Uganda telecom (utl) in 2007 earmarked $150m (about sh244b) for an expansion programme to guarantee the swelling subscriber base with a quality all-round telecom services by August. Mohammed Ghadfi, the chief technical officer, told James Odomel about the massive project.
QUESTION: Briefly, tell us about the project?
ANSWER: Network expansion is a philosophy that has been entrenched into our work ethic.
We have made a pledge to go where we were not before.
In some places, there are even towns where you can only get connected if you are on utl only.
Given that our network is â€˜all about youâ€™ the customer, we have designed our business module around this motto that has seen us go to places where people are in need of reliable and clear connectivity in order to be able to communicate with each other as well as with the outside world.
In directing our business module towards fulfilling this philosophy, we set out to install 271 additional base stations nationwide which we believe will give us the signal in any part of the country.
What should customers expect from this project?
We are the only telecommunications company in the country that does not depend on the provision of services through GSM (mobile) only.
As the leader in the telecommunications industry, we take pride in the fact that we are able to provide services using other options such as the wireless landline network system and the wired landline system which is supported by our strong copper links that account for 90% of the internet and leased line connectivity countrywide.
All these are major areas we would like to strategically focus on in this expansion programme not forgetting the digital satellite linkages which are currently supported through our Mpoma Satellite Station, the largest in East and Central Africa.
Wonâ€™t this aggressive expansion programme compromise quality?
The capacity of any GSM network is entirely dependant on the capacity of the core network that you choose to install.
When we begun this expansion programme, our customer base was barely 600,000.
But at that time we were able to sustain up to a million subscribers.
As we speak, we stand at a base of 1.5 million subscribers but the system is already able to support up to two million subscribers.
Our customer base is expected to hit the two-million-mark by the time of completion of the expansion in August.
We will have expanded our core network to handle a capacity of up to three million customers.
For us this nationwide capacity will not only benefit homes, businesses and roaming individuals but it will also cover our data link users such as government agencies, banks, hotels, trading companies and other persons transmitting vital secure information vie e-mail and sharing of data bases.
How much progress has been made in the expansion project?
When we started, our initial target was to cover 80% of the territory of Uganda by installing base stations in strategic densely populated urban and peri-urban areas.
We have actually already switched on 150 base stations which have seen our network clarity improve. For instance, in areas where you initially would experience two network bars on your phone, you can now enjoy a full network bar.
Some of such areas include the whole of northern and the West Nile regions where we have already begun reaping big as evidenced by the over 100% growth in our sales volumes.
By end of August, we will have completed the last phase which involves the installation of other base stations which will be about strengthening our network signal and increasing clarity.
This makes up for the total 271 additional base stations that should be up and running by August. After the completion of this stage, we will expect our customers to enjoy a full network quality service.
Broadly speaking, how would the public and the local communities benefit from this expansion?
Our customers are the main reason why we invested more than $150m into this project.
Better connectivity, call clarity and affordable communication, is the promise that we have always given to our customers and to be able to keep that promise this investment was virtually inevitable.
What will be your next focus after this project?
We need to understand that people need to communicate.
They need to talk, listen, and to have that human link. Anyone who will be able to bring all those things into one neat package will be the hero to the customer and possibly everyone. uganda telecom has so far brought 3G technology where the customers can for instance watch live television, enjoy video calls and mobile high data speed connectivity.
In addition to the Blackberry services and the storage solution, we have a live Next Generation Network (NGN).
The NGN is one of the most ambitious network rollouts to date in Africa. This network aims to have a full packet network using IP for transport, switching and services. Previously, every service required its own network.
How is this different from what was covered under the network expansion?
We feel very personally that we are a home-grown company, one that is truly Ugandan.
Jointly as a management team, we want even grandmothers to be able to enjoy video calls with their grandchildren who may be far away.
Communication brings people closer. It makes distance disappear.
utl spends sh244b in expansion drive