‘Internet: We are still a virgin market’

Internet accessibility in Uganda is still low and expensive but the market has very good growth potential. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA.

What you need to know:

From a mobile phone service provider, mainly dealing in desk phones, to data provision, Smile Telecom has struggled to find its footing in a market that analysts say is saturated. However, the company is beginning to take some bold investments with the most recently being a $365 (Shs1.3 trillion) investment in systems upgrades and network expansion for its African segment. Ismail Musa Ladu spoke to Beatrice Kiraso, the company’s chairperson on several issues including how much of the Shs1.3 trillion will be injected in Uganda.

You have been lately missing in action. What is happening?
We are now in much stronger shape than before. Most of our challenges are what I describe as local problems. For example, local waves (network) here were interrupting each other. And when the regulator - Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) intervened, we were stopped - our operations halted. That affected our expansion plans and our revenues. But now we have invested into modern equipment to reduce network interruptions.

You recently acquired $365m (Shs1.3trillion) in funding. How much will be invested here and in what?
The money will cater for improvements in three countries including Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. We will have at least a third of the money invested here in Uganda. Much of it will go into the expansion of our 4G LTE mobile broadband networks.

Your visibility, I would say, is not good. Do you have any plans to improve it?
Yes! That is one of our key concerns. Currently our scope only covers a few parts of the country. But we have a plan to extend our services to other parts of the country such as Jinja, Gulu, Kasese, Mbarara and Kabale, among others.

What is the future of the data industry here?
I would say, Uganda is still a virgin market. More people are embracing technology but have limited access to the Internet. However, our belief is putting the best on the market. We believe we are competitive enough to give the best to our customers.

What are some of the challenges to the industry?
The geographical reach is still low. Industry players need to work at extending Internet services to even the remotest parts of the country. However, beyond the reach Internet should also be affordable and of high quality.

Some of your employees have complained of wrongful dismissal. Does your policy value and protect employees?
We value our employees and our main emphasis is knowledge transfer. Majority of our 100 employees are Ugandans and we have given them support in terms of growth save for a few troubles here and there. But we also provide a good working environment.

Do you see yourself getting more competitive in the next three years?
That is obvious because we plan to ambitiously expand our reach across the country as well as improving our network reception. We have had problems with our reception and we cannot compete if we do not improve it. I am glad we are working on this and it is likely to give us an edge over competition.

Tit bits on TMEA
Beatrice Kiraso, smile Uganda chairperson
Background. Smile Telecom was founded in 2007 and incorporated in Mauritius as a mobile telecommunications company. However, it struggled to find its footing in the voice segment and switched to data where it has since made substantial gains despite some interruptions. Smile Telecom operates a mobile wireless 4G LTE broadband networks in Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania. In Uganda the network is limited to only a few parts of the country including Kampala, Entebbe and Mukono.


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