Rwanda’s Vision 2020 has been a journey to transform its economy from an agrarian economy to a knowledge-based one. A key milestone on this journey is the deployment of broadband infrastructure accessible to all its citizens wherever they live and work.
This deployment can happen in one of two ways. The traditional way is to leave the matter to the telecom market to competitively build broadband infrastructure until the country is fully covered.
This takes a long time because each of the telecom operators will typically build their own broadband infrastructure. This leads to multiple infrastructures all competing for the market of broadband users.
This means that neither of the infrastructure players can profitably cover the whole country in the short time required by the country to proceed with its economic development agenda. The other less understood consideration is to do with the frequency spectrum available to support high speed broadband.
Multiple infrastructures would lead to low speed broadband because the available spectrum is split up among the telecom operators. In summary, the traditional approach would take too long to deliver universal broadband services and even then, the service would be characteristically slow broadband.
Rwanda understood these two important factors and chose not to proceed this way.
To accomplish its broadband vision, government, represented by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), initiated a public-private partnership (PPP). In this PPP the Government would contribute (in exchange for equity) the national fibre optic backbone network it had previously deployed as well as its unbroken allocation of broadband spectrum.
The private industry partners would contribute the financial capital and the operating expertise required to deploy and exploit a nation-wide 4G/LTE wireless access network, operated as a shared network for all other telecom service providers to use in the delivery of higher value services required in all sectors of the economy.
One economically feasible universal 4G LTE network with sufficient spectrum allocation to ensure high speed over a long time of the country’s economic development, operated as shared network and regulated under wholesale-retail model.
This partnership was available to local and international telecom operators. KT Corporation (KT) made a decision to participate in the PPP and 4G LTE coverage is on track to cover 95% of Rwanda’s population by the end of 2017.
That is a tremendous achievement for country determined to improve the socio-economic conditions of its citizens in one generation since commencement of its economic development programme.
When 4G was launched in early 2014 on a trial basis, it was a dream come true for people who were exposed enough to understand the opportunities created by this technology. Even though the number of users were few due to various reasons it was nonetheless one of the biggest milestones in Rwanda’s economic development. It would be a historical milestone for many other developing countries.
Two years later the meaning of broadband internet and what could be done with it now better understood by many, especially the youth. Yes the usage hasn’t reached the needed level but it’s only a matter of time with Rwanda’s improving social-economic conditions.
Many Rwandans had little or no prospect of building a future by creating products and services possible only with high speed broadband giving them access the whole national market. Now they do.
What developing country would not aspire to that achievement? But as always the devil is in the “market implementation details”. It is important to look at what has happened since launch of 4G LTE in 2014.
For the first time since the introduction telecom services in Rwanda, it’s now possible for any talented entrepreneur to offer telecommunication services to end users with no much capital investment nor ownership of telecom infrastructure, which is provided by the wholesaler; This opportunity given to creative minds has led to the creation of employment and wealth in a sector previously dominated by few, and mostly foreign investment.
Today the country has more than 15 Internet Services Providers, besides the regular mobile network operators, that offer services across the country and to various markets.
Furthermore, the Internet services providers have been given the unique opportunity to expand their services at unprecedented speed unlike previously witnessed in network deployment and expansion.
At the end of 2016, Rwanda population shall be covered by high speed wireless network (4G) at more than 60%. It should be noted that in standard practices, networks are deployed based on commercial demand, however for the Rwanda’s model case, the broadband access has been considered as basic utility, hence even the remotest areas is connected regardless of the existing clientele, rather an encouragement to entrepreneurs to tap into potential opportunities created by broadband access and develop businesses.
Where to Next?
The trends in the recent months show signs of what to expect in nearby future: Rwandans have changed attitude on how to transact, socialize and communicate through broadband connectivity; It is therefore with no doubts that the service industry in public and private sectors is about to be revolutionized.
One would say that, yes the access might not be the issue in near future but what about tangible results in transforming the economy and the people’s lives; Indeed the access is not the end in itself, rather the perquisite for much more benefits to be realized.
The writer is the Chief Strategy officer at KT Rwanda networks.