When Rwanda hosted the Transform Africa Summit in May of 2018, an executive with Korea Telecom (KT) announced the completion of the countrywide 4G LTE network.
This feat was a result of a joint venture between KT and the Government of Rwanda. The goal was for the faster 4G coverage to help improve the quality of life for Rwandans.
A couple of years down the road, many Rwandans are still stuck to the 3G networks despite the available infrastructure.
The internet and telecom operators that are supposed to vend the 4G are shying away from the product due to the unfavorable price points.
And now, the world is moving on to the even higher 5G network putting the country at risk of not meeting its technology advancement goals.
While there is a lot you can still do with the 3G network, we should not be comfortable with it. In fact, with the promotion of STEM gaining momentum, expect the demand for 4G network to be higher.
The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus should serve as a stark reminder that we must yearn for more.
Here is why.
In the city of Guangzhou, one of Rwandair’s destinations, robots powered by the even more advanced 5G network patrol the streets, reminding people to keep their masks on and wash their hands to prevent the spread of the virus.
These robots are also fitted with high-resolution cameras and thermometers that can scan body temperatures of up to 10 people at once. The robots have also been put at airports, and if you have no mask or your temperature is above normal, the authorities are automatically alerted.
This is just one example of how handy technology can be
For Rwanda, the ambitions are equally high and even more paramount as we strive to leverage technology in the quest to become a middle-income country.
Many of the players in the technology sector attribute the slow uptake of 4G technology to the fact that Korea Telecom got exclusive rights that are bound by the contract.
With the amount of investment required to build the infrastructure, it makes a lot of sense for the Asian company to ask for exclusivity as guarantees that it will get returns on the money put in.
However, as time goes by, it is continuously evident that recouping the investment as earlier projected is no longer realistic. From 2014 when the joint venture launched its commercial activities, today, one can argue that the uptake of 4G should be way higher than it is now.
According to the Global Systems Mobile Association (GSMA) the Single Wholesale Network model is not ideal because it has failed to deliver on its promise of widely affordable and fast Internet.
The GSMA represents the interests of over 750 operators and 400 companies dealing in the mobile ecosystem. The organization has even gone a step further by calling on regulators to dilute the monopolies enjoyed by these wholesale networks.
By opening up the markets, they argue, consumers will stand to benefit as well since competition will not only bring affordable options, but also spur innovation, something Rwanda is actively promoting.
Rwanda’s regulator, RURA, and Korea Telecom may have to go back to the drawing board so that the contractual obligations are revisited. With the look of things, no one is benefiting from the status quo. Investing in technology is the right thing to do, but it has to be done and with the end goal constantly in focus.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.