American Tower Uganda's new CEO
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American Tower Uganda's new CEO


TowerXchange speaks with Dorothy Ssemanda, the new CEO of American Tower Uganda, about the Ugandan tower market and ATC Uganda's strategy for expansion, sustainability and female empowerment.

Telecom reforms have left Uganda’s telecom sector as one of the regions most competitive markets with lowered barriers-to-entry creating price wars that have damaged MNO revenues and pushed Africell out of the market in 2021. Despite the country’s poor energy grid infrastructure, the Ugandan Communications Commission has mandated that MNOs provide 90% national coverage, and have provided MTN Uganda, who have been conducting 5G trials, additional spectrum this year. TowerXchange speaks with Dorothy Ssemanda, the new CEO of American Tower Uganda, to explore the evolution of the Ugandan tower market, American Tower Uganda’s expansion plans and strategies to address growing energy demands while hitting aggressive carbon emissions targets.

TowerXchange: Can you please introduce yourself, your experiences as CFO of American Tower Uganda and your path to becoming CEO?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda:

My name is Dorothy Kabagambe Ssemanda. I have joined ATC since its inception in Uganda in 2012 as a Finance Operations Manager and worked very closely with cross functional teams in project execution, accounting and reporting. In 2018, I was promoted to CFO and was deliberate about repositioning the finance function, ensuring both the company strategy and execution were well aligned while offering finance support. I was always proactive about leading discussions with customers and providing the much-needed insight for both sides of the tower company model. Most importantly, I worked hard to close the approval for ATC’s acquisition of EATON Towers in Uganda. Over my 10 years at ATC, I have held several other roles in Finance, Supply Chain and Regional Treasury, overseeing six countries in EMEA. Before ATC, my career journey started as an audit associate with Ernst and Young and later joined PricewaterhouseCoopers before moving to Airtel Uganda. 

I am a Fellow of Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA), I hold a Master of Business Administration from Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, UK, and a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from Makerere University Business School. I describe myself as a meticulously organised professional who is very passionate about what I do. I enjoy the present and strive to make memories as I constantly work to inspire confidence and growth in people that I lead.

TowerXchange: Can you paint a picture of the Ugandan tower industry? How would you characterise the market conditions since your acquisition of Eaton Towers?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda: 

In Uganda, the independent tower company model started in 2012 after ATC’s acquisition of the MTN tower portfolio. This business model was not widespread in Africa and particularly in Uganda at the time many MNOs maintained control of the tower companies as minority shareholders.

Since the acquisition of EATON Towers, ATC continued to invest significant capital in tower upgrades, modern power systems and thus introduced more efficiencies in the availability of services to the industry. 

The benefits of this new shared model include financial and environmental advantages that translate into more efficient and competitive markets and release of capital for mobile operators, generating incentives for them to increase capacity and coverage of their networks, especially in rural areas and help close the digital divide.

TowerXchange: Uganda’s telecoms market has been described as one of the most competitive markets in the region, with a series of reforms lowering barriers-to-entry and leading to price wars that pushed Africell exit last year. How do you think this robust competition will affect your plans?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda: 

Telecommunication is the most competitive and fastest-growing market in the globe. The shared tower company model allows operators to have more options for their infrastructure. It reduces barriers to new entrants, who can benefit from a neutral host, and help existing operators to free up capital prioritizing their investment in new coverage areas, insights on the network and most importantly the best service levels to all customers.

TowerXchange: American Tower Uganda site count has grown by around 10% over the last year, what are your expansion plans and how many new sites and tenancies do you expect to add in your first year?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda: 

Expansion plans are driven by the demand of mobile network operators. The Uganda Communications Commission has mandated MNOs to provide 90% telecommunication service coverage across the country. ATC Uganda is funding this obligation and working closely with all industry players to meet this mandate and to contribute to connect the unconnected, especially in rural areas, and paving the way for the development of 5G networks.

Uganda has some of the lowest rates of electrification in Africa, how does American Tower Uganda optimise power supply to guarantee uptime on sites? 

As per World Bank data of 2020, access to electricity in Uganda's is only at 42% of the country’s population. We are constantly looking to grow our portfolio’s access to the electricity grid as soon as the grid is within proximity. We increase on-site energy efficiency, deploy renewable energy solutions and install advanced energy storage systems to help maximize power usage in areas with low access or in the event of outages.

TowerXchange: With American Tower adopting aggressive SBTs to reduce scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 40% by 2035, what strategies have you put in place to achieve this?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda: 

Climate change poses a serious challenge to society and will require collective action from all stakeholders to mitigate its effects. American Tower has recognized its responsibility to contribute to the global reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) by significantly investing in energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy deployments and sophisticated storage solutions to minimize the use of fossil fuels at our sites and also help our customers meet their own GHG reduction commitments. To date, we have invested close to $ 400 million towards that goal.

TowerXchange: MTN Uganda has conducted 5G trials and received additional spectrum this year, what impact do you see 5G having on the tower industry in Uganda in the short and longer term?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda: 

We do not comment on the investment plans of MNOs. In the longer term, 5G will put us in front of a higher network densification scenario, with the challenges of a fast deployment of a larger number of small cells, fiber transport and intelligent power solutions. Under that new scenario, replicating networks can be economically inefficient, create entrance barriers for new service providers and have an undesirable impact on the environment.  This poses a great opportunity for the shared infrastructure models

TowerXchange: As the first female CEO of American Tower Uganda, and with American Tower recently adopting the UN Woman’s Empowerment Principles, what would you like to see next for the telecom tower sector across Africa?

Dorothy Ssemanda, CEO, American Tower Uganda: 

As the first female CEO of American Tower Uganda, I am proud to be part of an organisation that invests and believes in gender diversity in leadership. This makes ATC Uganda stronger and has increased female representation worldwide aligning with the UN Woman’s Empowerment Principles.

I would like to see continued adoption of these gender equality and inclusiveness principles among the telecom industry in Africa and more girls taking on STEM skills and careers that can provide a great platform for equal opportunities for both women and men across Africa.

ATC does a continuous support to female empowerment and help increase digital literacy in Uganda and globally through its Digital Communities initiative and by partnering with programs like Girls in ICT and we are looking to partner with more global companies to bring this to scale.

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