More serious competition in the telecommunications industry in Rwanda was last week marked with a mega carnival-like launch (or re-launch if you like, considering that it has been around for a number of years), when Rwandatel re-launched its services with a vengeance.
The re-launch included a media-blitz extolling Rwandatel’s newly reloaded bouquet of offers like rolling out internet coverage to the rural areas, provision of G3 services – whatever magic is in the term - and cheaper call costs. Actually the promotion has a provision of doubling one’s airtime.
Then the telecoms company went a notch higher. For a paltry sum of money to buy their Simcard, one was entitled to enter a mega concert, where international music icons Sean Paul, Kofi Olomide, Kidumu, and a host of other local and international music stars performed.
To be sure, if the future success of Rwandatel is to be measured by the enthusiastic attendance of the thousands upon thousands that surged the Amahoro Stadium to witness the events, then it is already successful.
Whenever there is meaningful competition among big corporations, there is no doubt as to who finally benefits. The callers will get cheaper rates as cutthroat competition will force the service providers to cut their profit margin to a bare minimum if they are to survive in the business.
Subscribers are already enjoying Rwandatel’s double your airtime promotion. One can expect that MTN, the biggest player in the telecommunication sector here in Rwanda , will also dream up a big programme that targets the undecideds who are in the zone of thinking of crossing over to the competition, which is Rwandatel.
But in all this seesawing, there is a niggling doubt as to whether all this is not merely for show. You know, glitz is attractive, regardless whether it is mere Chinese foil. We are definitely improving in the telecommunications sector, with the fibre optic project still unrolling its cables everywhere.
The promise of Rwandatel that it will unleash its service fury to cover even the rural areas, however, smacks of what is stipulated in its contractual obligations, and not that is really is desirable in economic an financial terms.
The phrase “we have been there before” is enticing to be used over and over again. But it is the truth, because one of the reasons why the original contract between the government and the first Terracom managers was cancelled was the latter’s failure to see through this particular clause.
There are some things that a common telecommunication user wishes their subscribers were really, really serious about. One of them is efficient connections, like keeping dropped calls to a bare minimum.
No one wants to make a call and before they finally connect, they have gone through the whole gamut of: the number you have dialled is incorrect…, the number you are calling is busy,…, the caller is on another line, please wait indefinitely, and the standard unavailability of the number, when in actuality it has rung thrice before it went off!
Another is lower charges. We know machines cost lots of money, but the general feel is that telecom companies are ripping us off! After all, aren’t they selling just air…? Whatever it is, we need much lower rates than the current ones in order to transact business efficiently.
With internet users, the frustrations are many and more serious. The internet is extremely slow, if it is available at all.We need faster and solid internet connections, and we need the net onto our phones too.
There is a world of difference between here and our neighbouring countries where people read their mail directly from their phones. We should now be able to do this, with Rwandatel promising this heaven. I guess this is what is called “providing G3 technology”.
But even there where claims to technological advancement in telecommunication abound, the providers have found a way of keeping full use of this technology at a bare minimum. What do you say to Uganda and Kenya ’s MTN and Safaricom respectively, when they charge an arm and a leg to connect mobile internet on to your laptop?
Initial connection and subscription fees for this service are prohibitive, and our regional government leaders need to legislate against this deliberate policy to keep usage of telecommunication at a minimum.
One would also expect that the acquisition of such an expensive item like a laptop should entitle them to some free capital of connection. There are zones in towns called hotspots that are not so hot. These are supposed to give users free access to the internet.
But alas! They are all protected with passwords, and those that purport not to be, the connection is so low as for it not be usable at all. Telecommunication companies set up shop to make profit it is true.
But it is also true that their contracts hold them to developing not only their infrastructure, but also take all measures to encourage and stimulate telecommunication usage in all its entirety.
What is the use of buying a BlackBerry phone for example when you will be told by MTN that you have to subscribe – through the nose – before you can utilise all its varied programmes? What is the use of having hotspots when citizens cannot utilise them?
It is needless to point out that it is such things, such facilities that endear tourists be they local or foreign, to a place. Can I go to a park somewhere with my laptop and work there in peace? And they will come in droves. Tourists also want to save a penny!
This is all for the benefit of newly reloaded Rwandatel, and also for sluggish MTN. We want cheap services fine, but it doesn’t stop us from asking for quality service.
When the president says that there is a problem of under-estimating the potential that Rwanda has, he should be heeded, and proper appraisals and investment pumped in this still virgin sector.