Why internet speeds in Tanzania still lag behind

By Alex Nelson Malanga

Dar es Salaam. The industry regulator and a leading telecoms company have tried to explain the relatively low Internet speeds in Tanzania.

A survey by Ookla — a web service that provides free analysis of internet access performance metrics such as connection data rate and latency — analyzed the performance of operator groups, including Airtel, Orange, MTN and Vodacom, in sub-Saharan Africa in the second quarter of 2022.

According to the report, MTN South Africa delivered the fastest average download speed at 65.95 megabits per second (Mbps), followed by Vodacom South Africa at 48.71 Mbps.

Vodacom Tanzania was 16th with 17.08Mbps while Airtel Tanzania was 18th with 12.89Mbps.

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Vodacom Tanzania was only ahead of Airtel Rwanda (15.21 Mbit/s); Airtel Tanzania, Airtel DR Congo (11.15 Mbit/s); Vodacom DR Congo (8 Mbit/s) and MTN Guinea (2.89 Mbit/s) among the operators participating in the survey.


“There was no clear winner in Tanzania as Vodacom won download speed and Airtel won upload speed,” the report said.

Airtel and Vodacom upload speeds were 9.02 Mbps and 8.62 Mbps, respectively.

Tanzania’s mobile market is served by six operators, namely Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Halotel, TTCL and Smile, but only two are mentioned in Ookla’s report.

Vodacom Tanzania accounted for 31 percent of the 56.2 million subscribers registered as of June 2022, followed by Airtel at 27 percent, according to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

Vodacom Tanzania network director Andrew Lupembe told The Citizen over the weekend that investment in capacity could further improve download speeds.

He said there are business challenges in the market, where competition has for a while focused on reducing service costs to gain market share.

This, Mr Lupembe added, will require regulator intervention and the introduction of floor pricing for data, with price harmonization taking effect on August 1.

“We’re not there yet and this is one of the most important things to consider if this market is to have the speeds that are available in other countries like Kenya.

“To address speeds, we need to correct data pricing, which will enable investment and build network capacity,” Mr. Lupembe said.

At Vodacom, he added, there are ongoing tariff commitments that would open up opportunities for accelerated investments in the country.

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Mr. Lupembe expressed the company’s commitment to continue investing in network expansion to meet the communications needs in the country.

In order to further increase the network coverage, in May 2022 Vodacom Tanzania signed a contract with the National ICT Broadband Backbone (NICTBB), a national fiber optic cable network.

This will allow Vodacom to improve rural connectivity after an initial investment of 5.82 million euros ($6.22 million) in October 2021.

In addition, Vodacom launched 5G mobile service in Dar es Salaam in September 2022 with the aim of expanding the offer to around 230 locations in other cities.

When asked why the company shouldn’t focus on improving its current 2G, 3G and 4G instead of rushing to roll out 5G, Mr Lupembe said 5G has different use cases that made them pursue it further.

One of the use cases of 5G involves Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), which meets the internet needs of homes, small offices and businesses alike, he said.

Mr. Lupembe added that 5G technology will bring great benefits to the country by accelerating the 4th industrial revolution and promoting new services and products from new and existing investors.

“We continue to invest in 4G acceleration of coverage and capacity. It is important to note that it is not always the case that one needs to fully cover one technology before moving on to another. Different use cases of technologies address different consumer needs when using the internet.”

Efforts to seek comment from Airtel Tanzania proved fruitless.

TCRA Director General Jabiri Bakari said he was unaware of the circumstances in which the Ookla study was conducted.

However, he said that as a regulator, they create a favorable business environment for telecom companies to get better in terms of download speed.

“The type of license we issue to operators allows them to deploy any type of technology they want,” said Dr. Bakari over the weekend to The Citizen.

“And now we’re giving them more spectrum for 4G and 5G so they can expand their coverage.”

Internet in Tanzania is among the cheapest in Africa.