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MTN pioneering brightens Uganda

By Independent Reporter

MTN has demonstrated that innovative solutions can drive economic development even in the most under serviced areas. The company has pioneered many innovations in cellular and technological industries.

Africa is the world’s fastest-growing mobile phone market with more than 40% of Africa’s population having access to a mobile phone. In Uganda MTN has played a great part in this revolution since 1998.

Despite a competitive telecommunications environment, MTN Uganda has managed to retain its leading position in the Ugandan telecommunications market where it holds 61% total market share (both its fixed and mobile services).

MTN has demonstrated that innovative solutions can drive economic development even in the most under serviced areas. The company has pioneered many innovations in cellular and technological industries.

The telecoms giant has played a leadership role since inception, revolutionalising the industry by bringing innovative and affordable services closer to the people and thus empowering them to meet their needs and aspirations, more so in the lower income bracket. This has helped improve considerably the penetration of telecoms services to even the most remote areas of the country.

“MTN Uganda’s subscriber base continues to strengthen, putting communication in reach of the majority of the population. Our initial capital investment of US $40 million has increased to US $175 million as we continue to expand our coverage throughout the country and improve telecommunications access for Ugandans”, says Isaac Nsereko, MTN’s Chief Marketing Officer.

The innovative MTN Zone which gives varying discounts to subscribers depending on location and time of call, the pioneering of MTN Mobile Money Transfer Service and MTN Google Information Search have in a short time become appealing to subscribers. It is now expected that the landing of the submarine cables will consolidate MTN’s leadership in data services provision.

Nsereko says that what is more gratifying about MTN Uganda’s success story is how they have impacted lives in the rural areas.

In December 2003, MTN Uganda partnered with the Grameen Foundation USA, in the Village Phone programme with the sole focus of taking telecom services to the rural set ups where no body wanted to go.

Richard Mwami, MTN’s General Manager for Public Access says, “We took telecoms to the real bottom of the pyramid structure, where inhabitants earned less than $1 (Shs 2,000) a day. There was no electricity, no credit to buy phones and getting business going was a very big issue. With our partners the micro finance institutions, whose core business is lending, we embarked on a programme to create opportunities for poor individuals to become Village Phone Operators. (VPO) “

MTN set an ambitious target of rolling out 5,000 Village phones in 5 years, but within 18 months they had achieved the 5 year target.

According to Mwami, the initiative changed people’s lives in the rural areas through sustainable business. He says that they have a lot of testimonies of operators who confess they can now afford two meals a day; which was previously unheard of, they are able to pay school fees for their children and buy plots of land.

“I believe we have cut a niche in this segment of the industry. We have over 120,000 public access phones, which is over 50% of the total market share. This is because at MTN, we always strive to do things differently and give our subscribers sustainable business, which is value for money,” he says.

“In a quest to reach the broadest possible audience, MTN together with the Grameen Foundation recently introduced the Unique Google SMS, a system designed to work with basic mobile phones,” Mwami explains.

Interestingly, the new service can be accessed by existing Village Phone Operators who can also extend the service to people without mobile phones as well as those who have their own phones.

Mwami explains that the Google SMS Search technology on the MTN network includes: Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts; Health tips which provides sexual and reproductive health information, paired with Clinic Finder, which helps locate nearby health clinics and their services.

“We are excited to take the next big step “” going from an innovative product development approach to scaling proven and sustainable applications across Uganda for the benefit of the poor and poorest,” Mwami says.

MTN’s commitment to investing in Uganda is additionally reflected in its corporate social investment programme. MTN invests in a variety of different projects to improve the quality of life in the communities in which it operates, including investing in housing and school projects, contributions to initiatives on HIV/AIDS, promoting rural development and job creation, sponsoring sporting activities, and investing in technical training.

“Steady growth in subscriber numbers in all our operations continues to strengthen the group’s leadership on the continent. The group remains well positioned to continue to spread its services into Africa through the roll out of value-enhancing services across the continent”, Mwami concludes.


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