Uganda Telecom Goes Borderless


In a surprising modesty uncharacteristic of Uganda's telecom industry, Uganda Telecom has pulled off a major one but refrained from pomp.

The company has struck an agreement with Kenya's telecommunications behemoth, Safaricom, to allow its customers to experience what it calls borderless roaming, a cousin of sorts to the well known borderless networks operated by Celtel and MTN.

With Keep it Ugandan as a marketing tagline, UTL's Communications Director, Mark Kaheru says the company's subscribers can go to Kenya and also keep their SIM cards, buy and load airtime, receive free calls, call at Ugandan rates and use all other cell phone functions as if they were at home.

Uganda Telecom Managing Director Abdulbasset Elazzabi (L) and Goal Technology Solutions (GTS) Ltd Executive Chairman-GTS Uganda Miko Rwayitare (R) sign an agreement recently. UTL has struck another deal with Safaricom for flat rates across the two countries. Photo by Eddie Chicco

It's unclear why UTL which has traditionally been spending immoderately - shoulder-to-shoulder with the two competitors - on publicity and promotions of product innovations, this time decided to travel a less familiar path.

Patently though, it would appear to stem from the fact that the company is playing catch-up, and would perhaps not want to unnecessarily draw attention to that fact by trumpeting a service that is now largely basic with most of cell phone users via Celtel's One Network and MTN's Home & Away.

In an interview, Mr Kaheru acknowledged that they were behind in the area of borderless networks, which have become the buzz in the regional telecoms industry. UTL was still using roaming, a hugely costly service where one pays to receive a call or SMS.

The limited touting of the borderless roaming, is also most likely connected to its limited geographical coverage. It only works in Kenya which means that UTL subscribers would have to rely on the standard roaming whenever they travel to Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda - all being members of the East Africa Community.

Celtel's One Network, the largest of all, now covers six nations, a contiguous tropical belt that stretches from Kenya in the East through Congo jungles to Gabon on the West cost. MTN's Home and Away canopy, for now, rings the EAC borders but the company's CEO, Mr Noel Meier, told Business Power recently that Rwanda, where it has a presence, is soon joining.

Uganda's telecommunications sector - with three players and two launching soon - is having the most intense competition and constant innovation has become the best leverage to secure one's market share and an engine for growth.

And here Celtel has appeared to pace ahead of the trio with MTN, the market's Goliath, coming on its heels while UTL doesn't seem to marshal as enough energy as is necessary to cope with the sector's momentum.

Celtel's energetic push-a mix of creativity, overwhelming, big-budget marketing campaigns and nimbleness-has for instance reaped handsomely with the company's subscriber numbers soaring past UTL's, according to reports.

(Source: The Monitor)