A few lessons for Rwandatel

Rwandatel launched its GSM technology last December with plenty of fanfare. But that was the easy part; it’s easy getting to the top but staying at the top is a different cup of tea completely.
Rwandatel stall at Gikondo Expo Ground.
Rwandatel stall at Gikondo Expo Ground.

Rwandatel launched its GSM technology last December with plenty of fanfare. But that was the easy part; it’s easy getting to the top but staying at the top is a different cup of tea completely.

There’s one important aspect most African businesses ignore—Research and Development (R&D). If Rwandatel did its R&D thoroughly, it would perhaps have put its competitor MTN Rwanda on the ropes.

Rwandatel planned its GSM launch about a week ahead of the MTN 10th anniversary.

With MTN enjoying overwhelming market dominance for the last ten years, and with over a million customers, it was unwise for Rwandatel to organise the launch of its GSM network during the same period that MTN was celebrating its 10th year anniversary. That was the first error the re-launched company made.

In any product launch you must have your timing right. Scheduling the launch of the GSM network after MTN’s anniversary, to me, would make more common sense- that is, if they had to do it in December anyway. It was a huge test for Rwandatel; everyone waited to see how the company would manage to maintain its momentum.

Sadly, everything came to a standstill just after that late night launch. But look at MTN; its 10th Anniversary celebration is still ongoing and the company is continuously giving lots of new products, like bonus airtime, to its loyal customers. LAP Green, with its Libyan oil money, reportedly acquired Rwandatel at a hefty $100 million.

Sources say the sales and marketing department was given a blank cheque to turn around the company’s identity and also woo more subscribers. 

In a space of about two weeks Rwandatel announced that it had registered 50,000 new subscribers on their 3G-GSM network. A few days ago it again announced at a press conference that its GSM clientele had hit 120,000 subscribers.

I’m just left wondering how the company is realizing such high numbers with such flaws in its overall market strategy. The GSM launch also saw the company rollout a promotion for two of its branded-affordable-mobile handsets.

And, because these phones were cheap, as compared to its competitor’s, people rushed to buy the said handsets. However, in a matter of days, the hand sets had run out of stock and until now there has been no stock replenishment.

Since MTN Rwanda launched its affordable “Karasharamye” brand, mid last year, it has never run out of stock. Rwandatel’s procurement department, if it exists anyway, needs a few stock management lessons from smart companies like MTN.

Launching a new product on the market is a very sensitive moment, requiring proper planning and careful execution. Reliability is key in business.

Rwandatel sales agents do not even know when new handsets stocks will arrive. The advertising agency Rwandatel hired has not done a particularly good job.  Since watching a few TV spots on Rwanda Television a few days before and after the GSM launch, I haven’t heard a lot from Rwandatel.

A company insider said the company feared getting exposed when it advertises products that were actually out of stock. The agency Rwandatel uses for outdoor marketing has a lot to learn as well.

It has failed to advise the client (Rwandatel) that having the national colours as part of brand identity is not ideal for the now largely private-owned Rwandatel. There’s a whole mix up of orange, blue, yellow and green that are not consistent in all the advertising artwork.

Rwandatel is ‘Orange’ just like MTN is ‘Yellow’. There’s inconsistency in Rwandatel’s ‘Orange’ because the agency doesn’t stick to the colour mix. It ought to keep the same percentage of cyan, magenta and black of that type of orange for all the artworks.

In professional designing, you try very much not to confuse the audience—you keep the simple and easily identifiable. Sadly Rwandatel’s artwork is flat, direct and stuffed. You find the same billboard or poster stuffed with lots of wordings, images and a pile up of un-proportional colours.

They mix up ideas.  For instance, an ad that promotes the affordable handset should be different from the GSM one. In this, Rwandatel could copy MTN. You cannot find MTN combining “Gonga”, “Karasharamye”,“M-Charge” and “Wimax” on the same billboard.

Also, it is pertinent to allow the new product to grow by consistently promoting it as you evaluate its performance on the market. Keep changing ideas/themes to popularize it. With its inherited landline backbone all over the country, Rwandatel has big potential to outperform its competitors.

Smart companies now operate a market intelligence unit that keeps scouting what competitors are doing, planning to do or have failed to do better.

This unit is very critical if the company has to stay on top. As MTN was testing its M-charge product, Rwandatel was busy planning how to switch from CDMA to GSM technology.

Little did the company know that MTN was planning to get rid of scratch voucher airtime cards that have proven expensive to print and environmentally unfriendly.

MTN is just about to phase out scratch cards completely. An insider said the company has ordered for over a million M-charge cards after a successful pilot phase.

If only Rwandatel could be smarter, it would have launched with a replica M-charge, but it has continued to import scratch cards.

They should be aware that, before long, Rwanda Environment Management Agency (REMA) will start asking them to follow in MTN Rwanda’s footsteps.

The New Times of Wednesday January 07 reported that Millicom International Cellular, a Luxemburg based telecommunications group whose brand is now in 16 countries of Africa, Asia and America was awarded a $60million worth license by the Rwandan government.

Whatever is boiling in Millicom’s kitchen is anyone’s guess. The entrance of another mobile phone operator should send a warning to Rwandatel to pull up its socks and perfect its products before the winds of liberalization of the telecommunication sector puts them to shame.

Contact: mansur_kakimba@yahoo.com

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