Tanzania's telco cash in as social media use rises sharply

Internet subscription in Tanzania is growing at annual rate of 17 perecent. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Mobile data is now the fastest growing revenue stream fro telecommunication companies as Tanzanians increasingly turn to social media platforms as sources of information and entertainment, according to new report

Dar es Salaam. The ongoing rollout of mobile broadband is having a profound impact on internet usage as Tanzanians increasingly turn to social media platforms as sources of information and entertainment, according to a new report.

With 77 percent of Tanzania’s population covered by either 3G or 4G broadband networks, usage of social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook has been on the rise in recent years, which explains why mobile data is now the fastest growing revenue stream for telecommunication firms.

With data usage on the rise, social media outlets are now in a battle that has seen YouTube leapfrog Facebook to become the platform with the highest amount of transmitted data (bandwidth), according to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) report for the fourth quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.

Apart from investment by telecommunication firms, the government has also injected huge sums into the industry.

The Universal Communications Service Access Fund (UCSAF) and five telecoms companies recently entered into an agreement worth Sh265.3 billion under which 758 towers will be built in 713 wards, while 304 other towers that currently provide 2G internet services will be upgraded to 3G and 4G.

As such, annual internet subscription shows an average growth rate of 17 percent. There were 23 million internet users in the country in 2018, but the number had shot up to 34 million by the end of June 2023.

“During the quarter ending June 2023, the service that used more bandwidth (in gigabytes) was YouTube with a total of 50.18 million GB because video streaming services consumed more bandwidth than other services,” the report says.

Data traffic in petabytes shows that the most data was used in June 2023 followed by May and April. The average data use in the fourth quarter of 2022/23 was 2,491 megabytes per subscriber per month compared with2,195MB in the quarter ending March 2023.

Social media competition

The report highlights competition among Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and TikTok. During the quarter ending March 2023, Facebook led with a total of 48.99 million GB, which was mostly attributed to video services, followed by YouTube with a total of 35.96 million GB.

However, YouTube rose by 50 million GB within three months to push Facebook down into second place with 49.49 million GB.

WhatsApp was fourth, with 33.3 million GB, mainly attributed to the decline in the size of videos downloaded on the platform compare to the third quarter.

TikTok rose to third, with 33.57 million GB used during the period under review.

Twitter and Snapchat dropped out of the top ten in the last quarter of 2022/23, with new entrants being Google, Amazon and iCloud.

Commenting on the report, TCRA director general Jabiri Bakari told The Citizen that the sharp increase in the number of internet users could be attributed to, among other factors, availability of Kiswahili content on the web and advent of apps in the language.

“As Tanzania's digital landscape continues to evolve, the role of Kiswahili content in fuelling internet adoption cannot be underestimated,” he said.

Dr Bakari emphasised the need for continued efforts to support the development of localised content and language-specific apps to cater for the preferences of the Tanzanian audience.

“As the internet becomes an integral part of daily life in Tanzania, TCRA remains committed to ensuring that communication sector regulations foster innovation, competition and accessibility while safeguarding the interests of consumers.”

Dr Bakari added that TCRA foresees significant expansion within the digital landscape and internet usage would be enhanced further after Right of Way charges were slashed from $1,000 to $100 per kilometre of laid fibre-optic cable.

“This exponential growth is expected to unlock a multitude of opportunities for businesses and individuals and contribute significantly to the overall development of our nation,” he noted.

A telecommunications expert from the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Moses Ismail, said sharp growth in internet use in Tanzania points to swift digital transformation and economic expansion in the country as a whole.

He added that the increase in internet usage means that there is a corresponding increase in digital inclusion because if a person uses the internet, they have access to digital services or communication.

“Due to increased demand, the government, in collaboration with the private sector, should now further improve communication and ensure access to reliable internet connectivity, as well as provide digital skills to young people to bridge the digital divide,” he stressed.

There is currently a large number of people using digital services online and if the trend continues, it could lead to increased access to information and communication that will enable people to be more connected.

“There are a number of benefits that will result from this. Online content consumption can increase and provide opportunities for content developers to create more engaging products. Increased digital inclusion facilitates a positive shift towards a more connected digital society, which is a desirable development for most countries,” Dr Moses noted.

“There is a need to create local content for entrepreneurs and businesspeople, who can tap into this growing market and produce high-quality content. This means that SMEs too can benefit from increased opportunities.”