Uganda’s Smart Telecom is closing operations at the end of August.
The company, which is owned by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), is only seven years old, but says the effects of Covid have forced the decision.
“The increase in operational challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic” led to the decision, said the company, according to the Ecofin news agency.
However, the regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), said only last month that the “sector … continues to demonstrate resilience as it weathers the storm driven by Covid-19”. It said subscriber numbers and revenue were both up in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period of 2020.
Smart Telecom, which is the brand name of Sure Telecom and is owned via an intermediary called Industrial Promotion Services (IPS) in Kenya, said all services will stop on 31 August.
Sure Telecom is not connected with the Batelco brand Sure that operates in the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and elsewhere.
We have contacted IPS to ask what will happen to the network and whether the owner plans to sell it. However the immediate automated response was: “We couldn’t send your message. Please try again in a few minutes.” Further attempts also failed.
According to the Ecofin report Smart Telecom told customers they should move to competing networks and said it would refund prepaid credit that extended into September.
According to the GSMA’s coverage maps there are nine mobile operators in Uganda, from Africell and Airtel to Uganda Telecom Mobile and Vodafone. The map shows that Smart has 2G and 3G coverage around the Kampala area only, and not elsewhere in the country.
Ecofin says that Smart Uganda saw its market share decline in 2019, during the onset of the global pandemic. It says that travel restrictions, “which have led to increased competition in the telecoms market, have largely benefited large operators such as MTN, Airtel, [and] Uganda Telecom. They had sufficient financial capacity to invest in strengthening and expanding their network to meet growing consumer demand across the country.”
The UCC said the number of customers in the country had grown from “27.7 million in December 2020 to 28.3 million accounts at the end of March 2021”, of which 21.5 million were broadband cellular subscriptions. Penetration is now almost 70%, said the regulator. The number of active mobile money accounts is now 20.3 million. Revenue was 7% up compared with the same period in 2020.
Smart Telecom still makes no reference to its decision on its website, which says: “Our approach is to bring AKFED’s social enterprise business model and reputation for innovation and customer service to telecommunications in Uganda.”
According to the website, Smart also has telecommunication operations in Burundi as a sister company called Smart Burundi. The company has not posted anything on its Facebook page since 4 January 2021.