Rwanda scores a first in EA with $0.5m phone assembly plant

Sunday September 28 2008

There is a huge demand for low-cost mobile

There is a huge demand for low-cost mobile phones in Rwanda, and Nokia and Motorola phones are priced as low as $40 while the cheapest, the MTN branded ZTE phone, costs just $25. Photo/FILE 

By KEZIO-MUSOKE DAVID

A-Link Technologies from China has set up a $500,000 phone assembling plant in Rwanda that is producing 200 mobile phones a day.

The company’s president, Edward Yin, told The EastAfrican that it has a capacity to assemble about 600 mobile phones a day.

Mr Yin said the firm will invest $2 million more by the end of the year and added there are plans to establish a radio assembling plant as well.

A-Link Technologies, a digital and technology subsidiary of ChinaLink in Beijing, started operations in May and is assembling five different kinds of Rwandan branded mobile phones.

The relatively cheap mobile phones are assembled from imported materials.

Rwanda becomes the first country in the East African region to set up a mobile phone handset-assembling plant.

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Early this month, South Korean electronic goods manufacturer LG said it was planning to establish a Ksh100 million ($1.4 million) mobile phone handset assembly plant in Kenya by next year.

LG said the Nairobi-based company would lead to a reduction in the prices of mobile handsets in Kenya by 15 per cent.

A-Link Technologies has set up its assembly plant at Communications House (ICT Park) in Kacyiru. It was registered in July last year by the Rwanda’s Investment and Export Promotions Agency with a tax exemption on all imported materials.

The company produces a phone brand called Alira. The phone is compatible with GSM technology, which uses replaceable SIM cards. This means it can be used by any communication network that uses GSM technology.

A-Links mobile phones are also the first to be programmed in the local Kinyarwanda language. Kinyarwanda, French and English are the official languages of Rwanda.

“We took the phone’s software to our sister company in China called Research & Development and we re-programmed it to suit the local consumer,” Mr Yin said.

The phone, which costs about $39, will compete with imported products from ZTE Corp, Nokia Corp, Motorola Inc and Samsung Electronics Ltd which are of superior quality and costing about the same amount.

There is a huge demand for low-cost mobile phones in the country, and Nokia and Motorola phones are priced as low as $40 while the cheapest, the MTN branded ZTE phone costs just $25.

Mr Yin dismissed any worries of competition, saying, “The Rwandan market is limited. We need a marketing strategy and advertising. We are thinking about entering other neighbouring markets like Eastern Congo, Uganda and Tanzania.”

Rwanda has for over the past two years been negotiating with Chinese companies to provide affordable solar phones — estimated at $32 by the government — that can be used by people living in rural areas. District administrators are to be tasked to distribute these solar phones on credit.

In Mozambique, the Malaysian company M-mobile is investing more than $3 million in setting up a mobile-phone handset manufacturing plant with a capacity to assemble between 50,000 and 70,000 mobile phones a month.

Last month, ZTE Corp, another Chinese telecommunications company, announced that it would start assembling mobile phones in Ethiopia after signing a $5.2 million deal with the Organisation for Rehabilitation and Development of Amhara.

However, ZTE failed to make an impact in West Africa when its only mobile phone assembly plant in Africa was closed, in Abuja, Nigeria this year. The plant was set up in 2005 to ease the distribution of ZTE handsets in Africa.

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