Uganda Telecoms: vandalism and operating costs a big issue

Ugandan Telecom companies have recently addressed several key issues they face in penetrating the rural mobile market and providing reliable and affordable services. Among the issues are two major problems; vandalism and high operating costs.

Warid Uganda CEO Madhur Taneja (file image)

Uganda’s population is 87 percent rural, and so spread out that the per-unit cost f delivering communication services relatively high.

The high illiteracy rate and the people’s inability to create an economic benefit through mass communication means that there are few businesses willing to invest in Uganda.

As a result of this and inadequate infrastructure, almost all booster stations and masts must be run on diesel generators, further bolstering the cost.

Themba Khumab, the MTN Uganda CEO said that while a large portion of their customers were rural based, vandalism of equipment remained a big challenge to the company. Khumab called for the government to put in place stringent vandalism laws against telecom equipment and materials.

“Kenya did this a long time ago and the problem was solved. Why not here?” Khumalo asked.

The UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi agreed, saying that the poor network is caused by several reasons, including the breakdown of infrastructure due to deliberate vandalism. “Any disruption at a single point triggers a series of failures over a wider area becacause of interconnection,” Mutabazi explained.

According to the Warid Chief Commercial Officer, Shailendra Naidu, the operating costs are another barrier thwarting progress.“Each site costs the company $300,000 (about Shs 840m) or more and the costs keep on increasing,” Naidu said, adding that it will take time for telecoms to link all areas in the country to the network.

“Our aim is to maintain quality to our customers and we can’t do that when we are operating beyond the input costs. That is why we increased our tariffs recently,” Naidu said, adding, “We are a young company but already we have many sites across the country and will continue expanding them until every part of Uganda is covered.”

Luiz Sanchez