United Kingdom

Uganda Network

Telephone Communications in Uganda

Uganda is little different to most developing countries or to many countries in Eastern Europe. The telephone system is 1950 / 60s mechanical of British supply. Many of the telephones that were familiar in the UK 30-40 years ago are still in regular use in Uganda even to the familiar red telephone box in Jinja.

Again like many other developing countries the land line technology is being jumped and mobile communications are the norm into which investment is being made.

This means that whilst mobile communications are growing rapidly the land line system is virtually stagnant outside of Kampala. Communications by land line phones is poor and unreliable. In many parts of the country it does not exist. It is possible still to have a genuine land land telephone installed in Kampala and a few other large towns but most "land line" phones now rely on celular technology to make them work. The land line telephone directory is only about one centimetre thick!

The traveller to Uganda who wants to stay in touch will need to take a mobile phone. Coverage Map

There are three mobile telephone frequencies in use throughout the world - 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz. To be capable of working in Uganda the handsest needs to be tuned to the GSM 900MHz frequency. In addition only phones operating on UK Networks which have roaming agreements with Uganda will work on the Ugandan Network. Roaming must be activated before leaving the UK. This is important as it cannot be activated from abroad. It is as well to check with the UK Operator before leaving the country as there is a tendancy to switch off roaming if it is not used for a period.

Most companies say that their pre-pay phones will work but quite recent experience is that this is not always the case. Monthly contract phones will work. See below for specific information.

Available operators are BT Celnet, Vodafone, One2One and Orange. Almost all phones operating on the UK Networks of BT Celnet and Vodafone will work in Uganda. Only a few Orange Phones will work in Uganda. Some One2One Phones will work in Uganda.

There are presently three Uganda Mobile Networks: Celtel, MTN and UTL (also known as Mango). Rumours in Uganda are that Vodafone will start operating towards then end of 2002. See Chip Change and Text Messaging for further information.

BT Celnet - 02

BT say that MTN is the only Ugandan Operator with which BT has a roaming agreement but use in Uganda seems to indicate otherwise. MTN Operates on the 900MHz frequency band. This is the oldest of the UK GSM frequencies so almost all Celnet GSM Phones will work in Uganda. (All Contract and Pre Pay GSM Celnet Phones ie not Analogue Phones). Also phones described as dual band, tri band or international will all work.

The three bands are 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz. The last band is the one which operates in the USA, Canada and most of South America.

In addition Celnet Prepay handsets will work in Uganda. This is subject to sufficient credit being available on the phone. Also prepay handsets will not take the MTN chips.

Visit the BT Cellnet Web Site


Vodafone will work in the same way as BT Celnet Phones but also on the Celtel Network. Vodafone quotes its prices as being 1.30 per minute. SMS receive is available in Uganda but not send, though as we have found with other networks this information may be out of date but it is the latest published by Vodafone. Fax and Data is available. The same facilities are available on the Celtel Network but call costs are 2.54 per minute.

Vodafone prepay phones may work but Vodafone were not certain.

The same advice about setting up and checking International Roaming stated in BTCellnet applies to Vodafone.

Visit the Vodafone's Web Site which has excellent information about roaming abroad.

Orange - France Telecom

Orange Phones work in the UK on the 1800MHz frequency band. This is a secondary frequency in Uganda and is presently under-developed compared with 900MHz. Recent experience is that only Kampala is presently turned onto 1800MHz. This means that a single band Orange Phone will work in Kampala but not elsewhere. A dual band phone ie 900 and 1800 will work in the same way as a GSM dual band phones. Orange has recently improved its "roaming" advice. As the popularity of its dual and tri band phones is increasing Orange now lists Uganda as a country in which its contract (post pay) phones will operate but it must be a dual or tri band phone with international roaming activated. It might also be necessary to select the Uganda operator manually.

If 900MHz is present on the phone it will operate in the same way as BT Celnet and Vodafone and at the same call charge as a Vodafone. Orange Assistant, Orange Messaging and Fax and Data will work though Orange does warn that some foreign networks do not support text messaging. The answer is to see if it works for you. Any information on this would be appreciated.

Orange said that their Prepay phones might work but they must be dual or tri band. Car Phone Warehouse now lists a number of dual and tri-band Pre Pay Phones.

The Orange Web Site has a usesful facility which allows you to input your phone model and contract type to determine if it will work in Uganda.

One2One - T-Mobile

The providers web site indicates that both monthly contract and pay as you go phones work on the Celtel Network in Uganda but whilst FAX and data is available on monthly only, SMS is not available on either type of account. However this information may be out of date as a visitor to Uganda recently reported that the phone worked also on MTN roaming and sent and received SMS.

The latest information is available from the One2One T-Mobile Web Site

General Roaming information

An excellent Web Site for international networks in Africa is Cellular Telephones in Africa This site is maintained in South Africa. GSM World is also worth looking at prior to travelling. Coverage Map

Satelite Phones

Iridium is a provider of Satelite Phones which will work anywhere in the world but you do need to have "line of sight" with the satelite. This means that indoors use can be difficult unless you have purchased a dual system GSM / Iridium phone. Iridium also offers 64Kbs data links. These are the phones that are commonly used now for direct broadcasts to TV from remote places. They are impressive but at a price.

If you think you can afford this system, or you cannot afford to be without it then contact the UK agent

Thuraya is an alternative Satelite service presently covering Europe, Middle East and part of Africa. In all countries within the footprint on those continents a satelite connection is available but in those countries in which there is a roaming agreement the phone will switch to operate on the local GSM Network where this is available. Unfortunately Thuraya does not yet have a roaming agreement with Uganda or Sat coverage of Uganda. Thuraya offers Pre-Paid as well as Post Pay service. A Thuraya phone with switching between GSM and Sat costs around 700$US (May 2002) Accessories are available including a solar charger. UK agent


Calling to and from the UK

The major mobile networks have now installed pay phones using either cards or coins in all areas in which there is mobile coverage. There are still a few towns which have no mobile coverage but do have land line phones at the Post Office. However, it is expected that all towns presently covered by the land line system will have mobile coverage at the end of 2002.

To make a phone call home using a land line go to the local post office where you will either have to buy an international phone card or you will be shown to a boothe and your call will be put through when connected.

To call a UK Cellphone in Uganda just call the normal UK number. eg 07802 200886. To make a call from a UK Cellphone in Uganda to the UK dial eg. + 44 1623 883505. Note BT and Vodafone both advise you to use the + sign rather than the international dialling code of 00. You should also note that the costs of accepting incoming and making outgoing calls can be substantial. Consult your operating company for specific charges.

Calling Uganda from the UK is much easier than the other way round. The dialing code is 00 256 41 for Kampala and for most mobiles it is 00 256 77 Please consult the BT Operator or Mobile Phone Operator for up to date information.

SIM Change

Once in Uganda you can purchase a SIM Card from any one of the operators and swap it for your UK Operator's SIM. This will put you directly onto the Uganda Nework with a Uganda Number.

Why bother you might well ask? The answer is simple. If you are one of a group and wish to keep in touch with your group members or ring Uganda numbers all of your calls will be made at local rate avoiding International Roaming costs. You calls back to the UK will be at Uganda rates, often less than UK charges and your incoming calls from the UK will avoid you being charged for the part of the call from the UK to Uganda.

The disadvatage is that you will have to give people your temporary Uganda number and once when leaving Uganda your number will be removed from the system if not used for 3 to 6 months depending upon the operator. MTN would not re-activate old numbers but Celtel were advertising that they would.

There is presently strong competition in Uganda to attract customers so special deals are available. In April 2002 a SIM card operating on MTN cost 20,000 UgS which included one months connection and 5,000 UgS in Air Time. In May Celtel were offering free SIM Cards and no monthly connection charge.

Your phone needs to be suitable for use in Uganda. All Vodafone, 02 (BT Celnet) and T-Mobile (One2One) will work with a SIM change providing that they are not "simmed" to only work with one specific nework or provider. For example some Barclaycard Phones operating on 02 would not work until a Special Code was used.

It is pointless trying to re-sim Orange Phones unless they are dual band or tri band ie operating on 1900 and 900 frequencies. Also Orange phones are chipped to operate only on Orange and need to have a special code to release them. Orange charges to have a phone released - usually around £20.

We have no information on pay as you go mobile phones but experience was that some work and some do not once a new SIM card is installed.

So now you have a Uganda Number. On MTN this will start with 077 eg 077 123456 and from outside the UK 00 256 77 123456. Just tell your friends in a phone call home what your new number is or send them a text message. None of the Uganda Pay as You Go operators presently offer roaming outside Uganda so if you are going to other countries in E Africa your phone will not work. Celtel say they are introducing Pay as You Go Roaming in 2003 and the others will no doubt follow.

International Roaming is available on all operators to anyone having a Contract or Post Pay Phone but you do need to sign a 12 month contract for this.

Note UTL Mango does not seem to comply with the International convention on dialing and requires 000 and not just 00 or + for its Mobile International Calls.

MTN now offer a cell identification facility. This means that if you are connected to the Iganga Cell your phone will show IGANGA. In Kampala this even identifies major streets so you will know by looking at your phone if you are in Parliament Avenue. However, in fringe areas this can produce some odd results with you phone switching between available cells. At one point a user seemed to walk the 50 miles from one District to another by simply walking a couple of yards!


As in the UK relaibility is good near the mast, poor in fringe areas.

Advice on using mobile phones

The standard advice to relatives when going to a developing country used to be "Don't expect any phone call home - the post card might arrive before I get back". The Mobile Phone has meant that this is no longer the case but there are some problems caused by the expectation of being able to communicate.

Experience shows that direct contact with young people in foreign countries on expeditions such as Uganda 2000 can lead to unnecessary worries and concerns. Also that parents and friends become anxious if a call is not made when expected or the UK end cannot reach the phone in Uganda. It is vital that emergency contact should be made through the advised channels. Our advice is not to use direct contact unless absolutely necessary and if it is absolutely necessary you should not be using direct contact. Remember your son, daughter, or leader will may well be far away from Kampala for most of their stay in Uganda. They will have limited transport available. To worry them with a call that, for example, Great Aunt Sally is about to die can only cause upset and do nothing to help Aunt Sally or the enjoyment of the stay in Uganda.

Also, your son or daughter or leader will be facing challenging situations, some physically challenging and others psychologically challenging. Seeing, living and working with happy young people who are denied the basics of life which we take for granted in this country is not always easy to cope with. Seeing people damaged by disease, war and cruelty can be distrubing. Your relative should have been well prepared for this and as part of the plans there should be people on hand to deal with the issues as they arise.

Please allow the leaders to deal with the problems - a phone call home will only make you anxious about your loved one but you will be quite incapable of helping.

In this way your Scout will come home enriched by the experience but perhaps just a little questioning of the way we live.

Be assured that if you are needed you will be contacted immediately.

Visiting Uganda or the UK From the Americas

To be able to use your telephone in the UK, Uganda or most of the countries covered by GSM you will need a Tri-Band or International Phone with International Roaming activated. The alternative is to hire a telephone.

SMS or Text Messaging
Originally added to the GSM Specification as a throw-in extra "texting has become a way of life amongst young people. In Uganda it is an essential tool. Text messages can be sent and received on all Networks though coverage may not be complete even within the operators phone area. If using a roaming phone (ie not using a Uganda Sim) the text messaging service will operate normally rememeber increased charges for international text message will apply. If using a Uganda Sim you might need to set up the "Messaging Centre" to use the Uganda operator's "Message Centre". You might need to also use the + sign instead of 00 or 000 in the case of UTL Mango to be able to send the message internationally.

Text Messaging has the advantage of being able to send a message without the receiving phone being within coverage. The message is delivered during the next connection.


Contact the Uganda Network Copyright © The UK Uganda Network - 2002
Last modified 7 May 2002



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