For those keenly following the transformations unfolding within the Rwandan telecoms landscape less than ten news items of importance happened this year that has largely prompted this comment.
The most important observation is that real competition is levelling the playing field. According to those observing, tariffs have been reduced across board by all the three operators.
The beneficiaries are of course the subscribers.
The sector’s performance as the year sails through its first quarter, can be measured against set targets by the regulator and government.
This measure can give an indication of how things are likely to play throughout the year. Government is targeting 6 million subscribers by 2012.
This means that with slightly over 3 million subscribers the room is wide enough for players to make the difference in terms of value addition within their individual networks.
Some analysts are even predicting that given the current market fundamentals government is even likely to bring in another new player sometime next year.
What has been most apparent is that the lion’s share of the ten or so major news items were undertaken mostly by MTN-the largest player in terms of market share.
As leadership will dictate MTN made news with bagging the RDB awards. It is a well known fact that as one of the largest tax payer it was bound to be recognized.
However some analysts were actually disappointed that the new kid on the bloc Tigo was not recognized for making a successful entry as per the tough requirements of the Third National Operator (TNO) licence.
They pointed out the fact that mobilizing cash running into millions of dollars and racing against time by putting up a completely new team, building a brand from scratch in a virgin terrain they deserved a pat on the back.
It is said that Tigo’s subscriber base as of January this year was 123,897 - a good feat by any yardstick in a situation whereby they have not hard any bearing. Tigo has since not made any substantive headlines since then.
To sustaining its leadership streak MTN rollout of new products in the market was big news. The ‘mobile money’ product with a convergence linking banking and telcoms was a first for the local telcoms industry.
In Africa bridging the gap between telcoms and the unbanked is taken as part and parcel of being called a front runner of the industry. In this if MTN does a good job then it is likely to reap handsome rewards especially if it targets the Rwandan Diaspora.
MTN made news almost immediately thereafter by seeking to redefine how corporate social responsibility is conducted in Rwanda through the MTN Foundation in which it committed to plough 1 percent of its after tax earnings back to society.
A rather surprising item was the news that MTN has down-scaled its new investment for the year 2010. Observers expect MTN to upscale its investments especially within areas of presence such as marketing for the purposes of fending off an onslaught from Tigo.
Generally some analysts are in agreement that marketing will make a huge difference within telcoms this year.
Marketing will most probably drive differentiation more than any of the known technology parameters this year-these analysts say. For Tigo to have maintained such a seemingly loud silence is actually a very revealing indicator that it is actually up to something.
Watchers are assuming that Tigo must be laying out plans to gain more footing. For instance Tigo will defy great odds within Rwandan telcoms if it would drive its subscription beyond the 750,000 line before it first anniversary. If it does that Tigo will have made history in Rwanda.
Rwandatel the first operator has been equally on the down low. Apart from its two promos which appear low key Rwandatel offered to land the first fibre optic cable but we are yet to see them do that.
In conclusion I think that the race within telcoms this year is likely to be a two horse race between MTN putting a brave face with a leadership tag against Tigo hot on MTN’s heels trying to level the playing field with the regulator RURA keenly watching if set targets can be attained by 2012.