Realising East Africa's potential
With acting MD Arindam Chakrabarty in post, Airtel Uganda have witnessed continuous steady growth in the telecoms and ICT industry
Writer Emily Jarvis
Project Manager Donovan Smith
Airtel are one of the world's leading providers of telecommunication services with significant presence in 20 countries, with 17 of these being in Africa. The population of these 20 countries represents around 26% of the world's population.
In Uganda, Airtel is the 2nd largest telecoms operator and although mobile penetration in Uganda is around 50-60 percent, the market continues to show considerable potential, with growth being driven by increased data usage and boasting an estimated overall growth rate of 6%.
Airtel Uganda's product offerings include 2G and 3G wireless services, mobile commerce, fixed line services, enterprise services including national and international long distance services. "We have a unique and strong three-pronged value proposition that we believe is behind our continued growth in this market. Our service delivery is based on affordability, availability and accessibility of voice, data products and mobile money," says acting Managing Director Arindam Chakrabarty.
The introduction of mobile telephony has revolutionised Uganda's telecommunications industry; the market remains overcrowded which has led to a price war and consolidation among the operators. However, some of the competition has left the market in recent years. "In light of some operators exiting the market, Airtel intends to make additional investments in Uganda, insuring our customer experience is superior in terms of its value and quality."
The Vibrant Legacy of Airtel
Since the rebrand in 2010, the Airtel name came with a promise to meet the emerging needs of customers with innovative, affordable and relevant solutions to empower consumers, giving them the freedom to do what they choose, providing them with the tools to meet life's daily challenges. To reinforce this rebranding strategy, the firm was recently awarded the Super Brand 2014 and best employee motivation initiative from the Federation of Uganda Employers for the Employer of the Year awards 2014.
"The last 12-18 months have seen a great deal of change at Airtel Uganda. Perhaps the major development would be the merger with Warid Telecom, which saw our network of subscribers grow to over 7.2 million under the Airtel brand. This was also the first telecom merger to happen in Africa and we are proud to say that one and a half years later, we have grown much stronger," highlights Chakrabarty. Moreover, Airtel are engaged in providing employment to over 100,000 people across the country through both direct and indirect employment opportunities.
Airtel have seen their market share grow consistently. This is down to a number of factors including the exemplary service and the network quality, and their successful foothold in the data market. Being landlocked, the country depended entirely on satellites for its international connectivity until 2009, when several international submarine fibre optic cables landed on the African east coast. Uganda is now connected via a national fibre backbone extending to its borders with neighbouring coastal countries. By 2013, prices for international bandwidth had fallen to a fraction of their original cost, but retail pricing of broadband services is still relatively expensive, especially when considering purchasing power parity. However, wireless and mobile technologies such as WiMAX, EV-DO, HSPA and lTE are now putting the internet within reach of a much wider part of the population than traditional fixed-line DSL services have in the past. These improvements in infrastructure are revolutionising the market and enabling converged voice, data and digital media services, which is a huge advantage for Airtel Uganda.
"Additionally, we have also seen a major uptake of our Airtel Money product. I believe that the versatility of this product is what attracts consumers to it. What started out as a money sharing mobile platform has evolved to include payment of utility bills and taxes. We have ventured into a number of partnerships, as we try to further advance the abilities of Airtel Money," cites Chakrabarty.
Airtel customers can also purchase fuel from their Airtel money accounts; which has come as a result of their partnership with total Fuel Stations. What's more, the company recently partnered with Barclays Bank to enable Bulk Payment solutions for their subscribers. Organisations can now transfer funds in the form of salaries and allowances to their employees using this service. "These are just a taste of the things happening at Airtel. We have a host of products, campaigns and partnerships that enable us to deliver exceptional service to the Ugandan market," says Chakrabarty.
At Airtel Uganda, social responsibility goes beyond giving to charities and the need extends to every aspect of the business, making it a vital part of their "DNA" as Chakrabarty further explains: "We are involved in a number of projects that help the young people of our country realise their potential through a holistic approach to education and use of technology." under the Our School Initiative, Airtel adopts and upgrades the physical infrastructure of under privileged schools. "So far we have adopted three schools since the programmes inception in 2011 and donated/built among others, well stocked school libraries, sanitation facilities, water harvesting systems, lightning conductors to ensure safety of the children, scholastic materials and had our staff members participate in all these activities," Chakrabarty adds.
To give the children an all-round education platform, children between 11-17 years take part in the annual Airtel Rising Stars tournament; the largest pan African football talent program which focuses on identifying and nurturing budding talent from the grassroots to a national platform. In partnership with Arsenal FC, the children have an opportunity to attend training clinics that expose them to the game of football under the careful tutelage of Arsenal coaches and trainers. "Notably, 4 of the children that played in the recent under 17 games of Uganda Vs Rwanda were a product of Airtel Rising Stars," comments Chakrabarty.
Among other initiatives are the Connecting Digital Hubs; a partnership with British Council in which Uganda has connected 14 Digital hubs across Uganda with data to ensure that children, adults and trainers are well conversant with the use of internet to connect to a world of opportunities with valuable information and research.
What makes Airtel Different?
There are a few factors that Airtel consider make them stand out from an ever-crowding market: "For one, all our promotions and tariffs are clear and transparent. With us, what you see is what you get. We don't have hidden terms and conditions. When customers make a call they get a call notification which tells them how long the call is and how much it cost and how much is left on the tariff – this way the customer is always aware of their usage. It helps them budget and our customers like that type of service. Secondly, our call centre is always on hand to assist our customers. Thirdly, we continually invest in improving our service, networks and customer service. We never stop looking for ways to improve. We also have extremely fast broadband speeds and competitive tariffs, whilst focusing on providing the best service around. We don't want to be the largest; we want to be the most loved brand in Africa and the most loved brand in the daily lives of Ugandans," Chakrabarty concludes.