Rwanda’s Vision 2020 of transforming the economy from an agrarian nature to a knowledge-based one has been a remarkable one. One of the key milestones on this journey has been the growth of the telecommunication industry supported by increasing mobile phone penetration. In fact, mobile phone penetration has impressively increased by more than 78.6 per cent from 2005 to 2016 across the whole country.


The Information and Communication Technology is a central engine to driving Rwanda’s transformation to a knowledge based economy. Rwanda continues to be one of the fastest growing African countries in ICT and there are several avenues for growth for the ICT sector – from e-commerce and e-services, mobile technologies, applications development and automation to becoming a regional center for the training of top quality ICT professionals and research. A robust ICT industry can create wealth, jobs and entrepreneurs.


Key developments

The total number of active mobile telephone subscriptions in Rwanda has recently increased to by 1.5 percent to 8,853,301 as of September 2016 from a mere 4,842 in 2011. Mobile phone penetration currently stands at 78.6 per cent. The post-paid subscription increased from 104,185 at the end of June-2016 to 108,229 at the end of July-2016 while prepaid subscriptions increased from 8,827,923 to 8,917,287 during the same period. This means the number of those accessing and using mobile phones has increased tremendously thus contributing to Rwanda’s quest to becoming an ICT hub.


The mobile phone in Rwanda is used for different purposes: calls and short messages sending/receiving, money transfer, recording and playing music and movies, picture shooting, listening to the radio, watching TV, internet connectivity, advert and publicity; The increase of ownership of mobile phones goes together with the increase of economic growth of a country, says Jean Claude Nyirimanzi, a senior statistician at the National Institute of statistics of Rwanda (NISR).


Nyirimanzi explains that within the current situation of mobile phone penetration, both public and private institutions are afforded means to plan on how they can use this opportunity for other functions to foster the potential of national development.


MTN Rwanda   Rwanda’s biggest telecom operator boasts of more than 4 million subscribers. The company’s CEO Bart Hofker, says in its vision to lead the delivery of a bold, new, digital world to customers, MTN offers new and innovative packages and services and keeps up with the latest trends in communications to satisfy its customers.


Currently, Tigo Rwanda has over three million customers and has invested over US $310 million from 2009 to date. The telecom firm provides 4G LTE on mobile for both prepaid and post-paid customers.  Sunny Ntayombya, the Tigo corporate communication and government relations manager, attributed their gains to products that suit clients’ needs and stable network.


“We ensure that our products suit customer needs and give them value for money. Secondly, we guarantee an exceptional customer service experience. Most importantly, continued investment in infrastructure has helped us to expand our network and improve its reliability. All these make Rwandans choose us,” he said.


Indrajeet Singh, the Airtel commercial director, attributes the sector’s growth to competition and innovation by industry players. “Customers now call at a uniform rate of Rwf32/minute across all networks. We also offer competitive voice packs where clients get 60 minutes on-net at Rwf59,” Singh said, adding that Airtel has the most affordable data packs in the country.


In 2009, RURA adopted 13 recommendations of the International Telecommunication Union, which have helped to protect both the social and physical environment from the potentially negative impact of infrastructure development, while taking care not to restrict essential development.


Through its ICT sector RURA has developed guidelines encouraging “infrastructure sharing” the joint use of telecommunications facilities by two or more operators to avoid duplication.


This has enhanced the sector’s competiveness and efficiency.

Consequently, different sectors especially financial institutions and Utilities are increasingly digitizing and mobilizing their products and services using mobile phone platforms to further reduce costs and provide compelling new experiences for consumers, said Yvonne Manzi Makolo, from MTN  Rwanda.


Supporting one area network

In a bid to reduce the cost of roaming, Rwanda recently joined its counterparts in Kenya and Uganda to embrace one area network to further facilitate the ease of doing business across the region.


This One Network Area scheme which aims at removing roaming charges between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda was part of the smart Africa Alliance Initiative to raise $300 billion by 2020 for regional ICT infrastructure.

This has led to a minimum 400 per cent increase in the volume of calls; a direct benefit to EAC citizens and African businesses operating across EAC borders.

Previously, making calls across the EAC was in many cases more expensive than calling Europe, America or Asia.


Supporting ease of doing business in the region

To further facilitate business, the telecom industry has forged deals with other players in the region to drive the objective. For-example, Tigo’s cross-border money transfer service for Tigo Pesa users in Tanzania and Rwanda has been a remarkable success.


Experts believe telecommunication has a role to play for Rwanda to shift and become a knowledge based economy by the year 2020. For the first time since the introduction of telecom services in Rwanda, it is now possible for any talented entrepreneur to offer telecommunication services to end users with not much capital investment and no ownership of telecom infrastructure, which is provided by the wholesaler. This opportunity given to creative minds has led to the creation of employment and wealth in a sector previously dominated by few, and mostly foreign investment.


Today the country has more than 15 Internet Services Providers, besides the regular mobile network operators, that offer services across the country and to various markets. Furthermore, the Internet services providers have been given the unique opportunity to expand their services at unprecedented speed unlike previously witnessed in network deployment and expansion.


Driving Rwanda towards becoming a cashless economy

The sector has been credited for supporting government’s efforts to transform Rwanda into a cashless economy. Through mobile money platforms, sector players continue to support digital financial services through innovation and technology.


Bart Hofker, the MTN Rwanda chief executive officer, attributes the growth to introduction of innovative Mobile Money products that “have improved the value perceptions” with customers, such as the newly launched MTN Tap&Pay service, as well as mobile phone penetration in the country.


Hofker adds that mobile money transfer services have become popular due to low transfer costs, convenience and low risk factors associated with cashless transactions.


Going forward

In a quest to make Rwanda the ICT hub of Africa, the government has since 2000 been establishing institutions and mechanisms to create an enabling environment for ICT development, in addition to wooing investors and global forums to push its development agenda.


These institutions have been supported, largely, by the telecom industry which has indeed, according to experts, pushed for innovative projects and products.

Alex Ntale, head of the ICT chamber at the Private Sector Federation, says such platforms have been a key player in Rwanda’s economic transformation.


“For example, with the support of the International Telecommunication Union, we managed to enable access to connection, and have progressive ranking on the Internet and mobile penetration,” he said.


Rwanda is promoting universal access to affordable Internet as one of the enablers of business. The launch of high speed Internet, commonly known as Fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) over a year ago was seen as a step towards achieving this goal, besides helping in transformation of Rwanda through digital inclusion.


By Peterson Tumwebaze

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