How UCSAF towers boost business opportunities
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“DEAR Customer, welcome to Mozambique! Make calls, send SMS and enjoy internet services at affordable rates.’’ This is the message a mobile network customer on the Tanzanian side of the border with Mozambique receives, a short while after arriving at Malimba, a remote village in Masasi District, Mtwara Region.

While the customer might sigh with relief, hoping to make a call or send an SMS, after more than 70 kilometres drive to the south from Masasi, the truth is that there is no such a chance. The Mozambican network is not available on the Tanzanian side and villagers have to device their own methods in order to capture local networks.

A phone user climbs atop a tree or looks for a ‘high rise’ area, the likes of an anthill and tries his or her luck. Still, that would not guarantee them a clear reception even if the signal bars were visible on their handsets.

In most cases, the bars would be on and off, thus causing embarrassment to customers. But, this mobile phone nightmare is now over as customers have an option. Malimba Village now enjoys full time connection to TTCL network, thanks to the mobile towers project spearheaded by the government, through the Universal Communication Services Access Fund (UCSAF).

The fund’s mission is to ensure villages and underserved areas of the country have access to communication. That being the case, subsidies were disbursed to Airtel, Vodacom, MIC Tanzania (Tigo) and TTCL to help put up these communication structures, though in many areas, the service providers have their own towers.

They are bound by a five -year contract with UCSAF for regular maintenance and logistics. “We believe that after five years, no operator will think of switching off or shun the towers as the structure would be economically viable compared with the first year when they were switched on, with only a handful of customers,’’ says Engineer Peter Ulanga, UCSAF Chief Executive Officer.

Engineer Ulanga’s prediction couldn’t have come at an opportune time. In a survey carried out in villages in Lindi , Mtwara and Ruvuma regions, the ‘Daily News’ predicts that in the next five years , business will be booming in rural areas, if only service providers would seize the emerging opportunity.

Today, mobile money transfer has outpaced the traditional bank account system in terms of convenience and affordability. Many customers prefer making transactions at the nearest mobile money agent than going to a bank branch.

In Kilimarondo Village in Nachingwea District for example, 20 year-old Ismael Kasembe sold 21 sacks of cashew nuts last season and hopes to earn a minimum of 5m/-, when the villagers are paid by the local society.

A kilogramme of cashew nut fetched between 2,500/- and 3,000/- and many farmers sold between 30 and 50 sacks according to the Village Chairman, Adrian Ng’oloko. Assuming that half of the 4,828 villagers at Kilimarondo each decides to deposit a minimum of 2.5m/- with Tigo, M-Pesa or Airtel money agents or any other network, (though these are non- existent at the moment), millions of shillings could be withdrawn, sent or received through the networks within one farming season.

In five years, the amount would definitely soar to billions, given the people’s readiness to adapt to the new technology. In its Monetary Policy Statement of February 2017, the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) contends that the interoperability of mobile payment services has contributed to substantial increase in transactions across network operators.

“In the first half of the financial year 2016/17, 20.1 million transactions valued at 988.9 billion /- took place, which is much higher than 4.4 million transactions valued at 178.1 billion/- that took place during similar period of the preceding financial year,’’ says BoT and adds that at the end of December 2016, the number of active users of mobile phone financial services was 17.02 million.

In essence, the number of mobile money customers most of whom are in urban centres, were non-existent prior to 2008 when mobile money transfer came into being in Tanzania.

More business opportunities Besides the lucrative mobile money transfer service, Sim- Banking is another important service that allows customers to withdraw or deposit their money without travelling to their bank branch. In rural areas, primary and secondary school teachers, agricultural extension officers, health, dispensary and local government employees would immediately use this service to withdraw their salaries deposited in their bank accounts by their employer.

Assuming that all 238 villages in the three regions have primary schools and each has a minimum of 8 teachers, there would be 1,666 new customers. Add 952 dispensary staff from the villages, assuming that there are four employees in each of the village hospitals .

One might add 400 more teachers from the 40 wards, assuming each ward school has 15 teachers, and others from different sectors, obviously this is a strong new customer base for SimBanking. When a network hits the market, this is an opportunity for shops to sell vouchers, SIM cards, handsets, including smartphones and accessories.

Also, computers and modems will be in high demand while stationery and internet cafes will be a booming business as the youth scout for a place to download music and movies.

Serious investors may also contemplate opening schools and colleges, including computer training (the ABCs of computer, software and hardware, web designing etc ) and parents would rush to enroll their children, considering the southern regions are ideal for learning. Business expansion may also involve dealers in solar power installation for these off-grid villages.

Agricultural production The southern villages have plenty of ‘virgin land’ suitable for horticulture and fruit farming. While traditionally cashew nut is making headlines as the lifeline of most households, on the other hand, investors may opt for horticulture and fruits like pineapples and watermelons as there is also plenty of arable land stretching from Songea to Tunduru and beyond.

Industrial investment The southern regions do not feature prominently in the map of industrial investment although they are rich in natural resources which include gas (Mtwara ) and coal (Ngaka, Ruvuma).

These areas need serious studies to explore the possibility of establishing new industries. Even without experts' opinions, it is obvious that the southern regions are suitable light industrial areas for bottled water and carbonated drinks. At the moment, the regions boast a good road infrastructure stemming from newly constructed trunk roads.

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