Rwanda has signed up for a $24 million World Bank project to connect its Internet national backbone to one of the landing sites of the five East African coastal submarine cables now in the pipeline.
The five cables that the landlocked country can connect to through Kenya and Uganda include the Kenyan-government supported East African Marine System (Teams), the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the Seacom cable.
Getting it will give Rwandans the opportunity of benefiting form SEACOM’s 1.2Tb bandwidth capacity or the initial capacity of 640Mb from the EASSy project.
At the signing of the Regional Communication Infrastructure Programme (Phase II) last Monday, Rwanda’s ICT officials said the country would call for bids from the submarine cable consortiums to route Internet bandwidth from within its boundaries through Uganda to the coast.
The five-year project, once implemented will see the volume of international bandwidth connected to Rwanda rising by more than three times and prices falling by over 50 per cent. Rwanda is also expected to stop relying on expensive satellite systems to carry voice and data services.
Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, James Musoni signed on behalf of the government of Rwanda and Victoria Kwakwa signed on behalf of the World Bank.
Both parties also signed an agreement with the Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA), Rwanda’s ICT utility agency, which will play a supervisory role.
Nkubito Bakuramutsa, executive director of RITA, said the project will reduce the cost of Internet bandwidth by 99 per cent.
“We have not yet identified any particular submarine cable to connect us to the sea. Connecting to these cables is going to be made competitive and will pass through a bidding process,” Mr Nkubito said.“After five years, the cost of Internet access is expected to come down from the current $3,000 per Megabit per second to $25. Depending on market forces that time, we might have to link up with two of the cables,” he added.
Rwanda is already represented in the EASSy consortium by two telecom companies — MTN Rwanda and Rwandatel.
The EASSy project was the first initiative attempting to connect countries of East and southern Africa to the rest of the world via a high bandwidth fibre optic cable system.
It will link Mtunzini in South Africa to Port Sudan in Sudan, with landing points in six countries along the way that will be connected to at least five landlocked countries.
The project, funded by the World Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, was initiated in 2003 at the East African Business Summit. Although the African Development Bank and various governments have pledged financial support, funding has yet to be fully resolved.
The slow process of implementing the project, which is behind schedule by at least a year, has caused frustration among some governments in the region. This was the reason the Teams initiative was born to connect Mombasa to Djibouti.
According to research carried out by the Interconnect Direct (IDC), Teams is better placed than Seacom in the race to secure the markets in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
Rwanda’s signing of the $24 million project, according to World Bank country representative Victoria Kwakwa, will also extend broadband coverage to over 700 Rwandan institutions, including schools, health centres and local government administrative centres.
Rwanda’s Utilities and Regulatory Agency’s Director General Col Diogene Mudenge said the country is doing everything possible to make sure that all telecom licence operators, including MTN Rwanda, Rwandatel and another expected to be in operation by December 2009, get connected to the coastal submarine cables within five years.
Col Mudenge said Rwandatel would connect to the coast through Uganda’s UTL and MTN Rwanda would connect through MTN Uganda before tapping the landing sites.
Mr Musoni said the project was designed in alignment with Rwanda’s ICT priorities.
“The government of Rwanda, through Vision 2020 and the National Information and Communication Infrastructure plan, is committed to encouraging investments in ICT as the key driver and vehicle for improving the delivery of public and private services to spur economic growth,” he said.
He added: “This project will address key impediments that continue to make connectivity difficult, namely access to international connectivity through a fibre-optic cable and local connectivity network to enable provision of broadband Internet services.”
Rwanda last month signed a deal worth $40 million with Korea Telecom, a top integrated communications service provider, to build the country’s broadband infrastructure.