MTN Uganda has launched onto the Uganda market an Android-powered Smartphone that retails at Ush340,000. Manufactured by Chinese technology giant, Huawei Technologies, the phone, the phone looks like a mini-iPhone. I did a short interview with the MTN Uganda CEO, Mr. Themba Khumalo and below are excerpts.
Q: First of all, tell us about this growing relationship between MTN Uganda and Huawei Technologies?
A: To maintain our leading position in the telecommunications sector we have over the last fifteen years worked with the best service providers available. We are always looking for ways of serving our customers better, and we are continually involved in developing innovative services which enhance the way our people operate and live. All this is achieved through smart partnership with vendors like Huawei Technologies amongst. Huawei is today our second main vendor with Ericsson in the lead. Our partnering with global vendors such as such as Huawei guarantees to Ugandans that the services and products they receive from MTN Uganda are of world class quality.
Q: Why is MTN bringing to the market an Android Smartphone when there are smart phones based on other platforms already on the market?
A: First of all, Android Technology is important for Africa, and indeed Uganda, because it allows our own software developers to come up with locally grown applications and programs that are locally grown and can be used by more of the local populace. Other platforms are also going in this direction but Google has done a lot of work in getting local software developers to build applications for Android phones. We know there are already a large number of brilliant Ugandans working on mobile phone applications and programs. Introducing Android technology gives them the opportunity to place themselves on the global map of software developers.
But development aside, when we have more smart phones such as the IDEOS available in Uganda running Ugandan built applications; more and more people in Uganda will be enabled to use our high speed 3G+ network to access information and internet-based services. This is another reason we partnered with Huawei, the entry price of the IDEOS is very affordable to many ordinary Ugandans at less than UShs350,000.
Q: Is this an exclusively Uganda market product or all of MTN's Africa operations will launch the same at some stage? If that is the case, what is MTN’s thinking behind launching these Android phones across your African operations?
A: The IDEOS offer we have launched here is specifically for the Ugandan market, I do believe the business case is there and most of Africa operations are broadening their smart phone portfolios to stimulate data usage growth. Without commenting much on the broader strategy it suffices to state data is a key component of the long term strategy in MTN. We know very well the power of communications in emerging markets and the catalytic role it has in economic development. Our company is continuously seeking opportunities to support sustainable revenue growth.
Q: Smartphones are known to be expensive because of the technology on which they are based, how much will one of those phones go for?
Through the partnership with Huawei Technologies, we have managed to keep the cost of the phone affordable. It is currently on the market retailing at about Ushs344,500 only - which is less than US$200. This offer is not for the phone alone, it is bundled together with monthly internet access packages. This is certainly affordable, considering that grey/imitation mobile phone are retailing for around the same amount of money but do not provide the benefit of quality after sales support.
Q: You say this particular phone will enable Ugandans take advantage of MTN’s 3G+ network, what will be made possible from as far as MTN is concerned as well as the user?
MTN 3G+ is not any mere Internet solution – it is a well-rounded data communications solution that will enable our customers to access fast, affordable and accessible data services. The MTN high speed 3G+ network allows users to make full use of the internet - with most ordinary data networks in Uganda you cannot use popular sites and services such as content streaming services (which include YouTube) and the websites hosted by most news organisations. You will also find it hard to conduct content uploads, which limits our capacity as Ugandans to share locally generated content with the rest of the world. In India and China, for example, business outsourcing is thriving because their communication networks can handle the upload and download of vast amounts of data - and that is a whole new industry that has bolstered their economies.
We are now living in the information age, and the control of information has been decentralised. Now, anyone with access to the main communication network - the internet - can inform, educate and influence decisions. This is why the 3G+ network and devices that are compatible with 3G are so important - they allow more and more mobile Ugandans to learn more, but more importantly, share more.
Q: What advise do you have for software developers considering that with Android, localized apps can be created and utilised through this platform?
This is the time to get your name out there. Develop more localised applications so that they are put onto the Android marketplace for download. We are going to explore partnerships with learning centres such as universities to support more localised software development. Everyone holding an IDEOS Android in Uganda is a potential consumer of the applications you develop.