ICT sector: 2017 was year of innovations, deals, sanctions

Sunday December 31 2017

ICT exhibition stands during the Transform Africa Summit 2015 in Kigali, Rwanda.

ICT exhibition stands during the Transform Africa Summit 2015 in Kigali, Rwanda. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By JEAN-PIERRE AFADHALI
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Rwanda's ICT sector in 2017 was characterised by major tech innovations, landmark telecom deals, sanctions, big forums, new broadband projects and financial technology products — all of which made headlines.

Rwanda Today looks at events and developments that shaped the country’s ICT sector and contributed to its growth and as well as challenges that hampered operations of telecoms.

Early this year, Liquid Telecom Ltd embarked on a residential broadband project, by installing fibre optic cables around Kigali.

The telecom company hopes to make it easier for urban residential areas to access high-speed Internet connection.

However, the project — which targets 10,000 homes — was hindered by ongoing constructions that destroy cables, an issue various players including officials from the city of Kigali, telecom companies and construction firms are trying to resolve.

While fibre cables have been laid in various parts of the city, the broadband access will depend on affordability.

EutelSat, a European satellite broadband provider, said it was eyeing the local market under its “Konnect Africa” brand.

There has not been an official launch of its business but, the company had earlier said it would enter some markets through partnerships.

Low-cost Internet technology

Global software giant Microsoft announced it was testing low-cost Internet technology in Rwanda to increase the use of its digital products in the education sector.

The technology known as “TV white space” involves the unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum. According to experts, the space left by television networks, can be used to provide broadband Internet to remote areas.

The country manager of Microsoft East & Southern Africa, Sebuh Haileleul, said in May at Transform Africa Summit that the pilot project is expected to connect campuses of the University of Rwanda and inspire scalability.

“I think the bigger question now is how we are going to scale it throughout the country,” said Mr Haileleul.

The Transform Africa Summit — one of the biggest ICT forums in Africa — took place in Kigali and sought to discuss various ICT-related issues.

Smart Africa Alliance, the organisation behind the conference, said the next summit is scheduled for May 9-11, 2018, with a focus on accelerating Africa’s single digital market.

Mobile money

In the financial technology sector, a mobile loan provided to subscribers known as “MoKash” was unveiled by MTB in partnership with CBA — a Kenyan commercial bank. The product seeks to tap into the growing mobile money market.

Similar products are being used in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. They allow low-income earners to get quick loans through their mobile phone.

In the smart cities sector, AC group Ltd, a local cashless transport company, expanded its business to two cities in Cameroon, after being granted a 10-year-concession.

Patrick Buchana, CEO of AC Group Ltd, told Rwanda Today that transport authorities in Cameroon were interested in the local cashless payment model after learning that it is being used by many people in Kigali.

In the telecom sector, one of the biggest stories was the $8,5 million fine slapped on MTN Rwanda — the leading telco in the market.

Telecom sector regulator, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), sanctioned the mobile operator for hosting its servers outside the country in breach of its licence obligation.

However, the sanction raised concerns over some laws and practices that could be “obsolete” due to increasing innovation in the ICT sector.

MTN Rwanda agreed to pay the fine and recently said it would use part of its annual profits to pay the fine.

Telco acquisition

The year ended with an acquisition deal that could be a game-changer in the telecom sector after Bharti Airtel said it would acquire Tigo Rwanda — the second biggest player by market shares and subscribers.

However, the deal must be approved by RURA, but analysts say it should be given the green light.

Airtel Rwanda Ltd, the latest telecom operator to enter the local market could become the leader by subscribers and market shares after the acquisition of Tigo Rwanda, which was stiff competition for MTN Rwanda.

Meanwhile, MTN has said in its end of year message that it will improve its network coverage in 2018. The operator’s network currently experiences connection issues and locks out some subscribers from its network in some parts of the country.

Data from RURA shows that as of October 2017 both Airtel Rwanda and Tigo Rwanda had around five million subscribers combined, while MTN Rwanda had 3.6 million subscribers.

Tech start-ups

On the tech start-ups scene, Kasha, an e-commerce platform that sells women healthcare products, was officially launched after one year of operations.
The tech company also recently announced that it will launch a pilot in Kenya next year after receiving $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.