Six years and more than 600,000 customers. Once again MTN Uganda is celebrating
their anniversary. The company, which set up shop here on
October 21, 1998, has over the past six years set the trend
for telecommunications growth and development, not only in
Uganda but also in the region. In this interview with Elizabeth
Kameo, the Chief Executive Officer Noel Meier says
the company is still committed to meeting the expectations
of the public:
Can you briefly take us through the milestones MTN
has achieved in the last one year with you as the CEO?
I got here a year ago and we saw a complete change in terms
of management in MTN. We saw people like Thomas Bragaw, my
predecessor; Erik [Van Veen], leaving the company, and a lot
of changes took place from the management perspective.
This brought a lot of sensitivity amongst the people, wondering
if there would be life after these guys. My arrival coincided
with MTN achieving its vision of being the leading telecommunications
operator in East Africa after a mere five years of operation.
That is no mean achievement.
Today we have just achieved over 600,000 customers. We have
been achieving something like a 65 percent share of the monthly
growth in connection. This illustrates a lot of things about
this operation in terms of quality and breadth of coverage.
We kicked off this year with complete replacement of our
prepaid platform. Our whole prepaid switch was replaced with
state-of-the-art Ericsson product, and then we came to market
with some changes to our whole way of offering products.
For example, the official launch of Kapyata. And the mere
fact that we had taken the huge step of doing away with service
fee seemed to be lost in the clutter. Bottom line is we have
seen incredible growth over the past five months. I think
to illustrate the growth, we have actually acquired more customers
in the last five months than one of our competitors has acquired
in eight years.
After six years in operation, is MTN still rolling
out coverage, and if yes, why?
Our coverage rollout is not stopping. We have rolled out
about 30 base stations this year throughout Uganda, and what
is interesting is, I attended the launch in Kazo two weeks
ago and even after six years of existence and after seeing
this enormous growth in mobile [phone use], you could still
see the excitement being generated in the rural areas. So
we need to make use of basic telecommunications.
Over the past year, MTN Uganda has launched new products
on the market; how successful have they been?
If we look at some of the products we have been able to launch,
there is Me2U, which is an SMS-based service that enables
one person to transfer money from his phone to another.
Prepaid customers can now select a package to suit them.
It is incredible the way customers have taken to the YelloGo
product. We are looking to increase our dealer footprint with
an innovative philosophy and strategy “Y’ello
store next door.”
This is part of our initiative to ensure the arms-length
distribution so that when customers run out of airtime, they
stretch out their hands and there is a distributor or dealer.
We have also enabled the availability of our products through
more of the fuel companies. The look and feel of our service
centre has changed and the typical example of that is the
new service centre at Lugogo, the first of its kind to be
built outside South Africa. Our call centre right now, thanks
to a real focused approach, is achieving an answer rate of
85 percent. We are meeting the quality standards we set.
Other developments are in the public accessory. The MTN village
phone initiative continues to grow from strength to strength.
Then there is the MTN Publicom, and it is probably one of
the few profitable pay phones in the world.
How far has MTN Uganda gone with installing the Fibre
As you know, MTN Uganda achieved an Africa first in terms
of its fibre optic project here in Kampala. Besides, fibre
has also been extended from Kampala to Masaka, and we are
in the process of installing a fibre from Masaka to Mbarara.
Once the fibre has been installed right through to Mbarara,
we are also providing a link by microwave from Mbarara through
to Masindi and from Masindi back to Kampala. This basically
gives us a complete transmission ring, which in technical
terms we refer to as a self-healing ring. In the event of
failure in any particular segment of the network, the calls
and transmission are basically diverted into another direction.
The end result is high quality service. We have targeted to
complete this initiative by the end of December.
Six years down the road and MTN Uganda is still a
success story; what is behind this success?
Very strong brand and I think our approach, is in building
a brand that also engenders trust — doing what we say
we are going to do and maintaining a high level of quality
and listening to our customers. I think what is also vital
is to be seen to be ploughing back, having effective Corporate
Social Responsibility programmes.
What are MTN’s plans for the future; where
do you see MTN five years from now?
I think five years from now, still at the top, we will be
providing converge service in mobile and fixed services. Let
us not forget that July next year we shall see the lifting
of exclusivity in the market. I am positive in what the future
holds in that regard and I believe that the telecommunications
environment in Uganda is in good hands; we have a very adequate
and efficient regulatory authority. With the lifting of exclusivity
next year, I have confidence in the fact that it could be
done on control basis, because certainly if not controlled,
it could lead to chaos as has been seen in other countries.
There will be a move toward convergence of fixed and mobile
lines. Technology will continue to grow and we shall continue
to keep abreast of those technological advances. I believe
that MTN will be a shining example in terms of successful
Ugandan operations run by Ugandans.
How has MTN transformed people’s lifestyles
in rural areas?
In the absence of telecommunications, people had to get on
to a taxi to go see someone. Now with the advent of telecom,
they can pick up a phone and, for a couple of shillings, make
contact. Certainly it has made life easier and enabled people
to save money and reinvest the little money they have in education.
In the agriculture arena, this advent has enabled them to
make phone calls to find out prices of various crops in various
cities and arrange the delivery of their crops to the best-priced
venue. So I believe it has played a major role in stimulating
growth in the rural areas. It has certainly made life better.