Anwar Soussa is the managing director for Airtel Uganda. He spoke to The Independent’s Julius Businge about Airtel business and Uganda’s telecom sector.
You have been here for a year now as the Airtel MD. What is your general assessment of the telecommunication business in Uganda?
Telecommunication business in Uganda is very impressive. You have multiple small players and few large players which are doing well. There is a company for every need. There is good technology – long term evolution (LTE or 4G data technology), whose coverage is relatively wide although the population is sparsely distributed. Overall there is a good quality service from multiple players which means there is competition. The market is relatively stable in terms of pricing as opposed to some other markets beyond Uganda. World over, price stability allows players to make some profits which is good for government. We are able to set different tariffs for various products like data bundles where 98% of our customers are and we are contented with affordability of our tariff.
In terms of players, we have observed globally that in any market, the top two players will make money, the third tries and the rest don’t. Uganda is a small market that needs about three players. In terms of regulation, I think UCC is one of the best regulators in the world. They are doing the best to protect the customers and to create an environment that allows operators to invest and work. We continue to observe that when the economy is bad with limited liquidity our revenues drop immediately.
As MD, how does your business and management strategy align with quality of service that your customers desire to experience?
My strategy is I don’t want Airtel Uganda to get involved at the bottom level of the market. From a customer perspective, this market has loyal and target or promotional customers. Promotional customers are not loyal and are always looking for promotions and other offers. They (promotional customers) provide little revenue to the company but put us on pressure to invest in the network. My desire is that we focus on loyal customers who expect high level of service. We are not thinking a lot about short term promotions which attract promotional customers.
Telecommunication business in Uganda has seven players and is dominated by Airtel and MTN on all fronts. What are the merits of such a market?
When you have large players, they will invest tens of millions of dollars in strengthening the network. Airtel has been doing this on a yearly basis. When government asks telecoms to do SIM card registration, you will realise that the big players will do a good job because they have infrastructure across parts of the country as opposed to small players. Currently, we are investing in technology by taking the 3G internet away from the higher frequencies and put it on lower frequencies to improve coverage. That involves lots of money.
How are you guarding feared risks related to this type of market like connivance in setting tariffs for products and services?
That is completely false. Our competitor has a target and we too have ours; so there is no need to connive in setting tariffs. We fully understand that setting stable prices is okay for the sector. Price wars are not good for government and shareholders. It is not a question of controlling the market… it is about investing in strengthening the network and working towards recouping our investment capital.
What has changed so far since Airtel acquired Warid four years ago?
The merger brought to us a strong player in terms of brand, products and customer base. The love for the brand was huge. We have allowed whatever was going on at Warid to continue. This was a happy marriage and our business grew accordingly. We got value in the merger. Sometimes, in other markets where some of the mergers have taken place, players involved have not attained value.