Why data is the new battlefield for telecoms in Tanzania

Dar es Salaam. Telecommunication firms are increasingly shifting their ‘battles’ to data as each of them seeks to get a bigger piece of the ‘cake’ that comes with Tanzania’s digital revolution.

With a penetration rate of 43 per cent, Tanzania’s internet users stood at 23.1423 million as of December 2018, Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) figures show.

At 22.28 million, mobile wireless accounted for the lion’s share of subscribers.

With TCRA quoting the total number of voice subscribers at 43.749 million as of June 2019, the telecommunication firms see data as one of the income streams that are yet to be fully tapped.

Available statistics show that mobile data, along with messaging and mobile money, are the fastest-growing revenue income streams for telecommunication firms.

For instance, Vodacom Tanzania’s mobile voice revenue dropped by 1.1 per cent during the year to March 31, 2019 compared to the year to March 31, 2018.

On the contrary, its messaging, data and mobile money revenue streams registered increases by 31.3, 17.9 and 14.5 per cent respectively.

The Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange-listed telecommunications operator garnered Sh167.016 billion from data during the year that ended on March 31, 2019, up from Sh141.61 billion during the year to March 31, 2018.

With a change in subscribers’ preferences and the desire to save on communication costs, consumers of telecommunication services are increasingly shifting their focus on data services while cautiously treading on the traditional voice calls.

Apparently, this is why a number of telecommunication firms came up with affordable data-enabled mobile phones during the past weeks.

Tigo Tanzania embarked on an aggressive marketing approach for its Kitochi 4G Smart.

The cheap 4G-enabled phone – complete with the famous Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter applications - retails at Sh49,000.

Vodacom Tanzania is doing a similar initiative, aggressively marketing its Smart Kitochi which carries a retail price of Sh48,000.

Zantel could not remain idle. It announced its cheap data-enabled phone last week. Christened Smarta, the 4G-enabled mobile phone retails at Sh39,999.

“We have introduced Smarta in the market to propel affordable access to Smartphones while giving people a unique opportunity to enjoy the opportunities presented by the digital lifestyle offered by Zantel through our 4G+ network,” Zantel’s head of mobile business, Aneth Muga said.

Operators say having invested massively in 4G infrastructure, it was now time to work on hurdles to access, including the price factor of smart handsets.

In its latest Regional Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa which was released a few days ago, GSMA Intelligence puts 4G coverage in Tanzania at 28 per cent while adoption of the same is only at five per cent.

GSMA Intelligence is the unit within the GSM Association that houses extensive database of mobile operator statistics, forecasts and industry reports.

GSMA is a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.

According to GSMA Intelligence, smartphone availability is the main limiting factor for 4G adoption, saying the average selling price for a smartphone device is $100.

According to Tigo Tanzania’s communications manager, operators were doing more than just lowering prices of handsets.

Key on the agenda, she said, was to fostering internet literacy so that consumers can go beyond utilizing only the usual applications: Youtube, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

This could go in line with findings of GSMA Intelligence. In its outlook, GSMA Intelligence says 32 per cent of consumers it interviewed in Tanzania were using smartphones for playing games while 30 and 22 per cent were using the devices for watching videos and listening to music respectively.

Though Airtel Tanzania has not come up with a new cheap smartphone offer during the past two weeks, the firm’s communications manager, Mr Jackson Mmbando, said they have a number of compelling products in their regional offices where customers can get even cheaper cellular.

“In fact, we have smartphones that cost as low as Sh29,000,” he said.