Ugandans Talk on Phone for 17.6 Billion Minutes in Three Months

by Christopher Kiiza
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In a remarkable telecommunications milestone, Ugandans collectively spent an astounding 17.6 billion minutes talking over the phone within just three months of January to March 2023.

The latest market performance report from the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) reveals that this was a 3% growth from the previous quarter.

“In the quarter ending March 2023, the market observed a 3% growth in domestic voice traffic, with a total count of 17.6 billion minutes in domestic talk time. Of these, 0.2 billion minutes were off-net whereas 17.4 billion were on-net minutes,” the report reads in part.

On-net which stands for on-network, refers to voice calls made between two parties who are both using the same telecommunications network or service provider. For instance, MTN to MTN calls or Airtel to Airtel calls.

Calls within the same network are considered on-net calls and may be subject to special pricing or included in bundled plans since they stay within the provider’s infrastructure.

On the other hand, off-net which stands for off-network, refers to voice calls made between two parties who are using different telecommunications networks or service providers. For instance, MTN to Airtel calls and vice versa.

Off-net calls typically involve interconnection between different networks, and they may incur additional charges, especially if the providers have to pay each other for routing the call across their networks.

At the end of March 2023, the growth observed in the off-net segment (15%) outmatches that of the on-net voice traffic segment (3%) by 5 times.

This may be indicative of the behavioral/ consumption changes as consumers gradually switch from the on-net only voice centric bundles to the all-bundle (off-net – on net combos) value prepositions offered by the different Mobile Network Operators (MNOs).

On a year-on-year comparison, the market has posted a 7% growth in domestic voice minutes from 16.4 billion minutes in March 2022 to 17.6 billion minutes in March 2023.

This is a positive sign for the telecommunications sector as it indicates that people are still using voice calls to communicate with each other, despite the rise of other forms of communication such as messaging and video calls.

International Voice Traffic

In line with other domestic voice traffic trends, the international traffic segment (international phone calls) experienced a 1% increase in traffic from the end of December 2022 to March 2023. During this quarter, a total of 29.7 million minutes of international traffic were recorded across all networks, marking an increase from 29.5 million minutes in the quarter ending December 2022.

Out of the 29.7 million minutes, 10.3 million minutes were outgoing international, while 19.4 million minutes were calls terminated to Uganda from international destinations in the quarter ending March 2023.

In a year-on-year comparison, international voice traffic has remained steady with consistent average growth of 1% since 2022. However, in the 12 months leading up to March 2023, a 2% growth in international voice traffic was observed.

Telephone Subscriptions

During the quarter (January to March 2023), the industry witnessed a notable increase, adding a total of 1.08 million new mobile subscriptions.

“As a result, the overall subscriptions count has now reached 34.3 million, reflecting a 3% increase in comparison to the previous quarter. Fixed lines maintained a count of 0.116 million subscriptions. The growth in subscriptions can be attributed to the resumption of business activities after the festive season in December 2022,” the report reads.

In the quarter, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) released population projections for the year 2023. According to these projections, the total national population is estimated to be 45.5 million Ugandans, up from the 2022 estimate of 43.2 million.

Consequently, the baseline for computing telecom penetration has equally shifted, resulting in a new telephony subscriptions penetration rate of 75 active lines per 100 Ugandans, down from 77 in the quarter ending December 2022.

Year On Year Fixed & Mobile Subscriptions Growth

At the end of March 2023, there was a remarkable 12% increase in subscriptions compared to the new subscriptions recorded in the same period ending December 2022.

“This consistent growth in subscriptions during the post-Christmas festivities between the quarters has resulted in a net addition of over 2 million new fixed and mobile telephone subscriptions in the last two years since 2021.”

Internet Subscriptions

In the quarter ending March 2023, the report says internet subscriptions experienced significant growth, adding 1.2 million new internet subscriptions and reaching a total of 27 million.

This marks the second consecutive quarter of positive growth, indicating a sustained upward trend in internet adoption.

UCC attributes the rise in subscriptions to increased internet access through mobile handsets and other data devices like tablets.

It adds that the growth can be attributed to the Telecom industry’s “aggressive campaigns” promoting Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) packages and Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as the car tracking devices.

The growth in internet subscriptions results in an internet penetration rate of 59 per 100 Ugandans, considering the estimated population of 45.5 million for the year 2023. This represents a 2% rise from the 57 per 100 Ugandans recorded in December 2022.

Comparing year-on-year data, there is an increase of 3.4 million active internet connections in the 12 months leading up to March 2023. This represents a 14% rise in Internet connections having grown by a factor of 1.7 since March 2022.

Registered Mobile Money Connections

Over the course of three months – January to March 2023, the total count of registered mobile money accounts (Quarterly MM subscriptions) increased from 36.8 million to 37.3 million, reflecting a growth of more than 500,000 new accounts.

This growth in registered mobile money accounts represents half the number of new mobile lines registered during the same period.

In regard to account activity, mobile money active accounts in the 90-day period grew from 25.2 million in the previous quarter to 26 million in March 2023.

In addition, the agent footprint remained consistent, boasting a total count of 472,000 agents across the country. This represents approximately 55 active wallets per agent.

In year-on-year terms, the industry has experienced an increase of 4 million new registered mobile money accounts, reflecting a 12% growth since March 2022. Further, 90-day active new accounts demonstrated notable growth as well, with an addition of 2.4 million new accounts, representing a 10% increase

Network Connected Devices

The number of devices accessing the Telecom network in Uganda witnessed a 3% growth from December 2022 to March 2023, reaching a total of 39.1 million.

“This surge is largely attributed to the increasing adoption of smart and feature devices, which grew by 3% quarter-on-quarter to 12.6 million and 24.5 million, respectively,” the report reads.

However, the count of basic handsets declined by 9% to 1.85 million handsets during the same period. The net addition of 958,000 new mobile devices aligns with the number of new active SIM cards registered in the three months leading up to March 2023.

The continuous trend of adopting smart and feature gadgets signals ongoing technological advancements and showcases the market’s adaptiveness to new hardware releases, such as e-sims as well as the growth in digitalization and e-commerce.

In contrast to March 2021, the devices accessing Ugandan networks have increased by 4 million new devices, soaring from 35.1 million to 39.1 million at the end of March 2022.

This growth is largely driven by smart devices, that account for 21%, followed by feature devices at 17%. Conversely, basic handsets continue to witness a sharp 49% decline, which could be a sign of smartphone affordability.

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