Internet users spend average of Shs5,000 on data monthly

An increase in smartphone usage has enhanced internet penetration in Uganda in the last five years. Photo / File 

What you need to know:

  • The Shs5,000 translates to an average of 1.7 gigabytes that Ugandans spend on data on a monthly basis, according to UCC

Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has indicated that an average internet subscriber in Uganda uses at least 1.7 gigabytes of data per month. 

The usage of data, which is contained in the latest UCC market performance report, translates to at least Shs5,000. 

Ms Irene Kaggwa, the UCC executive director, said the Shs5,000 is a base figure for an average price of 1.5 gigabytes, which telecoms offer in monthly packages, with the extra 200 megabytes provided as a top up offer.  

However, she noted the metric used was based on the actual amount of data traffic versus telecom revenue, which rounded off to Shs5,000.  

In its report for the quarter ended  March, UCC noted that data consumed by Ugandans rose from 1.6 gigabytes per user in December 2022 to 1.7 gigabytes in March. 

However, the report noted a 6 percent reduction in expenditure on data, which implies that consumers spent less but used more data. 

But UCC data contrasts that of users and operators, which shows higher consumption than what UCC reported. 

For instance, in details contained in the Airtel prospectus published last week, the telecom noted monthly data usage per customer had risen from 3.7 gigabytes last year to 4.5 gigabytes. 

Additionally, a simple survey among internet users, told a different story.  

Ms Christine Tusiime, a teacher and creative dancer, said she spends Shs150,000 per month with a daily spend of Shs5,000 on two gigabytes to keep her brand alive on social media. 

However, Mr Jowet Matsiko, a tour operator, spends on freedom bundles, which do not expire with a spend of Shs20,000 for 5.2 gigabytes for research, current affairs, and social media. 

On the other hand, Mr Mahad Bweyongera, said he doesn’t prioritise spending on data, because he has access to workplace WiFi, which supplements his monthly spend of Shs4,000, split into two subscriptions of Shs2,000 for 500 megabytes each. 

Mr David Birungi, the Airtel public relations manager, said the 1.7 gigabytes monthly average was still low, attributing it to high cost of devices, especially smartphones and laptops, which reduces penetration, thus low usage.  

“How many public services are fully online?,” Mr Birungi wondered, noting Ugandans still have to cue up to renew a driving permit or apply for jobs.  

The UCC report shows that in terms of year-on-year consumption, telecoms experienced an internet traffic surge, rising from 91.4m gigabytes in March last year to 138.5m, where fixed internet traffic (such as in homes and offices) grew by 48 percent while mobile traffic grew by 51 percent. 

The growth was, therefore, key in increasing data consumption, which rose to 5.1 gigabytes from 3.88 gigabytes in March last year, while internet subscriptions grew by 1.2m to 27m.  

Ms Rebecca Mukite, the UCC public and international relations officer, said the 27m subscriptions represent the number of Simcards that have used data services in the quarter to March, including mobile and fixed internet connections. 

Increased internet access through mobile handsets and other data devices such as tablets has seen growth in internet subscription, which during the period, pushed penetration to 59 percent from 57 percent. 

Data remains a significant revenue earner for telecoms, only next to voice.  

In the half year to June, MTN reported earnings of Shs290b from its 6.9 million active data subscribers, anchored by increased focus on driving smartphone adoption and a higher demand for data services from its enterprise business segment. 

Airtel is also counting on data as a key revenue stream, which in the near term, will at least contribute about 35 percent of its revenue, even as the telecom noted in its prospectus that any increase from data and digital services may not be sufficient to offset huge expenditures required to upgrade networks to handle increased data traffic. 

Adoption of smartphones

During the period to March, according to the UCC market performance report, the number of devices accessing telecom networks registered a 3 percent growth, rising to 39.1 million. 

The surge was largely due to an increase in adoption of smart and feature devices, which grew by 3 percent quarter-on-quarter to 12.6 million and 24.5 million, respectively. 

However, basic mobile handsets declined by 9 percent to 1.85 million. 

The net addition of 958,000 new mobile devices aligns with the number of new active Simcards registered in the three months leading to March. 

The continuous trend of adopting smart and feature phones signals ongoing technological advancements and showcases the market’s adaptiveness to new hardware releases, such as e-simcards and growth in digitisation and e-commerce.

In contrast to March 2021, the devices accessing telecom networks have increased by four million, soaring from 35.1 million to 39.1 million at the end of March 2022. 

This growth is largely driven by smart devices, which account for 21 percent, followed by feature devices at 17 percent. 

Conversely, basic handsets continue to decline, dropping by 49 percent, which could be a sign of smart phone affordability with some ranging between (Shs190,000) and (Shs500,000).

Smartphones remain key in the drive to increase internet penetration, which is subsequently expected to push the growth of a number of virtual services, among which include internet and digital banking. 

Growth in internet will also be key in enhancing virtual health and educational services as well as supporting the growth of research-based technology in a number of study areas.

Over the years, Uganda has registred a rapid increase in internet penetration, which has driven a number of services as well as created new revenue streams, especially for telecoms.