Test for affordable internet shows promise, say officials

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An internet user surfing. Unlike Wi-Fi, TV White Space can cover up to 100-metre radius and is more affordable. / Timothy Kisambira

Rwanda could soon see alternative internet technologies rolled out, making it possible to further increase digital penetration.

The new technology, TV White Spaces, utilises the unused space in terrestrial television spectrum allocated to provide affordable internet connectivity.

Unlike Wi-Fi technology that propagates to a 100-metre radius, TV White Spaces can transmit signal to a radius of about 10 kilometres.

The technology was last year piloted through a partnership of the Government and Microsoft at Lycee de Kigali and University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics.

The partnership aimed at using the technology to scale up the rollout of internet in schools across the country beyond the current 9 per cent of the about 530 schools.

The technology has also been piloted and tested by a private firm, Axiom Networks Rwanda, which sought to test its feasibility and potential impact in the local ecosystem.

Johnnie Kayihura, the chief executive of Axiom Networks Rwanda, said they have been using the technology since September, last year, largely to test its feasibility.

“We tested the technology in Muhanga District. We are using it for the last mile connectivity. We have successfully tested it and found it to be excellent,” he told Saturday Times.

Following the test phase, Kayihura said they were currently in talks with Microsoft and the manufacturers of TV White Space equipment.

He said that the cost of the equipment, customer premise equipment (CPE) units are a barrier to the entry into the market.

“To buy a CPE would cost about $700 before shipping. By the time you ship and pay taxes it could come up to $1000. They (the manufacturers) claim that the production and demand is still low hence the high cost,” he said.

Once there is a dip in prices of the equipment, Kayihura said, it will be easier and cheaper to rollout the technology in the country.

With the current market trends and projection, he said the equipment could go down to the tune of $100 to $200, which will see it rolled out into the market.

Kayihura added that if the price dips as projected, the technology is likely to hit the market by the third quarter of the year.

The technology is ideal for institutions and neighbourhoods seeking broadband connectivity.

On the likely impact to the ecosystem, experts say it will further facilitate access to internet across the country.

The Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority has already come up with regulation for the technology, meaning providers can roll it out to the market.

The pilot phase, underway at University of Rwanda, is set to benefit 28,000 students and 1,500 staff.

Despite the multiple operators in broadband service provision, internet penetration is yet to reach the desired level.

The latest internet statistics, released in August last year, put penetration at about 3.6 million people courtesy of telecom companies and internet service providers.

Rwanda has internet coverage target of 95 per cent by the end of the year.

Tech enthusiasts say the new technology could help complement the existing rollout measures as well as create competition among operators in the country.

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