Internet subscriptions in Uganda surpasses 20 million user mark after lockdown

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A woman in Kampala scrolls through her WhatsApp messages.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Internet subscriptions in Uganda have grown to 20.1 million users as of September 2020, according to the latest market report by the regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission [UCC].

This is nearly 50 per cent national connectivity, meaning that at one in every two Ugandans are connected to the internet, for the first time ever, according to UCC.

It is the first time that total Internet subscriptions in Uganda have crossed the 20 million mark, suggesting that nearly one in every two Ugandans has internet access.

However, this does not take into consideration the fact that some people have more than one gadget connected to the internet, so the number of people connected could be a little lower.

That not withstanding for 1.2 million new subscribers to be added in the three months after the COVID19-induced lockdown from March to June 2020, is described as a big milestone.

“This growth is mainly attributed to the shifting work culture driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led many businesses to adopt remote working methods, per the report covering July-September 2020,” says the UCC.

In a related development, there were more than 1 million new mobile subscriptions in the months of July, August and September 2020 as the market topped 26.5 million fixed and cellular subscriptions.

This equaled the pre-COVID-19 subscriber count of December 2019.

Having dropped from 28.4 million in the quarter January – March 2020 to 25.4 million in the second quarter (April to June 2020), mobile subscriptions recovered to record 26.5 million at the end of September 2020.

Despite the fall of 3 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year, there is a 3.3 per cent growth in numbers between September 2019 and September 2020, compared to the same period a year ago.

“Amid the sector-wide disruption over the last six months, the sector averaged quarter-on-quarter growth rates of 1 per cent over the last 12 months.

This comparatively subdued performance is largely attributed to the 11% subscriber drop in the months April-June 2020,” the report stated.

The current subscription figure translates into a national telephone penetration of 64 lines for every 100 Ugandans.

It should be noted however, that most people especially in the urban areas, have more that one line at ago.

The 1.8 million new subscriptions also led to a growth on mobile money numbers to 27.7 million accounts at the end of September 2020.

Service providers have now made it a routine to register on mobile money platform, any new line they sell.

There was also a growth of 7 per cent in active mobile money accounts in the third quarter, with 81 per cent of all accounts having undertaken at least one billable transaction in the previous 90 days.

New subscriptions mainly led the growth in the period under review in contrast to the growths registered in the period April-June 2020, which was mainly led by reactivations. This observation is significant given the number of first time mobile financial service users in the market.

However, the report points out that the growth in mobile financial services came along with consumer protection challenges, with new consumers especially being susceptible to fraudulent schemes orchestrated by both unscrupulous individuals and agents.

This corresponds with a market research conducted by UCC and Innovation for Poverty Action recently in the period 2019-2020, which showed that more than 40 per cent of customers surveyed reported a money-related consumer challenge.

This ranged from agent overcharging, unclear and/or unexpected fees to incorrectly sending money.

Moreover, 61 per cent of the consumers surveyed took no initiative to seek redress.

During the quarter under review, MTN Uganda, having complied with the new licensing regime obligations, was issued with a National Telecommunications Operator [NTO] license in July 2020.

This followed extended industry consultations towards revising the national telecommunications licensing regime in Uganda that led to UCC issuing a new licensing framework.

Later in December 2020, Airtel Uganda was also issued a similar license.

Read Also: 5 ways the marketing world will change after COVID-19

The new licensing regime introduces zonal licenses, establishes new standards and obligations in network coverage, service uptime and quality, as well as new competition rules for players with Significant Market Power (SMP) across the various markets.

While the COVID-19 lockdown brought many businesses to their knees, the pandemic has spotlighted technology’s role in the public health domain.