Airtel Uganda: market too small for seven players

27 Nov 2014

Airtel, Uganda’s second largest cellco by subscribers, has said that the local market is too small to support seven mobile operators. Airtel’s managing director Tom Gutjahr told Reuters: ‘It’s an absolute illusion to believe that four, five, six mobile operators can ever be profitable in one country. It’s unlikely that the smaller companies will get profitable any time soon.’ Besides Airtel, Uganda’s mobile market is home to market leader MTN plus Uganda Telecom Ltd (UTL), Orange/Africell, i-Tel, Smart Telecom and Smile Communications.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the country currently has around 22.6 million mobile subscribers, giving a population penetration of approximately 60%, though multiple SIM ownership is common so the actual penetration figure is likely to stand at around 45%. Airtel acquired Warid Telecom in 2013 to consolidate its second position in the market, and further buys could be on the cards, with Gutjahr saying that his company would look at any ‘interesting offers’.