Airtime is not going away anytime soon if you do consume telecom services, which you most likely do. That’s reason enough for you to know all the available services around buying, managing and sharing your airtime from the available networks in Uganda.
Before we dive into the details, there’s one thing you have to notice. All these services run off a legacy technology called USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), which is basically a cousin to SMS. It won’t earn you any nerd Swag among your geeky friends though since there’s nothing really fancy about dialing short codes like *100# compared to say a shiny cool App.
However, even though it’s old-school, the good thing is USSD just works fine across all devices irrespective of whether or not they are feature phones or high-end devices.
Buying Airtime in Uganda
The first service you would expect from airtime is how to buy or load more credit. Every Telecom which includes MTN, Airtel, Orange, (Now Africell Uganda) UTL Uganda has this covered offering both pre-paid and post-paid options. Obviously, in Africa, most of the services are pre-paid including your electricity now. Business customers are more tuned towards post-paid billing though.
We still buy airtime from street vendors who sell airtime vouchers at a small profit. You still have to scratch that card and painfully enter a 14-digit code through a network-specific USSD code. Loading credit goes something like *100*12345678901234# the first part of the digits being a network-specific USSD code while the second is a voucher number from the scratch card. For MTN Uganda, you can buy airtime using *155*Access Number# while for Airtel Uganda, you dial *130*recharge code#. Full details for other networks can be found in the table below.
Update: This manual processes can be made a little less painful thanks to this airtime loading app called QuickLoad. The App currently available on Android only scans the airtime scratch card, picks the 14 digits automatically before you send that USSD code.
But, you must be wondering why I am bothering to explain stuff you already know. Well, this is purely for historical reasons. This way of buying airtime is soon fading away of course, but you’ll need a reference for your kids who will demand to know why we settled for an error-prone, cumbersome, environmentally-unfriendly way of purchasing telecom services.
However, the Telecoms are realising better and more convenient means of loading Airtime. You can now load airtime directly from your mobile money account at no extra charge for instance for MTN customers without heading out to the shop next door. Alternatively, you can also use the more convenient PayWay Kiosks to buy airtime that are strategically located in major shopping malls in town. But if you have a friend that lives abroad, or just about anyone with a credit card, then they can load or buy airtime online in Uganda on to your cellphone using sendairtime.com website.
Checking Airtime balance
Now that you are past loading airtime and used some already, the next step is to check how much credit your have left on your account. Again, this is pretty straight forward process for all the networks. You simply have to remember some USSD short code which quite frankly is a menace. Given the overload of information gushing out at us these days, even remembering that the shortcode for balance inquiry is *156# on MTN Uganda or *131# on Orange Uganda is a bit of work! However, you can also check your balance online using self-help portals. Orange Uganda customers can use the web top-up service.
Update: MTN Uganda has been forced by UCC to change its shortcodes. You now use *130*vouncher no # and *131# for reloading and balance inquiry respectively. We’ve updates the changes in the table below.
Sharing your Airtime in Uganda
“Sharing is caring”, a timeless and popular mantra. But it didn’t start with Facebook or Twitter. Sharing has always been integral in other service sectors including Telecoms.
Again, like most of the other service, you need USSD codes to share some of your airtime with a friend or family member that’s run out of credit. MTN Uganda calls its peer-to-peer airtime sharing service “Me2U”. Both the sender and the recipient receive a confirmation SMS from MTN of the completed transaction. With MTN Me2U, you can share up to UGX 200,000 airtime directly from one phone to another.
Note that’s there’s no easy way of sharing Airtime from one network to another. An MTN customer can’t for instance share with an Airtel subscriber and surprisingly, there’s no third party provider who’s doing this!
Borrowing Airtime in Uganda
Okay, so what happens if you’re in some kind of emergency. Your only options is to call up a close friend or close family member and you don’t have airtime on your phone? You don’t want to get yourself in this kind of ordeal which is why the Telecoms have thoughtfully introduced a credit service that hooks you out in such situations.
Orange (Now Africell Uganda) calls its airtime lending service Wetaase accessed through dialing *161# while MTN Uganda calls its airtime borrowing service Xtra Time which you access using *146#. There are terms and conditions that you have to abide to though. For instance, MTN customers who wish to borrow airtime must first be on prepaid plans and should have been active for at least 6 months among some of the T&Cs. The networks get back their money the next time you load airtime with some interest.
Although not strictly borrowing airtime,
Orange Africell Uganda has a service that lets you send someone a text for free, so that they can call you back. To send a CallMe message, simply dial *100*2*the mobile number followed by # and press the OK/ yes button. For example: Dial *100*2*0790123456# and press OK/ yes. In the example, 0790123456 will receive a CallMe message.
Here’s a table for buying/loading, checking account balance, sharing and borrowing airtime across MTN, Airtel,
Orange Africell, UTL and Smart Telecom Uganda networks.
|Orange||*130*Voucher No#||*131#||*100*1# (EasyShare)||*161# (Wetaase)|
|MTN||*130*Voucher No#||*131#||*160*6# (Me2U)||*146# (Xtra Time)|
|Airtel||*130*Voucher No#||*131#||*166*Amount*Number# (Me2U)||*100*5#(Berako)|
|UTL||*111*Voucher No#||*122#||*133*Amount*Number# (Flexi Share)||*146# (Topowa)|