KAMPALA- Almost 24.8m or 70.9 per cent of Ugandans own mobile phones, a report by the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U), has revealed.

The report dubbed the National IT Survey 2017/2018, sampled 2,700 people among government ministries, departments, agencies, local governments and households across the country in 2017.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) 2014 Access and Usage of Communication Services Across Uganda study showed 52.3 per cent of Ugandans owned mobile phones.

The 70.9 per cent figure by NITA-U shows progress since 2014, with the rural folk outpacing urban people in terms of growth.

Mr Ali Ndiwalana, a researcher at Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), said in an interview that the extension of the national backbone infrastructure is partly responsible for the increase in mobile phone ownership.

“The providers have increased their coverage, going further into the rural areas. One of the things driving them to go into these areas is the national backbone infrastructure government put in place,” Mr Ndiwalana said.

Despite the upward trend, prices of mobile phones remain high, pushing 1 out of 3 Ugandans (29 per cent) out of the mobile phone revolution.

Commenting on the disparity, analysts said designing strategies to lower the cost of end-user devices should help offset the imbalance between those who have mobile phones and those that do not.

“People may not be happy with a recommendation on cutting taxes on communication devices such as phones but at least we can start a debate about what we can do to drive down device as well as the communication cost. Inevitably, when we add taxes, the cost gets passed on to the consumers,” Mr Ndiwalana said.

On the other hand, uptake of Internet remains low because not only is it expensive and slow, but most Ugandans lack the necessary skills. One out of 10 Ugandans (12.1 per cent) have accessed the Internet in the last 12 months, with a mix of individuals accessing it at home, from a neighbour’s home and on the move via a mobile phone. The gap between rural and urban areas is also still wide.

Notably, mobile Internet via service providers such as MTN and Airtel is majorly shrinking the digital divide. The report found that the few Ugandans consuming the Internet use it to access social media sites such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter.

Mr George William Onen, the chief executive officer of Target Digital Agency, said with this new shift, businesses cannot play a passive role but must leverage social media platforms to offer instant services.

“People trust their friends more than they trust brands and they are more likely to listen to what their friends say about a product. Where are these discussions taking place right now? It is on social media. As a brand, you are supposed to have a social media presence and engage your people so that you are not left out of the discussion. But this communication will never convert into sales unless you recruit brand loyalists (ambassadors),” Mr Onen said.

Youth ahead. With 15.8 per cent of the population owning smart phones, the young (15-24 years), are at the forefront of smart phone usage at 28 per cent, the report says. Analysts say young people have a higher appetite because they appreciate and understand what a smart phone can do.

ekamukama@ug.nationmedia.com