Consumer FAQs

Consumer Guide to choosing the right service

1What parameters to consider when purchasing communication equipment (handset / Mobile phone etc)?

The following parameters should be considered when purchasing communication equipment

i. Your budget

ii. Power storage capacities; Nickel Metal Hydride, Lithium Ion and Nickel Cadmium. Lithium Ion batteries are considered better.

iii. Compatibility for SMS, WAP or GPRS etc. if required

iv. Availability of features like vibration, last calls record, phone memory, clock, alarm, calculator, games etc, should be checked before purchase according to your requirement. Some features are network dependent also.

v. Phone memory, MMC card support capacity and strong battery are important considerations for heavier audio or video files.

2What should be considered when choosing the service provider?

The following are questions to ask before deciding which service to take.

 i. How do you want to be billed (e.g. pre-paid or post paid)?

ii. Do you mainly use the phone to talk or SMS?

iii. Are there any set-up fees for the service?

iv. What additional services are available – and can you make good use of them (e.g. mobile internet, voicemail)?

v. How are the calls charged? In Uganda call costs differ when calling different networks? If yes, then to which network do you make most of your calls?

vi. Do you want to use your phone when you are abroad? If yes, then which package has this feature?

vii. The type of calls you make. Are they local or international?

viii. If you make international calls, which countries do you call the most?

ix. How often do you make them?

x. When do you tend to make your calls (time of day, weekday or weekend)? Most service providers divide the day into peak and off-peak periods. The peak period will have a higher charge for the call.

xi. How long are your calls?

The costs and availability of all these will vary between operators and between packages.

If you have a good idea of how you use your phone, you can then choose the right service provider and package for you with the additional services you require and save yourself time, money and effort.

3What is per second and per minute billing?

i. Per-second based calls are charged according to the seconds spent on each call.

ii. Minute based calls are charged per minute i.e. 60 seconds

4What are Post-Paid and Pre-Paid Sim Cards

i. Post-Paid SIM Card is billed periodically, say, monthly. Full information is availed to the user, and it is the responsibility of the user to keep track of how much you are using on your phone.

ii. Pre-Paid uses a fixed amount which is included in the cost initially. Pre-Paid cards are recharged using recharge airtime cards available in different denominations.

5What next after choosing the provider and package?

The next step is to look very carefully at the contract between yourself and your service provider. Below is what should be considered before signing, so that you know your rights and obligations.

i. Make sure you are going to get exactly what you expected.

ii. Check the cost of all the types of calls you are likely to make and the services you want to take.

iii. Find out how long the contract is for?

iv. Find out if you can easily upgrade your package or change the services you take?

v. Find out how you can contact your service provider?

vi. Make sure you know the complaints procedure?

vii. Find out what the terms and conditions of the service are.

6What is a PIN number and what can one do if the SIM card gets blocked?

i. As soon as you insert a SIM Card in any Handset it asks for PIN (Personal Identification Number) which is a password that is known to the authorised user only. The PIN code can be set to protect your SIM card from unauthorized use.

ii. To prevent continuous attempts to 'guess' the PIN number the SIM card automatically gets locked-up after three consecutive wrong entries. If the SIM card is locked, the "Blocked" message will appear and an unlocking code will be needed. Further repeat wrong entries of PIN may lead to damage of card.

iii. The blocked SIM can be then opened through PUK number (PIN Unlocking code) which can be obtained from your service provider after establishing your identity. The PUK is an 8 digit code available with your cellular service provider. Also one should remember that 10 successive wrong entries of PUK number may damage the SIM card forever.

7What is an IMEI number of the mobile handset and how can we get it?

The IMEI number (serial number) is a 15 digit number unique to a mobile handset which can help in tracking your mobile phone if it is lost. Just key in *#06# on your cellular phone and it will display its IMEI number. Note it down safely.

8What about changing your service provider?

If you are not satisfied with your service provider or want to choose a provider that offers more suitable services, you may well be able to choose another one. Or move to a package that suits you better. Below are questions to think about before you change your service provider:

i. How much notice do you have to give to end the contract with your current service provider?

ii. Given the whole picture of how you use your phone, is the new operator offering you a better deal? You are the customer – it's your choice!

9How a mobile phone works
A mobile phone is an electronic communications device that enables communication in two directions simultaneously. It uses radiofrequency (RF) signals/energy to transmit and receive voice and data and communicates by transmitting the radio waves through a network of fixed antennas called base stations. Mobile communications systems require the use of a number of base stations located throughout a service area as each base station will serve a specific geographical area called a cell. When a user makes a call, the mobile phone communicates with a nearby base station and while the user moves about, he/she will be ‘handed over’ to other base stations, which may have a better signal strength. The location of base stations is determined generally by two different needs; to provide adequate coverage and adequate capacity. Increase in capacity of a network in a particular area will increase the number of installations of the base stations. This is the main reason why in densely populated areas like towns and cities, the base stations are closer together.
10Radiation Frequency?
Radio frequency (RF) radiation is the transfer of energy by radio waves. It lies in the frequency range 3 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz). RF radiation is non-ionizing radiation, meaning that that it does not have insufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule (ionization). This is as opposed to ionizing radiation that has sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule such as the gamma rays and X-rays. A mobile phone emits non-ionizing radiation (NIR). NIR does not have sufficient energy to cause ionization in living matter. It causes some heating effect, but usually not enough to cause any kind of long-term damage to human tissue. Of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, radiofrequency energy, visible light and microwave radiation are considered non-ionizing while gamma rays and x-rays are ionizing radiation
11Health concerns around mobile phone usage
The health concerns usually reported that are related to mobile phone usage include; elevated risk of cancer, headaches, changes in brain activity, reaction times and sleep patterns among others. The substantial amount of research carried out by recognized institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Health Protection Agency (HPA) with regard to the probable health risks has no found so far any link between mobile phones and their base stations, and an elevated risk of cancer. The biological effects of non-ionising radiation, backed by evidenced scientific research is surface heating in direct line of sight over a prolonged exposure period. However, non-ionising radiation does not have insufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule (ionization). However, health experts still recognize how critical the public concerns are, and thus studies are still on going to fully assess the potential long- term effects of communications developments.
12Possible health risks and effects associated with mobile phone use
A number of health risks and effects have been reported with mobile phone use. However, experts have not found convincing evidence that the radiation from mobile phones and their base stations causes adverse health effects to human. However, health experts still recognize how critical the public concerns are, and thus studies are still on going to fully assess the potential long-term effects of communications developments. It is noteworthy that the consistent health risk associated with mobile phone use is distracted driving and vehicle accidents and the lack of concentration.
13Exposure levels from mobile phones
RF exposure levels are directly proportional to the actual power of a mobile phone during a call as well as sending/receiving data. A mobile phone’s output power is significantly lower than maximum output power due to adaptive power control (a feature of a radio transmitter that automatically minimizes the power for just enough to get a good quality connection). Factors that can change the output power of a mobile phone and intensify exposure include; user movement, technology, phone usage, user location among others. Mobile phone calls made in areas where there are many base stations at relatively short distances from each other such as trading centers, use lower power output than mobile phones calls made in areas with larger distances between base stations such as in rural areas.
14Typical power of a mobile phone
The typical power output of a mobile phone ranges from 10 to 100 milliwatts (mW) which considers the operation of adaptive power control. It is noteworthy, that the mobile power may be higher in rural areas.
15How to reduce exposure from a mobile phone
Mobile phones are designed to operate automatically at low power which minimizes exposure. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has outlined additional steps that can further reduce exposure. These include; using hands-free device to keep the phone away from the head and body during calls, limiting the call duration, making calls in areas with good reception, among others.
16Mobile phones emit less with good network signal
A mobile phone in use will operate at low power when near a base station, emitting less and offering a good signal quality.
17Mobile phones and Specific Absorption Rate
Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is the amount of RF energy from the phone absorbed by the user’s body it is measured in watts per kilogram (W/kg). When talking to someone on mobile phone, the RF energy is partly absorbed in the head. If a headset is used and the mobile is away from the head (e.g. in one’s pocket), the energy will be absorbed by the body part close to where the mobile phone. The International Commission on Non- Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a body of independent science experts addressing the important issues of possible adverse effects on human health of exposure to non- ionising radiation, recommends an SAR not more than 2W/kg for all mobile phones.
18Mobile phone exposure limit guidelines
The exposure limits for mobile phone users are given in terms of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). The ICNIRP has developed guidelines for exposure limits based on a detailed assessment of the available scientific evidence.
19The role of UCC in ensuring that mobile phones are safe.
The UCC type approves/accepts all mobile devices imported in Uganda before they are deployed for use. The type approval/acceptance process assesses the conformity of the devices to the national and international technical specifications and standards. UCC also requires that mobile devices comply with the radio emissions standards and safety limits of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) prescribed by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) limits and standards and recommended by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
20Does a phone shield is a protective device and reduces exposure?
There is also no reliable evidence or scientific proof that protective shields reduce exposure. However, while such devices are placed on the phone, the phone’s automatic power control makes it work harder and transmit more power, increasing heat and reducing battery life and reduce signal quality. UCC does not recommend the use of any protective devices other than the approved hands-free accessories.
21Are children at greater risk from mobile phone use?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that studies into the long health effects do not indicate that children may be more vulnerable to RF emissions from mobile phones than adults. The current guidelines to limit exposure are designed to protect people of all ages against the known harmful effects of exposure to RF. Nonetheless, parents may wish to administer precautions to further lower their children’s exposure while using mobile phones by; reducing call time and phone use, make calls where there is good signal, use hands-free or speaker options or texts.
22Should people stop using mobile phones?
To date, science has not linked health problems to mobile phone use. Mobile phone use comes with advantages like time saving and lifesaving. However, lifestyle choices can cause risk as a result of mobile phone use such as; driving while using your phone like texting.
23Where to get information related to mobile phones and safety.
UCC is available to provide more information on any inquiries or questions regarding mobile phones and safety. For more information, you may contact; - The Executive Director, Uganda Communications Commission, UCC House, Plot 42-44, Spring Road, Bugolobi, P. O. Box 7376, Kampala (U) - Emails: ucc@ucc.co.ug, research@ucc.co.ug - Toll Free line: 0800222777 - Office Numbers: 0414339000/0312339000 - Face Book: Uganda Communications Commission - Tweeter: @UCC_Official
24What is a base station?
A base station (commonly known as a mast) is a transmission and reception station in a fixed location, consisting of one or more receive/transmit antenna and microwave dish mounted on any supporting structure such as mast/tower or building rooftops, connected by cable to electronic (radio) equipment usually housed in a room or shelter, for the purpose of facilitating communication between an access device (e.g. mobile phone) and a communications network. The base station antennas receive and send messages to a mobile phone/device by radio frequency (RF) radiation.
25How does a mobile phone network operate?
When a user makes a call, the mobile phone communicates with a nearby base station and while the user moves about, he/she will be ‘handed over’ to other base stations which may have a better signal strength. This signal strength are radio frequency (RF) signals that are transmitted between the mobile antenna and the base station antenna. Base station antennas are elevated and located clear of physical obstruction to ensure wide coverage.
26What is radio frequency radiation?
Radio frequency (RF) radiation is the transfer of energy by radio waves. It lies in the frequency range 3 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz). RF radiation is non-ionizing radiation, meaning that that it does not have insufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule (ionization). This is as opposed to ionizing radiation that has sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule such as the gamma rays and X-rays.
27Why do we need base stations in our communities?
A base station provides network coverage to people using mobile devices in its specific surrounding geographical area. As the number of mobile devices in a community grows, more base stations are needed. This explains the more base stations in crowded locations like areas of human access such as trading centers and markets.
28Are base stations dangerous to the surrounding community?
No. So far, there is no evidence that indicates that base stations are dangerous to the surrounding community. This is in respect with the RF energy from the emitting sources (antennas), as they operate at low power, produce low RF exposure levels in public areas and are specifically designed for the environment they are located in. The closer to a base station the mobile device user is, the stronger the signal from the base station and thus the better the quality of communication.
29What determines where a base station is located?
A number of factors determines the location of a base station; - Number of calls expected to be made in the coverage area, - Antenna height, - Frequency on which the base station will operate, - Topography and other physical constraints such as trees and building. - The target population to be covered; - Levels of economic activities in the area, etc. The developers are encouraged to comply with the prerequisites prior to installing a base station in an area. These include among others; conducting an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) and consulting with local authorities on the proposed development. The developers are encouraged to engage/sensitize the local community about the proposed project.
30What is a minimum distance for which a base station should be located from human access?
There is no prescribed distance at which a base station should be located from human dwellings. However, there are maximum exposure levels prescribed for both the public and occupational workers. The location of a base station is determined based chiefly on its ability to provide best coverage for the area at hand and enhance the capacity of the network in an area.
31Are base stations regulated in Uganda?
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the regulator of Communications services in Uganda, regulates the RF emissions from mobile phone base stations and other communications infrastructure in Uganda.
32What are the license requirements for base stations in Uganda?
UCC requires; - Developers of communications infrastructure to comply with all the laws, regulations, guidelines and standards issued by the Government of Uganda on health, safety and environmental protection. - Telecommunications systems, equipment, devices and operations to comply with the radio emissions standards and safety limits prescribed by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) limits and standards recommended by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). UCC does conduct periodic and on-request assessments to evaluate the compliance of base stations with the specified standards on exposure levels.
33Does Uganda have safety standards and guidelines for base stations?
Yes. Uganda applies the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines for limiting exposure. ICNIRP is a body of independent science experts addressing the important issues of possible adverse effects on human health of exposure to non-ionising radiation. The ICNIRP guidelines are endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and recommended by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and are widely adopted worldwide. These guidelines were developed following reviews of the scientific literature, including thermal and non-thermal effects and designed to provide protection against all identified health hazards of RF energy with large safety margins. They use basic limits (Specific Absorption Rate [SAR], specific absorption, current density) and reference levels (electric field, magnetic, power density), exposure limits, time averaging and separate consideration for low and high exposure for both occupational/workers and the public. It is noteworthy to emphasize that exposure limits are not emission limits; they apply to locations accessible to occupational workers or the public, and thus it is possible to achieve compliance by limiting access to areas where the field limits are exceeded.
34Do the base stations in Uganda meet these safety standards and guidelines?
The inspections and assessments carried in Uganda thus far show that the emissions at the various base stations sites are within the limits permitted under the ICNIRP guidelines on complying with limits for human exposure to RF radiation.
35Does exposure from base stations cause cancer?
The substantial amount of research carried out by recognized institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Health Protection Agency (HPA) with regard to the probable health risks has not found so far any link between telecommunications developments (base stations) and an elevated risk of cancer. The biological effects of non-ionising radiation, backed by evidenced scientific research is surface heating in direct line of sight over a prolonged exposure period. However, non-ionising radiation does not have insufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule (ionization). However, health experts still recognize how critical the public concerns are, and thus studies are still on going to fully assess the potential long- term effects of communications developments.
36Does exposure from base stations cause impotence in men?
UCC is not aware of any study that has linked RF emissions to causing impotence in men.
37Does exposure from base stations cause contaminate tank water?
UCC is not aware of any study that has linked RF emissions to tank water contamination.
38If base stations are safe, why is there still public concern?
UCC recognizes that some people are concerned about the potential health effects from base stations, and specifically the location of these in proximity to human settlements. UCC is thus committed to providing useful information and sensitization along with its stakeholders to address these concerns. UCC also continues to conduct periodic and on-request compliance assessments around these developments.
39What is UCC doing to address public concerns around base stations?
UCC conducts assessments to evaluate the compliance of base stations with the specified standards on exposure levels from base stations in comparison with the reference levels; - As stipulated by the ICNIRP guidelines (the likelihood of human exposure to the radiation/emissions from the emitters – for both the public and workers), - Recommended by the ITU on guidance on complying with limits of human exposure to electromagnetic fields and guidance on measurements and numerical prediction of electromagnetic fields for compliance with human exposure limits for telecommunications installations. The inspections carried out in Uganda thus far show that the emissions at the various base stations sites are within the limits permitted under the ICNIRP guidelines on complying with limits for human exposure to EMF up to 300GHz.
40What measures have been put in place to protect the public from any probable risks from the base stations in Uganda?
Base stations can meet all the national and international safety standards and guidelines when constructed with proper engineering design, installation and regulatory control. Simple administrative controls like restriction to the base stations like fencing, locking and warning signs are also put in place
41What is 5G?
5G or fifth generation is the latest wireless mobile telecommunications technology designed to support a growing number of connected devices. It offers improved data performance and supports a wide range of applications. 5G will speed up the rate of data transfer by 100 times or more, greatly reduce the time between receipt of a signal by a cellular base stations and its response (latency), and allow cellular networks to manage far more wireless-connected devices than presently possible.
42What are the exposure limits from 5G?
For all radio frequencies (RF) up to 300GHz, maximum exposure limits have been set for both public and occupational exposure by international bodies, such as the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), endorsed and recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International telecommunications Union (ITU). These limits are designed to avoid any adverse health effects.
43What are the potential health risks from 5G?
5G deployment has caused concerns about the possible health effects of the RF energy transmitted by 5G base stations. Public opinion seems to focus mainly on two characteristics of 5G; the several frequency bands (including millimeter wave-mmWave) that 5G will operate and the multitude of base stations that will be placed/mounted in close proximity to subscribers. - The earlier technologies (2G, 3G and 4G) utilized low frequency bands for their operation. 5G systems on the other hand will utilize several frequency bands, including the low frequency as used by the present cellular networks and high frequency bands. The concern is the high frequency band, the millimeter-wave (mmWave) that extends from 30GHz to 300GHz that will be used to handle high data traffic where needed. While mmWaves have not been used in cellular communications before, they have been used for other applications such as; airport security scanners and anti-collision radar for automobiles. - 5G systems roll out will require many closely spaced base stations (small cells) in so much proximity to human access both indoor and outdoor. MmWaves like the other RF energy produce non-ionizing radiation. The biological effects of non-ionising radiation, backed by evidenced scientific research is surface heating in direct line of sight over a prolonged exposure period. However, non-ionising radiation does not have insufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule (ionization). This is as opposed to ionizing radiation that has sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule such as the gamma rays and X-rays.
44Are there exposure guidelines specific to 5G?
5G does not require different consideration or different set of guidelines, because it is a new generation of the same type of telecommunications technology that uses RF energy. It is noteworthy that visible light is a common source of frequency higher than RF energy (including the mmWave or other mobile frequencies).
45Does 5G technology help the spread of COVID-19?
No, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that there is no link between 5G and COVID-19, confirming that viruses cannot travel on radio waves or on mobile networks. The WHO further maintains that COVID-19 is caused by the SARS – CoV-2 Virus, which spreads between people when an infected person is in close contact with another person. A person can catch COVID-19 when the virus gets into their mouth, nose of eyes, from an infected person who is less than 1 meter close to them. UCC urges the public to refrain from disinformation and threats against mobile networks
46Will 5G cause more exposure?
To a small extent yes. But the increase in exposure levels is localized in the 5G deployed area. However, 5G total exposure levels will be very low relative to the international exposure limits. Based on the results from measurements of 5G trials and commercial 5G networks, the exposure levels will be similar to existing mobile services and below the international safety guidelines.
47Should people be worried about 5G?
There is no cause of worry or alarm with regard to 5G technology. It operates in the same electromagnetic radio spectrum (RF energy) like many other radio applications that we use in our day to day life such as microwave ovens, Television receivers, car keys, Bluetooth, the 4G and 3G technologies that we have enjoyed all along without necessarily worrying about them.
48Where can I obtain more information regarding 5G and health
UCC is available to provide more information on any inquiries or questions regarding 5G and health. For more information, you may contact; - The Executive Director, Uganda Communications Commission, UCC House, Plot 42-44, Spring Road, Bugolobi, P. O. Box 7376, Kampala (U) - Emails: ucc@ucc.co.ug, research@ucc.co.ug - Toll Free line: 0800222777 - Office Numbers: 0414339000/0312339000 - Face Book: Uganda Communications Commission - Tweeter: @UCC_Official