Since Celtel (today Zain) launched Uganda’s first mobile network in 1995, followed by MTN in 1998,Uganda has witnessed a revolution in mobile growth. In 1999, Uganda became the first country on the African continent where the number of mobile subscribers passed the number of fixed-line users. This is because there were, and still are, so few fixed-lines in place. The telecommunication sector transformed when the market opened up. First out was Uganda Telecom Ltd in 2001 followed by Warid Telecom in 2008. Orange entered in 2009 after buying a majority stake in the country’s fifth mobile licence, HITS Telecom, and pledged to invest hundreds of millions of US dollars. Two interesting lowcost operators have recently entered the market. Smile Communication of South Africa, which is one of the first VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) over WiMAX phone and service on the African continent, and I-Tel Ltd of Uganda who are using CDMA technology. The entrance of Smile and I-Tel Ltd brings the number of operating companies to seven, and yet more operators are knocking on the door.
Despite the fact that the market is consistently growing, penetration rate is still low below the African average of 33% (ITU 2009a). This indicates that SIM cards and handsets remain beyond the reach of the masses in terms of affordability. In order to address this and other access related problems, Uganda,as one of the first countries in Africa, developed a policy on universal access and set up a Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF) in 2001. Operators in Uganda have to pay a 1% levy on revenues to this fund, money that is later used to implement internet points of presence, internet cafés and public pay phones in rural areas.
Most key policies, laws and regulations are in place: Uganda Communications Act of 1997, National ICT Policy of 2003, and various supporting regulations came in force 2005. Also, a simplified licensing regime has significantly reduced barriers to market entry and increased competition, which has lead to lowered tariff rates across the sector. In 2008, as the market’s old trio of Zain, MTN and Uganda Telecom Ltd prepared to take on new entrants Warid and Orange, they lowered the tariff rates by 10%.
The key players in the sector are:
• The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (www.ict.go.ug/) that was established in 2006. It has a mandate to provide overall coordination, support and advocacy on all matters of policy, laws, regulations and strategy for the ICT sector in Uganda. The Ministry has divided the sector into three levels: policy, regulatory and operational. The operational level is composed of telecommunications, postal and broadcasting operators. The regulatory level is composed of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U).
• The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC, www.ucc.co.ug/) is the regulatory body in charge of the communications sector in Uganda with the principal goal of developing of a modern communications sector and infrastructure in the country. Recently merged with the Broadcasting Council and will thereby oversee both communication and broadcasting matters.
• NITA-U was set up in 2009 to coordinate, promote and monitor ICT development within the context of national, social and economic development.