Telecoms have registered increased demand for both Internet and voice services in a period when other sectors of the economy have been suppressed.
The growth could have been influenced by the stay-and-work from home approach that many companies have adopted amid a national-wide lockdown seeking to control the spread of Covid-19.
“We have seen increased usage of data and voice services. There has been difficulty in touch points where customers can get airtime, which is why we are introducing digital, me-to-you and more initiatives will be introduced,” Mr VG Somasekhar, the Airtel managing director, said yesterday without giving details.
He was presenting a status update on the telecom’s mast numbers and 4G technology.
It was not immediately clear how much the telecom has registered in data and voice sales since the lockdown was announced in March.
Mr Wim Vanhelleputte, the MTN chief executive officer, in an interview yesterday, told Daily Monitor the telecom had seen an unprecedented growth in demand for data, which has degraded quality of its services.
“We are seeing a significant increase about 30-40 per cent increase in data traffic in just two weeks in particular areas especially residential,” he said, adding that the telecom will in the next three weeks expand and increase capacity in areas of Naalya and Kisaasi, among others with equipment worth $25m.
Perhaps, this was to be expected since traffic increased exponentially as people, during the lockdown, stayed away from home thus utilising more online services such as food deliveries as well as working off their phones and computers.
The two telecoms - MTN and Airtel - hold up to 90 per cent of the market share in Uganda.
Airtel customers also reported a reduction in data speeds, which could be attributed to increased traffic.
For instance, a one Kaka Mzamir, a user on Facebook wrote to Airtel: “My concern is about your network these ends of Kakifuma, Ndese, Kasawo. The network is poor please work on that.”
Mr Somasekhar said while the telecom cannot solve all issues immediately, customers will be assisted by the network team upon receipt of complaint.
Sector takes a hit
However, not all segments of the telecommunications sector have seen a silver lining because of Covid-19.
Mr Somasekhar indicated the number of new Simcard subscribers, which currently stands at 25.4m, has stagnated.
On the other hand, MTN voice services, while marginally impacted at the beginning, Mr Vanhelleputte said, is now slowly declining because of reduction in people’s purchasing power as many are holding onto their cash in anticipation.
Additionally, he said, the MTN mobile money segment, had started recording retrogressive growth, especially in urban centres.
Increase in masts
Meanwhile, Airtel yesterday announced it had grown its masts capacity in Uganda to 2,000.
Mr Somasekhar said the increase in site numbers signified improved service delivery in terms of better coverage and network. Ms Irene Kaggwa, the Uganda Communications Commission acting executive director, lauded the growth and the telecom for its increased investment in Uganda.
“ICT in Uganda has greatly changed due to significant private sector investment. My request is that you continue modernising ICT in Uganda so as to drive digital inclusion through accessible, affordable and fast Internet for all,” she said.
Airtel also said it had cumulatively invested $675m in expanding its sites capacity, noting it will in the next two months add another 300 masts.