At the start of 2019, many people in the technology world predicted that the sector would drive growth and register exponential improvements depending on who uses it and what for.
Indeed, it has been an undisputable year of growth with a lot of innovations and improvements here and there.
For the first time, 4G reached every point of Uganda and many prospects have been anchored on that regard.
Those prospects might be achieved this or the year to come but that was a big achievement considering that not many countries on the Africa continent have not achieved such a feat.
However, as we have already entered the New Year, what does 2020 have in store for us?
What happened in 2019
More Ugandans were connected to the internet, 19 million, a 2019 Jumia Mobile report showed.
More Ugandans owned phones, about 25 million. Smart phone penetration grew, prices also dipped by 50 per cent.
Social media users dropped to 2.5 million with more people choosing to use virtual private networks to access some sites, following introduction of over the top tax (OTT) in 2018. Whatsapp emerged the most used platform, followed by Facebook.
Turning Kampala into a smart city was high on the agenda. The Phase IV national backbone infrastructure connectivity project extended to Teso and Karamoja sub-regions. Cryptocurrencies made headlines with Bank of Uganda sending strong warnings against engagement midyear. By December, thousands of Ugandans were fleeced in one scam and one director of Dunamiscoin Resources, a cryptocurrency company, was arrested.
A police report showing cybercrime increased by 40 cases emerged and slightly over Shs600m was lost, with most of the crime committed over the internet.
Firms indicated they were already spending a lot of money on cybersecurity and that they would further this expenditure.
There was a lot of activism around embracing digital technologies within both formal and informal sectors.
This year, many of the promises made following this activism are expected to be implemented.
“2019 was another good year for Uganda’s information communication Technology sector. People now realise the potential that tech will have on our country and its economy. There is real and tangible interest from government, policy makers, private sector, development partners and others to support high growth companies with funding, technical assistance, training,” Allan Rwakatungu, founder Xente Tech, says.
For instance, National Information and Technology Authority-Uganda reduced the certification application fee for the information technology (IT) startups to Shs70,000.
This was a strategy to encourage home-grown IT firms to demonstrate they have standard processes, personnel and technology to compete for existing contracts.
There were concerns about the digital skills gap but we also saw the establishment of an ICT academy that would prepare students for the marketplace through hands-on training while offering free certification.
Government planned to build at least 40 innovation hubs (social communities, work spaces or research centres that provide expertise on technology trends, knowledge and strategic innovation management) across the country.
Dominations of Fintechs
Financial technologies will continue to dominate the conversation in the technology sector.
Innovation Village founder Japheth Kawanguzi, says Agritech or agriculture related Fintechs have reigned over the last five years.
“We are now interested in unlocking new sectors like Insuretech, manufacturing, real estate and tourism tech,” he says as the innovation hub plans to build 100 startups in 2020.
Too ambitious, one would say, but he, on the other hand, sees increased Interest in a number of private sector players to work with entrepreneurs through collaborations, an approach the sector considers sustainable.
On funding efforts, startups are yet to raise capital.
“It is an art that requires a lot of focus. We are not yet there in terms of building startups that are investable. Also, there will be some slowdown in growth of the sector because we are going into a political season,” Kawanguzi says.
Regulating disruptive technologies
Regulation featured in conversations at technology conferences in 2019 with some players urging government to devise means for regulating disruptive technologies to enable fair pricing of products and services as well as part of eliminating fraud among other threats to the sector.
Richard Zulu, the lead partner at Outbox, an innovation hub, is watching out for progress in harmonised regulation.
“A global trend in the technology sector is the emphasis on policies and regulation of tech companies. We have seen a number of developed countries seriously considering and others introducing digital tax. This implies that our local startups and other large organisations have to put more resources towards participating in policy development as a means of creating an enabling business environment. At the moment, each country is pursuing its own digital tax approach, which leads to fragmentation and thus a compliance burden for our organisations,” Zulu says.
Last year, MTN announced evolutionary plans to develop 5G technology alongside Huawei.
Giovanni Chiarelli, the MTN Group chief technology officer, said at a joint C-Band 5G trial launch at the AfricaCom meeting in South Africa, the 5G technology has been tested on four elements including speed, which averaged at 1635 Mbps, safe city, which does facial recognition, video gaming such as video assistant referee and arm robotics.
However, analysts say Uganda is yet to see achievements in that direction.
“We do not have infrastructure for 5G yet but we are operating at 3G and 4G,” Tonny Oyana, principal, College of Computing and Information Sciences at Makerere University, says.
“There is good improvement in infrastructure either by the service providers or the national backbone infrastructure but we are not at the 5G level,” he says.
Is 2020 the big year for Artificial Intelligence or technology that can see, learn and reason to extend the capabilities of what people and organisations can do?
In 2018, we saw artificial intelligence change the way banks relate with customers. In 2019, the annual symposium on innovation and Internet of Things interested organisations to clear the way for AI.
“We have seen bots appear and people are using them to converse. If you are an organisation and are looking at how to engage with customers if you do not have a budget for a big customers service centre, then bots are an amazing place to do it,” Microsoft’s Lawrence Muthoga said.
Oyana thinks there will be some breakthroughs in AI this year given the existing ecosystem in universities and among startups innovating in Bukoto, Ntinda, Bugolobi and Nakawa towns.
“The startups are going to galvanise efforts, the UN Global Pulse in Kololo is also doing AI. The national policy on the fourth industrial revolution will be completed this year. I expect to see rapid growth because there will be intentional investment into the area,” Oyana says.
Cryptocurrency will be under watch
Meanwhile, players are watching the cryptocurrency space given the recently reported scams.
There is wonder whether it will recover from the scandal and gain credibility once again.
There were movements in the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance as the year 2019 folded and for now time will tell whether new minister Judith Nabakooba can consolidate gains made by Mr Frank Tumwebaze.
“Whereas the former minister understood and things would flow, that might have a little impact because there is a learning process for the new ministers to understand ongoing efforts,” Mr Oyana concludes.