Posts Tagged ‘mtn uganda’

Alternate Approach to Voice Price Wars in Telecom Industry in Uganda

My colleagues at Styx Technology Group are looking at alternate approaches to telecos in Uganda to increase their ARPU (Average Revenue Per Unit) a metric for revenue from each customer, instead of the current price war tagged to 3/= per second (US$ 0.1 per minute).

  1. Accept that voice is now commodity, being pushed further out by VOIP for both regular users and business, due to the improving Internet connectivity both via fixed and mobile connections. There is no longer a competitive edge to having cheaper voice, the revenues are fixed and can only go lower
  2. Bundled services: Currently there are separate plans for voice, SMS and data, which have to be purchased daily or when needed. The monthly plans have a premium attached, so without looking at the numbers I suspect that a majority of the regular users purchase daily plans as and when is needed. The telecoms can create bundled plans (already existing for voice) to include SMS and data without the hefty premium. Additional incentives can be provided for further discounts when a user pays consistently for a plan for 6 months, without any breaks.
  3. Smartphone Device and Service Contracts: While these are being gotten rid of in the US and Europe, the market in Uganda is ripe for disruption, where smartphones are paid over 12 to 24 months, with bundled services. Obviously the argument here is the risk associated with lending in Uganda, but options include partnering with financial institutions can help reduce the risk profile, work through employers to deduct the costs of the contract directly at source.
  4. Multiple Smartphone Data Plans: This is similar to the device plans above, however this allows the owner of the plan to register additional devices for monthly fee to share the data. This has been common with unlimited plans, and would provide a new revenue stream.
  5. Extending Mobile Money Services: The best service to copy is PayWay with a wide range of devices, and platforms on which to use the service based on what infrastructure the agent has. I would like to be able to swipe my VISA card and transfer money to my account without having to go through the bank interface which tends to be down more often than not.
  6. Bulk Sales of Devices to Schools: The new underlapped customer base, sell more devices to schools get parents to pay part of the costs to push e-education services, why do kids still have to fill Advanced Level and University Level choices on paper forms that can be lost? With powerful tablets in the $50 to $100 range only the telecoms have the clout, network and drive to push this through.
  7. Custom Devices and Services: These are for data collection needs, surveys etc, which can be accessed through third parties but pushing the envelope on what is possible. The key here is flexibility of service, enabling channel partners build and innovate by creating custom services and plans to meet their specific needs.
The telecoms need to think of blue ocean strategies to create new markets, provide ability for others to leverage their platform investments for new revenue channels, leveraging the example of Amazon that has created a multi-billion dollar technology infrastructure business based on solving internal problems.
What do you think?

UPDATE: This blog post follows the same thinking as The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond on this blog too

The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond

The telecom wars in Uganda just got a new lease in life, however looking forward the next round will claim some casualties. Why do I call this Round 5?

  1. Round 1 – Oct 21, 1998: MTN comes into Uganda, after a monopoly by Celtel (now Airtel) where simcards fell to the equivalent of US$30 with a monthly service fee of $10
  2. Round 2 – 2007 to 2009: Warid and Orange launch in Uganda, the Value Added Service Provider (VAS) boom, thanks to James Oloo Onyango for pointing this out
  3. Round 3 – 2009 to 2012: Mobile Money wars
  4. Round 4 – 2013 and 2014: Airtel acquires Warid telecom, Smart Telecom & Vodafone join the fray, MTN launches voice bundles

At this point each of the telcom companies operating in Uganda have voice bundles, data and internet plans plus mobile money platforms. With international calling plans falling towards zero, currently even cheaper than local network calls, social media/VOIP/Messaging applications cannibalizing SMS revenues, the battle for survival is ever-fierce with the any mis-step proving fatal.

Looking into my crystal ball, the next round is going to be fought along the following avenues:

  1. Mobile Money Partnerships – with banks, utilities, and other commercial players to entrench mobile money transfer deeper into the economics of the country.
  2. Service Partnerships – can be seen around data & internet services, so that the telecos are not reduced to dumb pipes. The agricultural, health and education sectors will see a new push for value added services via SMS in order to keep the users captive on a specific network.
  3. Personalized Bundles – combined voice, data and SMS bundles are not yet the rage, but they will gain prominence
  4. Family Bundles – with families having more than one phone, I see a push towards shared bundles to reduce the costs of new customer acquisition & increasing opportunity cost of switching. The impact of this tactic will be further complicated by the multi-sim phones that most consumers have.
  5. Smart device leasing plans – one I have called for, complicated by lack of a national ID, but I see success for whoever nails a working version of business model first.
  6. Business Customers: Majority of the telecom usage is personal, however business customers provide an interesting selling point with a knock on effect for smart devices, family or business plans and shared bundles. Most users are forced to use a service or network convenient to the bread winner or trend setter.
  7. Quality of Service: after all that is said and done, when the costs are almost at par, the quality of service for a specific provider will become a critical deciding factor both for business and personal use.

With all this opportunity also comes great peril, from the following:

  1. Niche players – ISPs for Internet and data as the capabilities for deploying metro-wide WIFI accelerate, informal money transfer services especially under Islamic banking
  2. Regulatory pitfalls and taxes – the impact of the recent 10% excise duty on mobile money fees is yet to be assessed
  3. Mobile Virtual Network Operators – are they friend or are they foe? Partner or competition if running atop of your infrastructure?
  4. Market saturation with falling revenues per customer – the telcos need to innovate to stay atop of the fast moving market that is to render them dumb pipes and their services commodity
  5. Number Portability – when this comes, it will disrupt the players as it abstracts the underlying providers.

How do you see the telecoms responding to these threats, please share in the comments below ….

UPDATE: Round 2 includes VAS providers who saw exponential growth in revenues at this time using SMS based solutions

Uganda Simcard Registration – Alternate Approach

By now all of you know that the mandatory simcard registration by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has gone naught, died a natural death like most Ugandan projects, a white elephant dead on conception. Sam Agona (http://www.samagona.org/?p=14) hit on the nail why UCC could not enforce its threat.

The approach I am proposing has the following strategic objectives:

  • Simplifying the process for the customer not the telecom providers
  • Centralized registration for telcos while segregating the data for each telco (Do I smell Number Portability ahead)
  • The minimum registration information for each telco is the same while allowing for each  telco to collect more data as may be required

The high-level architecture is as follows:

  • The telcos form a joint venture to manage the centralized registration system to keep it away from government to cater for privacy concerns, which can be mandated by the regulator or paid for from telco contributions to the regulator development fund 
  • Each telco pays based on the number of simcards registered – they are already paying agents a commission to register users anyway
  • The data for the subscribers for each telco are segreagated from each other but a user can access their registration information across the different telcos (technically this is no-longer a deal breaker)
  • A single set of mobile applications is used to register the customers – with each telco having an option to customize and brand the application for its own use
  • A unique sim-card registration number that’s only useable within this system, similar to the Financial Card Number for the credit reference bureau
  • Ability for a customer to add more simcards to their portfolio, does not have to be online or automated, but without the need for submitting all the documentation all over again
  • Support for business customers to register and maintain simcards (this also needs to be looked into as it can be used to circumvent why the registration was done in the first place
  • REQUIRED: An interface (not necessarily automated) to validate “official” documents like:
    • Passport – for Ugandans at least via Ministry of Internal Affairs
    • Drivers Licenses – Face Technologies – they already have tablets for Police to verify validity
    • NSSF Cards – okay I know these are not available but they took my photos and biometric
    • Corporation IDs (I am not sure how this would work since there are many briefcase companies abound)
    • Voter Registration cards – Electoral Commission?
    • Corporate Registration – Uganda Registration Services Bureau and Uganda Revenue Authority (TIN/VAT numbers)

The next question is who pays for the operations of this center which may be an annual service fee for the telcos based on the numbers of simcards maintained with fees for addition and removal of simcards,  “accurate and timely statistics” on Uganda mobile telco industry.

What are your thoughts? What else could be added?

Guide to Verifying Simcard Registration in Uganda

On March 5, 2012, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) launched a simcard registration exercise see my coverage at http://wp.me/pXn3W-4H. On February 28, 2013, all un-registered simcards will be switched off by the telecom providers so there is a concerted push to register the simcards. Estimates put registration at about 50%, but that number is to be put to the test at the end of the month.

This simple guide is to enable you to check for your registration (operators in alphabetical order)

UPDATE 3: November 2015 – all operators now use *197# and messages have also been updated

  1. Airtel – *197#
    • Response – SMS Message from KYC with text “Dear NAMES 075XXXXXXX,your Airtel Simcard has been sucessfully registered. You can now also send and receive Airtel Money”
  2. MTN  – *197*1#
    • Y’ello NAMES, your SIM card was registered successfully. Thank you for choosing MTN.
  3. Orange Uganda – *197#
    • Response -You have successfully registered 079xxxxxxx in the names of NAMES
  4. Smile Telecom – not offering mobile cellular services, all Internet customers are registered on signup
  5. Uganda Telecom – *123#
    • Response – Dear NAMES, your number 071XXXXXXX is now fully registered with Uganda Telecom. Thank u for choosing UTL. It’s all about U
  6. Warid Telecom –  *197# (same as Airtel above)

UPDATE: I have just been informed that dialing *197# can be used to check the registration status for any simcard (Thanks to alwangac via I-Network)
UPDATE 2: MTN simcard registration check is now functional

Did I miss anything or did this post help you, let me know

HTC Desire HD – My Journey

HTC Desire HD

HTC Desire HD

This is a review, a journey of enlightenment (that sounds so Zen), learning, and eye opening experience for a techie who has not used a smart phone at all. I am still in love with the Samsung SIII, and that is essentially my next smartphone …. but in the mean time I will love what I got, the HTC Desire HD. I still have my Nokia C200 which well works for 3 days, without need for a recharge, has primitive Facebook and Twitter so hey I got lots to compare with 🙂 Did I mention that the HTC and Nokia phones use the same data cable, well now that is a welcome feature since I can cut down on the cabling on my desk and travel bag.

The first thing I do for any computer that I get is upgrade it, thankfully the phone has inbuilt WIFI so all I did was turn on WIFI, and use the office wireless connection, now that is really neat. When I checked the HTSense 3.0 was upto date and the Android version 2.3.5 was the latest. There was no way to go any higher due to the 512MB ROM which was too small, again acceptance. Next step was to install Tweetdeck, yes, no Facebook since I am on a 30 day no Facebook diet, and I seem to be handling it very well btw.

Email next, both my work and personal email are Google, so I just fired up the pre-installed Gmail APP and we are off to the races. Syncing took a long time and later I found out why, my personal Gmail box is “big” with all sorts of emails, Linked In, Twitter, Newsletters, GitHub, MojoLive, GeekList, etc, so I configured my personal Gmail to only show emails from the priority inbox which makes it manageable.

Next test camera, but oh no, it does not work. Seems like the delivery man (who brought me the phone) decided to take the only thing that would not be missed, the microSD card, really!!! Now I gave up on that one till I bought a 2GB card, then wow!!! The camera is really good! Crisp clear photos

Still on the battery problem, seemed like I had turned on background sync for Twitter and Gmail so now I turned them off, installed Juice Defender following steps at  http://www.stephenjackel.com/2011/04/16/how-to-fix-battery-life-problem-on-htc-desire-hd-android-2-2-mobile-phone/ I still got my eye on the battery life.

Oh yes next battle, sharing my contacts with my Nokia, it has been my primary phone for over a year now (lovely feel and battery life), so I have a couple hundred contacts, which I have rebuilt after losing them a few weeks ago when the battery went dead and deleted everything. Using Google I found instructions at http://leetstreet.net/blog/2011/05/nokia/ which let me export all my contacts from Nokia into Google Contacts, and just sync them into the HTC. So all I need to do is add new numbers to the Nokia and HTC, and I am done, how so handy it has become that I add business cards as I get them from meeting to meeting ….

It seems like I am a fanboy, but I love the contact linking between Skype, Whatsapp, Google and my contact list, and I assume that once I get another Android gadget they will all be transferred to it, which is nyce given that all is then stored in the cloud.

Customizing the screen pages, well I love my right menu on my Nokia which gives me quick and easy access to the same menu items I have used for the last 10 years, Inbox, General Profile, Silent Profile, Task List, Calculator and I am done. I have mulitple tabs on Android so on my main screen (like my old feature phone) I have got Gmail, Twitter, Messages, Call historry, Contact list, opera mini and the default browser, Whatsapp (I find myself using it more and more). Now on the second screen I have got other common utilities, Camera (great quality), Gallery, Reader found books on here though I have failed to connect to Kobo for more books, iStoryBooks (a gold mine, my kids are loving my phone and wait eagerly to get at each book that I have downloaded), calculator, wordpress statistics for my blog, Google Talk, Flashlight, Google Playstore, Calendar, Evernote (trying to use it to share notes across everything), and Skype.

I also ran into a problem of syncing my calendar with my phone with the creation of duplicated events. This puzzled me till I remembered that I already have 2 way sync between my Google Calendar and MS Outlook, so syncing both with my phone creates two events. This one was cleared using instructions from http://sysadminspot.com/phones/delete-pc-sync-calendar-on-htc-desire/ So once that was done all I had to do was turn off the Outlook calendar event sync from HTC sense on my laptop and voila!! It was all good to go. So now I create an event in Outlook it ends up in Gmail and on my phone and vice versa, and I love it. So no more birthdays forgotten or events missed.

And oh yes I have been introduced to the pain of Internet bandwidth data caps, I found that I ran through 100MB in a week, yet I only use the mobile data when I am out office, I use the office WIFI when in office. I found that the cheapest bandwidth 30MB which is valid for 24 hours for 10 days is the same cost as 100MB which is valid for one month. So I will need to find a way to automate my daily purchases so that I do not have to go through the 6 steps to get around the USSD codes.

The major challenges, that I am still running into are battery life which dies after an hour or two of heavy use, when I go out for meetings so it’s tied to a USB port on my laptop, left the 240V power charger which uses USB too at home to make sure I have my bases covered. Also I found that using the power charger gets it full while the USB charger does not move it along as fast.

So HTC love your phone, but there is terrible battery life …

MeetMTN – MTN Uganda Executive Management Town Hall Meeting

Well 2012 is upon us, and the incubmbent US President Barack Obama, has started his battle for a second term in office, so that he can complete the change that he promised the American people. The battle for his first term was epic, first against Ms. Hillary Clinton, which intially changed from a David vs Goliath story to a battle of titans that he won. The one against the Republican was a massacre as Mr. John Mccain shot himself in the foot and head one campaign after another.

Why all this about President Obama, well one of his campaign tactics was town hall style meetings in different towns, and constitencies in order to connect with the people in the ground, and hear what they have to say directly.

Teleport straight to Uganda the Pearl of Africa, home to great beauty among other things, as well as to multi-national corporations which are running a large chunk of the core economy activities. Well these corporations have been facing a backlash with regard to service delivery over the last few years (which was terrible), the wrath of most was directed to UMEME the national power distributor due to the incessant power shortages which sort of brought the economy to its knees in 2011. At the height of the backlash, UMEME started to reach out to the populace to inform and educate the general public who did not understand their roles, challenges and strategies for attacking the rampant power problem. One of these events was a Tea Party for social media enthusiasts – bloggers and tweeps covered here https://ssmusoke.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/umeme-tea-party-quick-and-dirty-review-and-perspective/.

Well MTN Uganda, the largest telco by market share, numbers and revenues, has also reached out using a similar strategy this time called MeetMTN, where tweeps and bloggers were invited to meet the MTN executive management to discuss issues pertaining to service delivery and what is being done to work around the known issues.

Here is a summary of the major issues raised during the meeting, and responses from MTN executives who attended:

1. Provision of an API for Mobile Money and development of a partner ecosystem – information on when an API will be provided for mobile money as the largest provider and one with the largest reach. From the recently completed startup weekend, 12 of the 13 startup ideas depend on Mobile Money for payments. However no details of the availability of an API for 3rd parties were given citing a need not to commit to predefined dates. .The API is coming soon

2. Staff Attrition – there are rumours in the grapevine that there is a higher than normal attrition rate of talent over the last quarter, and whether this is one of the root causes of the recent outages and lowered quality of service delivery. The CEO mentioned that MTN leverages its regional strengths, but focuses on developing the local talent within the countries that MTN operates.

3. Service Health Dashboard – whether its possible to provide a public dashboard on the health of different services, inspired by Google approach. Also whether it was possible to spread information on service slowdowns and outages through different channels, Facebook/Twitter/Website/SMS, Radio/TV and customer service centers for extended service outages.

4. Lottery Games – there was a game which involved amassing points by answering questions for a chance to win UGX 10,000 (~US$4,000), and one of the attendees played the game using his family resources, and his wife almost divorced him. He was wondering how many points were needed to win the prizes so that he would be contented. The executives thanked him for playing and wished him better luck next time.

5. Unsolicited, Spam and Junk SMS messages plus hidden charges from content providers licensed by MTN and the company itself – There are many SMS messages for caller ring back tones, both from MTN and licensed content providers both as spam and also unknown activations which charge user numbers. We were informed of a blacklist code to enter I seem to have forgotten it, but this is not publizied … similar to US “Do Not Call Registry”

6. Does MTN Sell Customer numbers to content providers – MTN does not sell numbers to content providers, however these numbers are collected as part of normal usage for example promotions etc which may be done by friends, relatives. Ms. Maureen Agena of Text-to-Change also provided her organization’s experience with collecting targetted numbers which corroborates the information and policies from the executive.

7. Postpaid Service upgrade – customers on post paid services cannot upgrade data bundles in case they run out on a pay-as-you go service once the post paid bundle runs out. The executive informed us that the billing platform for all services is converged therefore this should be cleared in the very near future.

8. Hoax Promotions – there are cases when a promotion sale of phones or devices is announced, but they are not available because they were gobbled up by MTN staff. Management promised to look into this

9. IPV6 Migration – internal testing is in progress, but roll out to all customers is not confirmed until the services are confirmed as stable

10. SME Pricing – there seem to be no plans geared towards the SME sector as the current plans are either consumer (too expensive for SME at retail rates), or Enterprise (capex and opex costs too high for SME)

UPDATES – from Reader Feedback:

11. Simcard registration process and charges – there are claims of some agents charging for sim-card registrations, bu there is no charge for sim-card registrations. Also MTN intends to use this exercise as a “Know Your Customer” exercise and to deal with the spam/junk SMS message problem highlighted above.

12. Mobile Hotspots – the internet is not usable in a few parts of the country, and it would be better if there were hotspots at least in the urban areas, so that customers do not need dongles but just connect, and pay for usage. The technical team informed us that this was something that they were considering.

13. Internet Bundles using airtime once they expire without approval – currently once the Internet bundles expire the user’s airtime is charged which is the default option. There are ways around this and MTN intends to educate its customers on how to use these options

14. Slow Speed of the Website – the website is too slow, actually one of the slowest in Uganda, and the website self service features do not work. The website is currently being upgraded for speed and features, and a new one will be unveiled soon (BTW this is very embarrassing for multi-national telcom company).

Overall the interactions were excellent, and the available MTN staff were knowledgeable of subject matter they were discussing, which left a ray of hope that finally the behemoth is listening to its customers. Obviously the gift packs at the end made the trip worthwhile too. In closing I would like to say again as I did on Twitter:

“The only way @MTNUGANDACARE can support #startups and #enterprenurs is to provide a #mobilemoney #API #MeetMTN”

If I missed anything, just let me know …

Launch of Sim Card Registration by Uganda Communications Commission – March 5, 2012

It is a Monday morning, and 7:00am as requested I am at the Sheraton Kampala for the launch of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) official launch of the sim card registration which requires all mobile phone users to register their sim cards with the Telcos. The telecoms are setting up registration tents outside so I think I will register my 4 (yes four) sim cards today and get it over and done with.

I already have my finger prints and photos taken for my drivers license, have my details also taken by two telecoms (MTN and UTL) for their mobile money services. Not forgetting I have to register with the other two telecoms for their mobile money services too 🙂

Today is the stakeholder launch and the public launch will be on March 24, 2012 at Nakivubo stadium. In attendance are the top guns of the telecoms, Security Minister and Inspector General of Police, Executive Director NITAU, members of parliament so it seems like the project has political buy-in. The social and technical challenges well are still yonder.

The driving factor for the sim registration is to curb the wave of crime perpetuated by explosion of mobile usage in Africa over the last decade based on the numbers from the ITU. This explains why the advertising theme for the sim card registration is “Make Communications Safe” and the messages are: no more hiding by bullies and conmen/conwomen, sim people have bad intentions. However this begs the question “Are there no positive messages to show how beneficial it is to register the sim cards?”

Critical issues that I am looking to see mentioned better still addressed:

1. Is the information to be synchronized across the different telecoms? – Answer: Each telco is charged with registering the subscribers within their network and securely storing the information within their system. This raises a question of interoperability between the information stored by the different operators on their systems.

2. Is the sim card registration also to be synced with mobile money registration too, or are they to be kept separate?

3. How are privacy implications to be addressed? Answer – This is the responsibility of the different telecoms overseen by UCC. The government is reassuring the public that the telecom providers will protect this information. With no details this is out in the wild.

4. How is this process to be scaled to the 40% sim card users in the rural populations who actually do not have any form of registration?

5. How will corporate registrations of sim cards to be handled?

6. How will this link up with all the other registration systems, National ID, Drivers license, Credit Reference Bureau, and any new ones that will be thought up too …?

7. How will verification of the registration information be done, do we assume that all who register are using their real names and information? Answer – the government will no tolerate any such activities

8. Who owns the registration information – the telecoms, UCC, Government of Uganda, the registrants? Answer – The information seems to be owned by the telecoms who capture the subscriber information.

I have registered my 4 sim cards on all services and here is my take on the operational challenges so far:

1. This is a chance for the service providers to sell their mobile money services, since the sim card registration is invariably mobile money registration too. This puts pressure on the incumbent MTN Uganda which has the largest foot print

2. The telcoms are ill prepared for the logistical nightmare that the sim card registration calls for, and will put pressure on their earnings for the next 2 years. We were only about 100 people at the stakeholder launch, but it took almost 20min at each providers stall. Mulitply this 10,000 fold and you get the picture with only 10% of estimated subscribers covered. Lessons from credit reference bureau service roll-out planning should have been used as it was done to over 500,000 bank account holders and was tied to regulatory compliance by financial institutions.

3. The duplication of efforts is daunting. My opinion is that UCC should have forced the telcoms to come together and carry out this registration as a block for it to be successful.

4. Information privacy is still a major issue which has not been addressed, we are being told to trust the telecoms.

5. There is no verification of information, and it is easy to get and use forged credentials for sim card registration which becomes official. This could have been simplified if the registration has been done by a block of telecoms.

On a parting note, as I always have them Isiah Katumwa’s saxophone playing is off the hook, what talent…

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