Cheap end user devices, partnerships key to internet affordability – service providers

Broadband Systems Cooperation chief executive Christian Muhirwa (left) makes a point during a panel discussion at the just-concluded Capacity Africa Conference in Kigali on Thursday. Sam Ngendahimana.

Rwanda is one of the few countries that are doing well in internet connectivity and phone penetration. Although it is not the same story for many countries in Africa, there is more work to be done.

This was revealed during the just-concluded telecoms summit organised by Capacity Africa, in Kigali.

According to recent data, internet penetration stands at 52.1 per cent while mobile phone penetration at 76.6 per cent.

Not considering the number of people who do not even own a phone, the above figures illustrate that there are many people who use a mobile phone but are not connected to the internet.

With 92.5 per cent 4G LTE geographical coverage and the mobile network operators and other wholesalers slashing the price of internet, the question that remains is why people are still reluctant to come on board.

Reacting to the issue, senior tech executives prescribed a public-private partnership, developing affordable end-user devices, and more intervention by big industry players as one of the approaches that can be replicated.

Speaking during one of the panel discussions at the summit, Christian Muhirwa, Chief Executive Officer of Broadband Systems Cooperation (BSC), said that although there has been a commendable reduction in the price of internet, mobile networks operators still have to do more to bring more on the network.

“Here 4G started as an expensive service but now we see it is becoming more affordable, to bring the masses onboard that power rests with the telecoms” he said.

Muhirwa added that because the industry is demand-driven, players have to develop models that will get them more customers if they are to get a return on their investment.

“It’s about numbers; the more the subscribers on the network, the bigger the economic return. This is very important because it reduces the payback period creating more incentives for more investments,” he added.

Martin Mutiiria, Sales Director WIOCC, said that public-private partnership in establishing access to networks is key to drive the demand as business investors always concentrate on high-value market areas (cities) which leaves the countryside with no access.

“There is a lot of capacity on submarine cables, but we are not seeing the same capacity getting to the end-users, so part of the solution is installing access networks to drive the demand and partnerships between governments and the private sector are key” he said.

Matiiria observed that that will attract investors to rural areas which majority consider expensive and they do not see value when they do a cost-benefit analysis.

He also said that this can put an end to the emergence of new monopolies generating competition in service provision as there will be questions of who owns what infrastructure.

Johnny Kayihura, the Managing Director of AXIOM Networks said that countries together with telecoms have to develop more affordable end-user devices that are compatible with the service.

“People always want to use the internet but they cannot get end user devices which are affordable in their means, so this is one of the areas policymakers and private can look into” he said.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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