2016 Wrap UP: How Vodafone, Africell, Smile and Smart Telecom performed.

The official logos of Vodafone, Smile, Smart and Africell.

HiPipo Digital Team.

As highlighted in our previous review titled ‘Airtel vs MTN: The 2016 Scorecard with Winners and Losers!’, 2016 was a ‘roller coaster’ year in all aspects.  A lot happened including the unprecedented Donald J Trump victory over the media favorite and pollsters’ president in waiting Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton during the November 8th USA Presidential Elections. Trump will be sworn in on 20th January as the 45th American president.

In Uganda, the telecommunication industry witnessed several battles in form of price wars, bundled services competition, PR and Advertising supremacy plus product and services rivalry. While Airtel and MTN were competing for the leading telecom position in the pearl of Africa, the other telecoms were positioning themselves as both the better and best alternatives for customers.  In a nutshell, minus trying to woo new and ‘mobile virgin’ customers, Vodafone, Africell, Smart and Smile increased efforts intended to retain their existing subscribers plus winning over customers discontented with both Airtel and MTN plus the sleeping giant – Uganda Telecom.

At HiPipo, we followed the operations of Africell, Vodafone, Smart and Smile in 2016. Here is an analysis of their performance in the just ended year.

Africell Uganda: 2016 was a good year for Africell Uganda. Not only did their market share continue to grow, their brand visibility and awareness multiplied.


For a bigger part of the year, the Africell team involved in intense and nonstop below the line (BTL) promotions and activations mainly pushing their ‘King of the Bundle’ offering. They were in all main trade centers, university bazaars, markets, and roundabouts. Through this, their products and service propositions got more popular among potential customers.

While at that, Africell also entered the entertainment market through signing on board two brand ambassadors in the names of David Lutalo (2016 HiPipo Music Awards Artist of the Year) and Sheebah Karungi (2016 HiPipo Music Awards Best Female Artist). Among the informal sector, mass and emerging markets; David Lutalo has been the biggest artiste for the past two-three years. Having him as their brand ambassador in 2016 helped Africell appeal to the informal, mass and emerging audience.

On the other hand, Sheebah has been the best female artiste in Uganda for the past three years and one of the best female artistes across East Africa. Additionally, she was one of the top 5 Ugandan artistes for 2016. Her music appeals to the young, youth, mass and emerging plus a growing section of corporates. Again, she helped Africell reach out to a bigger audience in 2016.

In the last quarter of 2016, Africell embarked on a One Billion Promo; Load Airtime and Win campaign. It was climaxed at Nakivubo Stadium in mid-December with one lucky Ugandan walking away with UGX 1,000,000,000 (one billion shillings). It was a first of its kind promotion. Unluckily, due to the huge grand prize, many didn’t believe the campaign. Even when a winner was announced at Nakivubo stadium and issued with a 1 billion cheque, several people with a ‘doubting Thomas’ attitude said it was impossible. Pragmatically, the promotion never had the expected public excitement.

From different online and offline discussions with Africell Customers, the company’s Voice and Data services were okay. In 2016, it recharged and re-launched its mobile financial services – Africell Money. It is too early to rate the latter.

Final Verdict: Africell had a good 2016.

Vodafone: From its brand name, Vodafone is not supposed to be in this category (promising Telecos) but rather should be competing toe to toe with MTN and Airtel. Even though Vodafone is a big brand world over, it is yet to have its major big breakthrough in Uganda. That said, it had a very encouraging 2016 and here is why.

First, Vodafone in 2016 worked closely with the tourism sector and elaborately encouraged tourism players to embrace new technology for the long run development of the tourism industry.  Secondly, Vodafone also worked closely with the youth. Through its CEO, Vodafone Uganda committed to supporting young entrepreneurs and innovators in 2016 and in the future.


In the same year, Vodafone ran the #ICreateTomorrow challenge that had three winners ( artist and student Darsan Ainembabazi, filmmaker Chris Lutanga and health care administrator Cathy Namubiru) travelling to London for business/career mentor-ship, exposure and tourism. All these rotated around one thing; creating, and exploring opportunities for developing both Ugandans and Vodafone business in Uganda.

From its activities, it is clear that Vodafone in 2016 shifted focus from both Voice and Data to mainly Data. The latter is with no doubt its strength.  Vodafone Uganda’s focus on data sales was further boosted by its launch of the Vodafone Chat+ APP. The APP allows customers to make and receive ‘truly FREE HD quality app-to-app voice calls and send FREE messages to other Vodafone Chat+ customers’ among other benefits. The Vodafone Chat+ APP is part of the company’s Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) prioritization over traditional voice calls. This shift by Vodafone Uganda was highly informed by the fact that Voice Service Provision is very crowded with both MTN and Airtel dominating. Plus, revenues from Voice continue to drop in most parts of the world.

But as a low for its customers, the company phased-out its popular unlimited data bundle offering. The unlimited data bundles were some of the most used service by its customers. A Vodafone Uganda Tweet in September noted: “Oh yes, the unlimited packs are no more ….. but let’s stay optimistic. New packages on the way, watch the space.”

And that was not all. Just like Airtel and MTN, Vodafone Uganda got a new CEO in 2016.


John Ndego was appointed the new Chief Executive Officer of Vodafone Uganda with effect from 11 July 2016, replacing Allan Richardson, who the company noted had ‘returned to the Afrimax Group office in preparation for the next market launches following the recent launch of operations in Ghana and Zambia’. John Ndego has just made five months at the helm of Vodafone Uganda. It is too early to assess his performance. We wish him the very best of luck.

In all; with key focus on Data, Vodafone Uganda continued to position itself as the ideal Innovation Enabler committed to growing its business but also ensuring that Ugandans use technology to create a better world for themselves.  The fact that in 2016, Vodafone Uganda continued to interact with and strategically support small and medium enterprises, the Youth, Education and Tourism sectors increased its ratings as a brand committed to bettering lives of common Ugandans.

Final Verdict: Good 2016. We wait for bigger and better things from Vodafone in 2017.

Smile Communications Uganda: Since its entry in to the Uganda market in 2009, Smile Communications has showed signals of becoming the next big thing but it flattered to deceive most times.  At its launch, it looked a game changer of sorts rolling out a low- cost proposition that would enable Ugandans who neither owned nor afforded mobile phones to make cheaper calls easily. This sounded great but never materialized at the implementation level. Then came the 4G crazy. Smile was among the first two telecoms to announce 4G data offers in Uganda. This was another great offer but again, its limited coverage across Uganda hampered it altogether!


Away from the past, in 2016, Smile Communications fared well, showing signs of strength. Among the cool things it offered in 2016 included the introduction of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service, Smile Voice APP, rearranging of its data bundles validity and costs. But the bigger of these all was Smile Communication’s introduction of the unlimited Data bundle. While Vodafone Uganda phased this out, Smile introduced it on the market. To internet users, such developments are sweet food to ears as they get more cheaper alternatives to enjoy the internet.

Lastly from Smile Communications, its brand visibility and advertising increased in 2016 when compared to 2015. They were more on TV, Radio, and Online Media. This is all good stuff for any brand.

Final Verdict: Smile Communications improved in 2016. Hope they can keep the momentum.

Smart Telecom: 2016 was at one time a busy year and later a quiet year for Smart Telecom. Among the things they continued to do well was the offering of some of the cheapest and stable data to their customers (100 MBs valid for a day at UGX 1000).

Smart Telecom’s highlight of the year was its entry into the mobile financial services (MFS) ecosystem with the launch of Smart Pesa. Smart PESA allows Smart Telecom Customers to ‘send money to on-net and off-net customers, deposit cash in and withdraw cash from your Smart Pesa wallet, top up airtime for your own account and that of others and request  others to send you money through Smart Pesa’.


Their biggest undoing was the end of year commotions with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). In mid-December 2016, Smart Telecom was among the three telecoms whose licenses were revoked by UCC and the regulator warned the public against doing any business with them. A few days later, Smart Telecom License was renewed after settling its matters with the regulator. The revocation tainted their image and affected customers’ confidence.

Final Verdict: Business wise, it was a progressive Year for Smart Telecom. A bad PR year ending. 


To date, these four telecoms are still below Airtel and MTN Uganda in market share, revenue and other important good performance indicators.  Nonetheless in 2016, they covered a lot of ground and had many gains. Even though they are not where they wish to be yet, there are again not where they were in 2015.  We are optimistic that in 2017, two of Vodafone, Africell, Smart and Smile will give the bigger boys a run for their money and hopefully ‘break even’.

Again, HiPipo Digital Team wishes you a great 2017 filled with landmark accomplishments!

Content Director: Nicholas Kalungi

CEO: Innocent Kawooya.