuring that youth, entrepreneurs, SMEs and large corporations have access to high speed internet everywhere

Internet accessibility has become a key development issue. FILE PHOTO 

BY Martin Luther Oketch,

IN SUMMARY

Information is a public good which is essential for all forms of economic activities and good governance. And as the world gets into the technology buzz there has been a search to ensure that information is provided and at first speeds.
Much of this has come in the form of broadband connectivity, which allows companies to explore new business opportunities, access customers and obtain information about market prices. Martin Luther Oketch, spoke to Mr VG Somasekhar, the Airtel managing director to understand this important aspect.

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How have you delivered in terms of connectivity?

We have delivered on many of our promises, especially in the area of broadband internet connectivity. By June 1 we had achieved 100 per cent in this area.
We have substantially invested in network infrastructure to ensure availability of high-speed internet across Uganda.
We are keeping the pace with our promise over the last eight years, since the acquisition of Zain in 2010.
We have accumulated investments of $800m out of which $400m has gone into building broadband infrastructure.

How significant is this to Uganda?
It is a milestone for us and for the people of Uganda. All our cites are now 3G-enabled and we are the first to do this in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In January, we promised to deliver 100 per cent mobile broadband by June and we have delivered on this.
The upgrade in our network is in line with the commitment to provide the widest and best internet experience to our subscribers. Currently our network has a reach of about 91.9 per cent across the country.

What is this 100 per cent broadband coverage? It seems to be so general. Perhaps you might want to break it down.
We have coverage in all the 125 districts of Uganda with full broadband internet connectivity.
To put it in perspective, Uganda has 5,300 parishes out of which we have coverage of 2G, 3G and 4Gs in 5,000 parishes mainly.
The 2G is for voice while 3G is internet and 4G high speed connectivity. So, we can say we have provided internet connectivity in every part of country.
Actually, we have made sure that we provide a seamless service that is not different from the one in Kampala, Tororo or Mbale.
We have removed the urban-rural divide to provide internet everywhere in Uganda.

You have been talking of infrastructure network. What is this all about?
One of the ways which telecoms provide high quality internet is having reliable infrastructure.
We have done this by building fiber optics covering 4,069 kilometers undersea cable for internet traffic. The heart of this matter is building towers. By the end of July we will have built 1,632 towers across the country. All this provides an opportunity for local suppliers to provide quality telecommunication.

Why all this investment?
The 100 per cent mobile broadband creates opportunities for social-economic growth by ensuring that youth, entrepreneurs, SMEs and large corporations have access to high speed internet everywhere.
Our programmes are anchored in areas such as education, health, agriculture and tourism, among others to impact availability of high speed reliable internet connectivity.

Are these services affordable given that internet access is an expensive affair in Uganda?
We have built a service that should be affordable to all Ugandans. For instance, we have daily internet which costs as low as Shs250. We have also built weekly and monthly products. Our investment in this regard is informed by trends that show a shift from voice to internet.
Many people are now using smart phones and indeed we have made deliberate moves in this area to help them have access to the internet. We have built a smart phone network that enables people to improve the quality of life.

What is your tax contribution?
Over the years we have become one of the largest tax payers in Uganda and we have been recognised by Uganda Revenue Authority.

Government has levied taxes on mobile money and social media. How is this expected to impact you?
We are talking to government about this. But if government goes ahead to implement it we shall have a proper assessment after about one month.

How would you rate your market share?
We have close to 40 per of the market. And this has been a result of heavy investments in world-class infrastructure.

What is the most important aspect you would want to achieve?
We have partnered with government to drive digital inclusion. Currently, 30 or 25 per cent of the people in Uganda can access internet.
Doing business in Africa and Uganda in particular is still very expensive. This is because of the infrastructure gap. Right now we have about 10 million subscribers but we have installed capacity that can serve 20 million customers. So we invest with the future in mind.
In Uganda and Africa at large there is a problem of infrastructure deficit. However, I am pleased to inform you that we have reversed the trend and instead created a surplus.

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