Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has revealed that the typical internet subscriber in Uganda consumes an average of 1.7 gigabytes of data per month. This level of data usage translates to an expenditure of at least Shs5,000.
Ms. Irene Kaggwa, the Executive Director of UCC, explained that this Shs5,000 represents the base cost for an average of 1.5 gigabytes, which telecom companies offer in their monthly data packages, with an additional 200 megabytes provided as a top-up offer. The calculation is based on actual data traffic versus telecom revenue.
According to UCC’s market performance report for the quarter ending in March, data usage by Ugandans increased from 1.6 gigabytes per user in December 2022 to 1.7 gigabytes in March. However, the report also noted a 6 percent reduction in data expenditure, indicating that consumers spent less while using more data.
Interestingly, data usage reported by users and telecom operators differs from what UCC reported. For example, Airtel reported a rise in monthly data usage per customer from 3.7 gigabytes in the previous year to 4.5 gigabytes.
In a simple survey of internet users, Ms. Christine Tusiime, a teacher and creative dancer, stated that she spends Shs150,000 per month, allocating Shs5,000 daily for two gigabytes to maintain her social media presence. In contrast, Mr. Jowet Matsiko, a tour operator, opts for freedom bundles, spending Shs20,000 for 5.2 gigabytes for research, current affairs, and social media. On the other hand, Mr. Mahad Bweyongera utilizes workplace WiFi, supplementing his monthly spending of Shs4,000 with two subscriptions of Shs2,000 for 500 megabytes each.
Mr. David Birungi, the Public Relations Manager of Airtel, attributed the relatively low average of 1.7 gigabytes per month to the high cost of devices, particularly smartphones and laptops, which limits their penetration and, consequently, data usage.
The UCC report indicated significant growth in internet traffic, rising from 91.4 million gigabytes in March the previous year to 138.5 million. Fixed internet traffic in homes and offices increased by 48 percent, while mobile traffic grew by 51 percent. Data consumption rose from 3.88 gigabytes to 5.1 gigabytes compared to March the previous year, with internet subscriptions increasing by 1.2 million to reach 27 million.
Ms. Rebecca Mukite, the UCC’s Public and International Relations Officer, clarified that the 27 million subscriptions represent the number of SIM cards used for data services, including both mobile and fixed internet connections. The increased access to the internet via mobile devices and data devices like tablets pushed the penetration rate from 57 percent to 59 percent.
Data remains a significant revenue source for telecoms, trailing only voice services in profitability. For instance, in the first half of the year, MTN reported earnings of Shs290 billion from its 6.9 million active data subscribers, driven by a focus on smartphone adoption and growing demand for data services from enterprises. Airtel also relies on data as a key revenue stream, with expectations that it will contribute around 35 percent of its revenue in the near future.
During the period ending in March, the number of devices accessing telecom networks increased by 3 percent, reaching 39.1 million. This growth was primarily due to increased adoption of smart and feature devices, growing by 3 percent quarter-on-quarter to 12.6 million and 24.5 million, respectively. In contrast, basic mobile handsets declined by 9 percent to 1.85 million.
The continuous trend of adopting smart and feature phones indicates ongoing technological advancements and the market’s adaptability to new hardware, such as e-SIM cards, and the growth of digitization and e-commerce.
Compared to March 2021, the number of devices accessing telecom networks has increased by four million, rising from 35.1 million to 39.1 million at the end of March 2022. This growth is primarily driven by smart devices at 21 percent and feature devices at 17 percent, while basic handsets continue to decline, dropping by 49 percent.
The increase in smartphone adoption is crucial in expanding internet access, which, in turn, is expected to boost the growth of various virtual services, including internet and digital banking. This growth will also play a key role in enhancing virtual health and educational services and supporting research-based technology in various study areas.
Over the years, Uganda has witnessed a rapid increase in internet penetration, leading to the development of numerous services and revenue streams, particularly for telecom companies.