Rwandatel is attracting 40,000 subscribers weekly on its new 3G GSM system, making it the fastest growing telecommunication company in Rwandan history. The New Times KABONA ESIARA asked Patrick Karinigufu, Rwandatel Chief Executive Officer about the challenges the company faces and its business plan. Interconnectivity between Rwandatel and MTN Rwanda was poor. One could not make a call to an MTN subscriber.
What was the problem? Was it sabotage?
I will not call it sabotage; but we have been looking at different scenarios where they (MTN Rwanda) wanted to upgrade their system based on capacity necessary because they did not want to just open up the pipe.
We do pay for all the interconnection but I will admit that they were delays in putting everything into place. It took a longer time than expected.
We have been asking them to upgrade their system to handle our growing traffic for very long period of time and pushing both ends but I believe that I am not in the shoes of MTN to answer but I have to admit that they have been very slow. So we took it to the required office and everything was implemented when we complained.
Are consumers protected from operators’ fights?
Yes, every consumer has a right and these rights are normally handled by RURA (Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency).
The regulator looks at the consumer’s point of view. It also makes sure the consumer is not taken for granted. So in case of any problem in Rwandatel or any other operator, a consumer is allowed to register his complaint with regulatory body as per the law.
You talk of increasing subscriber numbers, how many subscribers do you have?
As of December 26, we had 120,000 active subscribers and those are the numbers we managed to achieve within 3 weeks.
You may recall that 3 weeks ago on the 5th of December, we successfully launched our 3G-GSM network, and to date we have accumulated up to 120,000 subscribers.
It doesn’t mean that we sold 120,000 simcards but these are the active subscribers everyday. This gives us a promising future and we want to increase our numbers, targeting 600,000 subscribers in June and 1.2 million in December this year.
Attracting 120,000 subscribers in just three weeks is a very high figure; what is the trick behind the vote of confidence Rwandans are giving your network?
A lot of people compare quality and the price. What we offered was both of these. We combined the price and quality module where people talk with quality, less call drops, in the next few days and weeks, better coverage and affordable pricing. We did a lot of promotions not only to attract people but to show them that it is possible.
What is your rollout plan?
We promised Rwandans that we will have a modern penetration that is very high which means we are not only targeting the urban areas but also the rural areas. By February, we shall be in every corner of this country.
So far how much have you spent on rolling out?
The total investment made in the country has been around 72 million dollars. Which was split in different areas: between equipments, sites, towers, generators, agents and so on.
When you were negotiating for this license, you promised a borderless network. When do we expect to roam?
Roaming in East Africa is what is called a borderless roaming, which means someone is allowed to move in East Africa with his number and receive and make calls as if he is in his own country.
That, as far as Rwandatel is concerned, works in Uganda. We are currently making tests with Tanzania (Vodacom), Kenya (Safaricom), Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (Vodacom).
When exactly do you expect the roaming service?
We prefer to say another 2 months to put everything in place and we shall communicate to the population in February.
Mobile handsets are still expensive. What plans do you have to make most Rwandans afford and have handsets?
We have managed to bring the phone at only Rwf12,000, which you can see is the lowest cost for a phone in Rwanda so far.
We would like to increase the mobile penetration rates in this country. This being a business, our business plan makes it very important for us to increase the penetration rates and we will also try to keep the price as low as possible.
We would like to invite all Rwandans to join Rwandatel and make sure they get all the Rwf12,000 handsets or those that cost higher, depending on the capacity and we will try to bring as many phones as possible at a low cost.
You are investing heavily, when will you make profits?
We will start getting profits three years from today.
Hasn’t the global financial crisis affected your investment plan in Rwanda?
It is not a secret that there is a global financial crisis that is affecting businesses in one way or another. So far our plans of investment in 2008 has been completed despite the financial crisis.
For 2009, our plan has just been approved by the board and the funds will be available for the investment spromise.
This means more sites, capacity building and promotion; there is a lot more we are trying to do for the Rwandan consumer. Although there is a crisis, we made a commitment in this country and we are going to keep to our word.
What is your investment budget for next year?
We are to invest about 45 million dollars.
You recently entered a deal with Lotto Rwanda. Does the deal make any business sense?
This is bringing value added services onto our network. Rwandatel believes in not only providing voice and data, or voice and SMS to our customer, but we also want to show other things that people can do using their mobile phones.
This is one of the first contracts we’ve signed; we are currently negotiating and concluding on many other contracts which will bring more value.