As we come to the end of the year, their is one thing worth noting when talking about ICTs in Rwanda and this is the evolution of the telecom industry.
There are also two auxiliaries of this evolution that are worth talking about.
The first is government’s recent announcement that a Luxemburg based Millicom Telecommunications had beaten the might of Zain (former Celtel) to win the bid to offer services as Rwanda’s 3rd National Telecom Operator (TNO).
The second is Rwandatel’s launching of it’s 3G, GSM service to Rwandans. Let’s start with the former. Rwandatel which launched the new technology last week has trailed it’s competitors MTN Rwanda for years, always shying away with only a miserable 50,000 subscribers on their CDMA network.
On the other hand MTN Rwanda was busy recording dividends in a market that the MTN brand dominated with over 90 percent market share for the last ten years. MTN Rwanda just a few weeks ago registered the one millionth subscriber.
The CDMA that Rwandatel is seeking to get rid of in favour of a much user friendly GSM, has it’s advantages but is still considered an inferior technology. With CDMA subscribers limited to particular handsets which are SIM-less.
This means they won’t have the liberty to travel with there SIM cards across borders. And therefore they won’t even enjoy the advantages that come with SIM card technology. Experts say that the reason Rwandatel trailed over years was probably because they deployed this technology for their mobile communication.
In the end the brand was weathering.
Since the company was taken over by the Libyan consortium, LAP Green, with an 80 percent stake, the new owner sought to spend an investment worth some $71m for 3G GSM upgrade which is used by over 80 percent of the world’s telecom operators. With GSM, roaming is equally possible. Phone swapping is possible. Services like MMS and video calling come in handy.
And since LAP Green has 69 percent interest in Uganda Telecom (UTL), officials didn’t rule out cross border communication between UTL and Rwandatel.
During the launch Rwandatel officials promised that they are targeting over 600,000 subscribers by the end of 2009. This is a figure that probably took MTN Rwanda about seven years or so years to achieve.
This would also mean that in just a year, Rwandatel would have registered a number of subscribers that took its competitors more than six years to achieve.
Back to Millicom Telecommunications. Many might be wondering how Millicom beat Zain, for a slot in Rwanda’s telecom industry.
According to sources Millicom engineers were in Rwanda months before the bidding process and carried out a technical survey worth Rwf200m. Millicom also submitted a financial bid of about $60m to the reviewing technical committee beating Zain by over 50 percent of what the Kuwait based multi-national was offering.
Millicom will therefore be operating in a market they have already acquainted themselves with. Millicom comes in the Rwandan market as a giant.
It operates under one of Africa’s strongest telecom brands called Tigo. Tigo has a presence in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The same brand is also one of the major brands in several west African countries, offering some of the best technology.
Now here is the beauty of competition. Once Rwandatel registers the targets they have predicated and Tigo opens shop in Kigali, the tariff regime that MTN Rwanda has always controlled will be redefined.
But this is not all. The vision of the country to have at least 5 million subscribers by 2012 might be realised sooner than anticipated. More importantly the rise in teledensity figures (number of lines per every 100 people) which is now recorded at 1.6 will be something to celebrate.
Here is the other beauty of this competition. Subscribers will have better services at affordable prices. And services will definitely come with better innovations.