The search for affordable internet connectivity is on

As we all understand now, a number of challenges will have to be met before average Rwandans enjoy affordable access to internet and its benefits. A number of Rwandan entrepreneurs are tackling the problem using different solutions.

As we all understand now, a number of challenges will have to be met before average Rwandans enjoy affordable access to internet and its benefits. A number of Rwandan entrepreneurs are tackling the problem using different solutions.

In this series of articles, we will look at some of the promising solutions: the Karisimbi solution led by Augustine Iyako; the South African solution led by Eng. Sam K. Nkusi; the satellite-based solution led by Eugène Nyagahene; the GPRS and WiMAX solutions by MTN Rwandacell; the EVDO solution pioneered by Rwandatel. In today’s article, we will look at Karisimbi as a solution.

The fundamentals

On the positive side: computer literacy has shot up to around 10% of the Rwandan population; all Universities are graduating computer-literate professionals; the One-Laptop-Per-Child is already in use at some of the primary schools in Eastern Province; Microsoft has trained 3,000 teachers; E-ICT has graduated thousands of people in its ICDL (International Computer Driving License) and general computing classes; the cost of cell phones is at the lowest ever (Frw 15,000); RITA (Rwanda IT Authority) has commissioned 12 telecenters and will add another 18 after the pilot phase.

On the negative side: Internet connectivity in Rwanda is very expensive and beyond the reach of 90% of the population (Frw 400/hour). The cost of a 256kbps link is around Frw 200,000; the Quality of service (QoS) is not good enough; the content in Kinyarwanda is non-existent; beyond Kigali, the availability of electricity on the thousand hills is still a dream. There are four challenges that have to be met now by the country in its race to become an ICT hub in the region.

The cost of connectivity has to be accessible to the 90% on the bottom of the Rwandan pyramid: it has to be reduced to Frw 5,000/month for a telecenter that uses 256kbps. This will allow the average citizen on the hills to buy an Frw 500 monthly subscription to a telecenter on his hill and be able to access internet any time.

The localization of the systems, common software tools and web browsers has to be available in 2008. Localization is about translating to Kinyarwanda: operating systems like Linux and Windows; software tools to write (Word), to calculate (Excel), to do presentations (PowerPoint); web browsers like Internet Explorer and Mozilla FireFox.

In the NICI 2010 plan, localization was supposed to be available at the end of 2007 and it is at the foundation of NICI 2010. Without Kinyarwanda computing, NICI 2010 would be a failure as it would have failed to reach the overwhelming majority of Rwandans. The electricity challenge has to be solved.

Even if Methane Gas from Lake Kivu was available today, there would be still an immediate challenge of distributing electricity on all thousands of hills that make up Rwanda. The available solution for ICT is to use low-energy computers (12V, 5 to 8 watts) coupled with the use of inexpensive solar panels or generators powered by locally produced biodiesel.

The challenge number 4 is the lack of Kinyarwanda content. Luckily, this challenge is the result of the first three challenges. Content creators are not really motivated if there is no money to be made creating content. There is no money because no one will advertize on a medium that is not attracting customers; customers cannot show up if the cost for internet access is prohibitive compared to their purchasing power of $1 (Frw 540) or less per day.

The solution advanced in this column last year was to promote a dual pricing strategy: A national internet using RINEX (Rwanda Internet Exchange Point) and no satellite, at a cost of Frw 5,000 per month for a 256kbps broadband connection; an international internet that will continue at the current high price until Rwanda is connected to international fiber optics in Indian Ocean (TEAMS fiber and or EASSY fiber).

A number of people criticized the concept of a restricted national internet, pointing out that it would cut its users from the international internet community. The answer to this criticism is that 90% of Rwandans have no access to international internet community anyway even if they have money, because they only speak Kinyarwanda and many interesting web sites are in English or French.

The promotion of learning and using English is a medium term strategy that will take at least 5 years before any tangible results; a complementary answer is that most (80%) communication including internet are local before being international and the national internet would provide opportunity to local web-based solutions creators to partner with foreign content creators and offer the most interesting web sites in the local language.

Karisimbi Solution

Karisimbi is our highest mountain. On its top, Rwanda has erected a 40 meter tower that dominates the region. The Karisimbi group headed by Augustine Iyako has selected a very innovative technology that can broadcast data and video from Karisimbi mast to the region, bringing the cost significantly down and driving the Quality of Service (QoS) very high: they are implementing a Digital Video Broadcasting - Return Channel Terrestrial network (DVB-RCT).

Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is a set of standards that define digital broadcasting using existing satellite (DVB-S), Cable (DVB-C), and Terrestrial (DVB-T) infrastructures.

DVB is a very stable and flexible standard which allows different data types to be transmitted across the network as it is digital.

DVB has standardized a number of return channels that work together with DVB-S/DVB-T/ DVB-C) to create bi-directional communication. DVB-RCT solution adopted by Karisimbi for deployment is a broadband wireless technology that presents many advantages to end users, network operators and service providers.

It also creates the necessary environment for high quality, multi-megabit services at affordable cost. The solution can handle TV broadcasting, video and internet data streams.

It uses DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial) downlink for up to 55Mbps and a DVB-RCT (Digital Video Broadcasting - Return Channel Terrestrial) with an uplink return bandwidth up to 47 Mbps offering a fast and reliable return path from the home user back to the broadcasters and interactive content providers.

DVB-RCT benefits include: highly efficient operation in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) and outdoor-to-indoor conditions; high throughput, downlink 55Mbps, uplink 47Mbps; increases coverage and immunity in adverse multipath environments; high transmission efficiency; scalable solution from single sector to multiple sectors Base Station and from Super Cell to Micro Cells network; support extremely well demanding applications like Turbo Internet, Non line of sight Virtual Private Networks, IP Telephony and Legacy Telephony, Video Conferencing and e-Learning.

The cost of Karisimbi DVB-RCT solution

The overall system cost is made up of: user terminal cost; base station cost; cost of the backhaul-linking network from Base Stations to Service Provider’s main hub (this is normally in place for existing broadcasting networks). The new major variable introduced in this equation is really the base station cost.

The reason DVB-RCT is cost effective is that a single low cost receive system can receive up to 47Mbps. This allows deploying DVB-RCT for a small fraction of any competing system like GSM.

DVB-RCT networks can be designed to provide totally wire-free services in the home, bringing big savings to the Service Provider as it is not necessary to send a technician or an antenna erector to each subscriber’s home before the service can be initiated. The hope is that these savings would be shared with the customer and brings his cost down.

Deployment of DVB-RCT solution

DVB-RCT solution is a low cost solution with a wide coverage. The transmission site coverage varies from several kilometers up to a radius of 65 kilometers depending on the topographic conditions and the transmission power used. To achieve good data rates, Karisimbi project is planning to broadcast to a radius of about 15km per cell.

What will it take to get this solution implemented?

It will take about $1 million for the first 25 base stations covering a radius of 375 km. The cost is very low compared to other broadband technologies.

According to the Karisimbi project paper [1], “for the price of a new Land Cruiser SUV, an entrepreneur could become an ISP, an Interactive Digital TV Provider, a small Telephone Company, a Cable TV company and a cell phone company for a small City”.

This is a great solution for our national internet. Karisimbi tower is ready; RINEX is ready and connects all ISPs; the missing link is a small amount of money ($2 million) to create about 50 base stations covering the whole country.

As a bonus, it seems that it might be possible to assemble many of the required devices right here in Kigali.


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