Tanzania: Volatility Hits Telecoms After 17 Years of Growth

Dar es Salaam — Subscriptions of voice telecommunications are becoming volatile although the number of internet users is increasing.

Tanzania ended 2017 with a 0.22 per cent drop in the number of voice telecom subscribers, rising a question whether the market is saturated. The number of subscribers has been growing in the last 17 years but 2017 experienced volatility and ended with 40.08 million voice subscribers compared with 40.17 million in 2016, according to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

According to a FinScope study of 2017 released last September, mobile phone network reached 95 per cent of Tanzanians since last year and 93 per cent of Tanzanian adults had access to mobile phones. When Halotel entered the market in October 2015, the number of subscribers increased to 38.3 million that month from 35.9 million in September.

Halotel which is owned by Vietnamese telecom operator Viettel focused on rural connectivity and in mid-October 2015 it announced to have reached 1,500 villages which were not covered before. It also said its services covered up to 81 per cent of Tanzanian population that time.

By the end of 2015, the number of subscribers reached 39.8 million, thanks to competition which made operators aggressive to attract more customers.

The industry also ended 2016 with 40.17 million subscribers after recording 40.5 million in November.

It dropped further to 39.4 million in February 2017 and rise again to 40.7 million in July 2017.

However, the sector ended 2017 with 40.08 million subscribers for all operators."It needs a longterm observation and analysis but there is possibility that either the voice market is saturated or customers are shifting to other communication products."

Social media platforms like WhatsApp, some customers use them to make calls hence making data more important than voice calls. Mobile phone operators in Tanzania include Vodacom Tanzania, a unit of South Africa's Vodacom; Tigo Tanzania, which is part of Sweden's Millicom; Bharti Airtel Tanzania and Halotel.

Others are Zantel, TTCL and Smart. Vodacom is the market leader until December 2017 holding 32 per cent of the subscription market share followed by Tigo at 28 per cent and Airtel at 27 per cent.

Halotel accounts for 10 per cent while Zantel, TTCL and Smart hold two per cent, one per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively.

Smartphones have pushed the internet penetration.

While voice subscribers are going up and down, the number of internet users increased from 19.86 million in 2016 to 22.99 million at the end of 2017 and the largest share of them accessed the service through their smartphones. For instance, out of the 22.99 million users recorded last year, 19 million used mobile wireless internet while 3.47 million others used fixed wireless and 520,698 used fixed wired services.

Tanzania's internet penetration rate also increased from 40 per cent in 2016 to 45 per cent in 2017.

Some simcard registration agents say there are a few individuals who nowadays buy the simcards.

"I register the new lines and renew others but it's very slow these days," says Ms Stella Erasto, an agent with the cards from all operators.

Last year, Tanzania launched Mobile Number Portability services which allow mobile phone customers to retain their numbers whenever they opt to change mobile service providers - a move that deepened competition in the telecommunications sector.

Vodacom, Tigo, Airtel and Zantel are also pioneering interoperability scheme - a mobile money initiative that enables their customers to send and receive money across their networks.

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