Telecoms in rush for 5G technology, amid low smartphone penetration

Minister of ICT Chris Baryomunsi listens to a presentation at a previous conference. Telecoms and infrastructure companies have in the last five years invested huge sums of money to support 5G technology. Photo / File 

What you need to know:

  • UCC says it plans to roll out the 5G spectrum to telecoms at least before the end of the second quarter of this year.

Telecoms are facing a tough road ahead in testing and deploying 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless technology, in a country beleaguered by low smartphone penetration and high internet costs. 

Airtel has made inroads in testing its 5G network on at least 65 sites across major cities in the country. 

Airtel, people close to the matter, say the telecom is awaiting spectrum allocation from Uganda Communications Commission. 

MTN also indicated last month that it has signed an agreement with Huawei in a deal that seek to accelerate its move to 5G technology.  

A spectrum is a radio frequency that wireless signals travel to enable people to make calls, and use their mobile devices for the internet, according to America’s Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.  

Uganda has 10.9 million smartphone monthly users out of the 35 million devices on the network, according to UCC’s 2022 data. 

However, telecom operators say the figure is low, and largely affected by high taxes informed by Value Added Tax, Import Duty, Withholding Tax and Infrastructure levy. 

Smartphones are multi-purpose mobile computing devices distinguished from feature phones by their stronger hardware capabilities and extensive mobile operating systems. 

They also possess multimedia functionality, alongside core functions such as voice calls and text messaging. 

Uganda Revenue Authority’s public relations officer, Joshua Niyonshima noted the taxes levied on smartphones are dependent on the type and the country of origin.  

Mr Ninyoshima said Import Duty attracts a 10 percent levy, VAT 18 percent, Withholding Tax at 6 percent and Infrastructural Levy at 1.5 percent, giving a total of 35.5 percent.  

Drop in cost 
Telecoms envisage the current cost of data will drop once they invest in 5G. 

A large factor for high internet costs is caused by the high fixed costs telecoms incur in maintaining and operating masts, spectrum and fibre. 

However, the number of users remains inversely proportional to the huge cost of investment.  

UCC plans to roll out the 5G spectrum to telecoms, at least before the end of the second quarter of this year.

MTN and Airtel have already submitted applications to UCC expressing readiness to deploy 5G  

Mr Ali Monzer, the MTN chief technical and information officer, said the telecom will, in the interim, focus on key strategic locations that have capable 5G devices and large business concentration, noting that issues such as dropped calls and interrupted connectivity will be eliminated.