Despite the fast adoption of mobile money and its growth in Rwanda, sending money across networks still remains impossible for millions of Rwandans who use the platforms.
At the moment, MTN Mobile Money and Airtel Money users cannot send or receive money across networks, a situation that has caused inconveniences for many people.
In an interview last week, Arthur Rutagengwa, the head of mobile money at MTN Rwanda, said that achieving mobile interoperability remains impossible because there are no guidelines to guide it.
“Interoperability is not a walk over. You need to make sure that platforms can talk to each other, and there was no harmonisation previously. Also, from the policy stand, there were no rules that guide the process,” he said.
A market analyst who spoke to The New Times said the process to interoperate may have been delayed due to the tight competition between telecom companies.
“Each operator wanted to dominate the market share by ring-fencing their customer base. But I think we are at the end of that phase. Each operator has hit what they could and with Airtel-Tigo merger, creating a duopoly, the market is now even,” the Kigali-based analyst opined.
The long resistance of mobile network operators (MNOs) to interoperability, however, could soon end.
“We (MTN) have expressed our interest to be interoperable with Airtel here (in Rwanda), which is a global vision of MTN Group,” Rutagengwa told The New Times last week, revealing that the two telecoms have jointly written to inform the Central Bank about the intention to be interoperable.
He said that, currently, GSMA, the global association of telecom companies, is facilitating the process to make sure that it’s beneficial to all the operators as well as ensure the protection of consumers.
Airtel Rwanda’s Moses Abindabizemu confirmed the development, saying that they were waiting for approval from the central bank, and highlighted that they were hopeful that the response will be positive.
The official was hesitant to divulge into further details of the process, including how consumers will be protected, how the two telecoms will share responsibilities as well as deadlines for the process.
But Rutagengwa noted that they think they will have attained the license and started enabling money transfers across networks before the end of this year.
With the guidance of GSMA, he said that they are also looking at the use cases that can work for Rwanda, as well as reviewing the commercial model that can work for both telecoms.
An analyst said the “context is ripe for interoperability now as it is about both companies earning commission money by supporting inter-network transactions just the way it is with calls and inter-bank transfers”.
In Rwanda, there were currently 10.1 million active mobile money subscribers, as of the first quarter of 2018.
Statistics also show that, as of March this year, the number of mobile money transactions stood at 84.23 million while the value of those mobile money transactions was Rwf692.5 billion.
With plans to interoperate, there is anticipation that this could lead to a rise in financial inclusion, especially in rural areas where many people prefer using mobile money.
Tanzania became the first interoperable mobile money market in Africa when three MNOs came together to allow their subscribers to send money across networks irrespective of their network.
This saw the ownership of mobile money accounts surge from 1 per cent of the population in 2009 to 32 per cent in 2014.
According to Rutagengwa, once the process to obtain the license completes, mobile money users will be able to send and receive money across networks without extra charges on any transactions.
“If you pay Rwf3 to send Rwf100 on MTN mobile money, this is the same amount you will pay when sending to an Airtel money user,” he noted.