Rwandans can now enjoy the fastest internet there is, 4G LTE, after it was launched yesterday as a critical economic stimulus for an economy that’s increasingly becoming digitally driven.
Commonly known as 4G LTE, the 4th Generation Long-Term Evolution internet network offers the fastest wireless communication on high-speed data for mobile phones and devices such as modems and routers.
“The long wait is over,” Patrick Nyirishema, the Director General of Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura), announced, drawing applause from a full house that waited for the much-anticipated moment.
“We waited for several months for the 4G LTE services to come live… and even for the launch itself, we had to wait a little bit, but it is here now. Over the last several years Rwanda has made significant strides in ICT development and this realisation today is very important in driving Rwanda’s ambitious transformational agenda.”
The official launch was conducted at a conference hosted at the Kigali Serena Hotel, by Minister for Youth and f ICT, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, alongside Nyirishema, Peter Jeon, CEO of Olleh Rwanda Network, and the Korean ambassador to Rwanda, Hwang Soon-Taik.
The service was welcomed by MTN Rwanda and Airtel Rwanda, and both telecoms have since unveiled a retail pricing for their 4G services.
MTN sells 5GB at a retail price of Rwf18, 600 for a month’s subscription, while, earlier in August, Airtel announced that it would sell the same for Rwf20, 000.
However, Tigo Rwanda, which was among the first providers to announce readiness to roll out 4G, is still coy on its pricing – as by press time last evening, the telecom firm had not yet officially stated its pricing.
“With the launch of 4G, Rwanda’s future is bright. We have a package that is going to change our clients’ experience. This is a platform that has also enhanced the competition amongst telecoms in Rwanda,” Ebenezer Asante, CEO, MTN Rwanda, said.
Tano Oware, the Financial Director at Airtel Rwanda, said: “Our customers can now enjoy extremely fast download speeds and we look forward to seeing how this new platform, on top of our high speed 3.75G internet service will impact their daily lives and business. The business community, SMEs and corporate companies are in for a treat.”
For now, 4G LTE is only accessible in the capital Kigali but will be extended to the rest of the country within three years, officials said.
Meanwhile, several Rwandans took to social media to express concerns about the cost of 4G LTE, arguing that it is unaffordable for the common man.
“The 4G internet service is something we eagerly waited for, but as a start-up, we find the prices are too high; we may have to wait until they have gone down,” Geoffrey Kamali, CEO, SMSNation Mobile, a local digital services company, said in an interview. “The telecoms do not seem to agree on the terms of pricing, but I am optimistic that they will soon find a way to lower the prices so that the service can be affordable for ordinary Rwandans and young companies.”
Minister Nsengimana agreed with the assertion, he believes that competitiveness and economies of scale will most likely bring the cost down in the near future.
“I think people need to be educated on how to fully utilise and gain from 4G internet. An individual or a company can do very many commercial things with just 1GB of 4G internet. You can browse all the websites you can but if you watch or download movies, it will be depleted within seconds,” Nsengimana told The New Times.
“There is so much you can do, but if you start using actions that consume a lot of bandwidth like watching videos, running a cyber café, or downloading songs, this platform will just not work for you. You would rather purchase the unlimited version and do all that at an amazing speed.”
MTN offers two unlimited versions of 4G. Monthly subscription with bundles of up to 100GB costs Rwf345, 000, while 200GB costs Rwf687,000. Airtel and Tigo prices for the unlimited 4G were not available by press time.
The development is a culmination of months of behind-the-scenes work following a June 2013 a shareholders’ agreement reached between the government and Korea Telecom (KT), the largest telecommunications service provider in South Korea, for the establishment of Olleh Rwanda Network as a joint venture to deploy a high-speed 4G broadband network to cover 95 per cent of the Rwandan population in three years.
As principal shareholders, KT’s role was to bring in expertise and to invest $140 million (Rwf98 billion), while the government was to lay a 3,000km-national fibre optic cable.
With the launch of 4G internet now, the government could mark off one or two targets under the second Economic Development and Poverty Eradication Strategy (EDPRS II) agenda by connecting all sectors of the economy to ICT services by 2018.
Over the last five years, ICT sector has attracted around 45 per cent of all foreign direct investments in Rwanda, while it also contributed 3 per cent of the country’s GDP in the last quarter of the year. It is projected to contribute by 4 per cent next year.
Rwanda targets to have 95 per cent of its citizens connected to the internet by 2017. And, according to Rura, 20 per cent of the population was active internet users by March 2014.