Government will soon conduct a study on the use of mobile phones among the rural population countrywide to identify areas with rapid mobile phone and internet penetration among other purposes, a senior government official has said. According to the Rwanda Utilities and Regularity Authority (RURA), majority of the country’s mobile phone subscribers are concentrated in major cities and towns.
Director General of RURA, Regis Gatarayiha, said mobile phones penetration has grown rapidly but insisted that gaps still persist in the market.
Gatarayiha, who disclosed that his agency plans to use information from the recently conducted census to guide the study, says he expects it to clearly and specifically identify which households own mobile phones.
“The census will provide us with specifics of how many people from which district, sector and cell because we can validate our estimates of two million Rwandans who do not have access to mobile phones,” Regis explained. The preliminary data of the national census is due to be released in December this year
Gatarayira based his estimates on the population that registered for voting during the 2010 presidential polls that indicates that six million people were eligible to use mobile phones.
RURA will use the findings to work with operators to determine a clear visibility of the market and devise a strategy to connect those without mobile phones.
“We will know the exact location of the unconnected population as the mobile phone is a tool with rapid penetration faster than electricity penetration,” he stressed.
The study comes at a time when the general mobile telephony penetration has reached 45 per cent, a trend that is believed to have opened up possible opportunities to enhance development.
“I know its (mobile telephony penetration) increasing but I don’t have the figures of how it is rising among the poor and the rural community,” commented the Minister of ICT and Youth, Jean Philbert Nsengimana.
The study is expected to commence immediately after the census to feed policymakers with enough data and related information.
Data from RURA shows that as of July this year, Airtel which recently joined the mobile telephony market has already accumulated 44,044 subscribers while its two main rivals, Tigo Rwanda and MTN Rwanda have 1,663,672 and 3,082,025 active mobile phone users, respectively.
“We have targets, though the room for improvement is still big because mobile phone usage in Rwanda has moved beyond voice and short message services but towards mobile value added services,” the minister said.
Nsengiyumva said government targets to reach 25 per cent internet penetration from the current eight per cent. Conversely, it targets television and telephone penetration to reach 30 percent from six per cent and 55 per cent from 45 per cent, respectively.
Director General of National Institute of Statistics, Yusuf Murangwa, confirmed that RURA would base its study on the preliminary data of the census.
The biggest economic benefit from the use of mobile phones is their ability to reduce on travel, commented Jeremie Iyakaremye, a farmer in Kirehe District.
“Use of mobile phones is great because it connects me to my clients, suppliers and exporters and has reduced my travel costs thus improving efficiency of my day-to-day work,” he told Business Times in a telephone conversation.
He stated that the use of phone has become an indispensable business tool among small traders and farmers.
Iyakaremye said that out of the 464 coffee farmers that he works with, 80 per cent of them own mobile phones, which enables him to communicate with them easily.
“Days are gone when we used to gamble in planting and selling of our produce but to-date, apart from reaching a wider range of business contacts, farmers obtain (up to date) market price information,” he observed.
In the recent past, Government has introduced the e-soko project to facilitate farmers to access the latest market information for particular commodities using mobile phones.