Disentangling the broadband divide in Rwanda: supply-side vs demand-side

Onkokame Mothobi · Broc Rademan

Policy Brief 2, 2017: Rwanda

The Rwandan telecommunications sector has shown particularly strong growth in recent years, due to a vibrant economy and championing of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at the highest level. ICTis a central engine to driving Rwanda’s transformation to a knowledge-based economy. The SMART Rwanda plan 2015-2016 put broadband at the heart of the national socio-economic development agenda. As a result, the country is rapidly catching up with other markets in Africa with increased mobile and internet penetration rates. Since the liberalisation of the sector in 2006, the country has seen an exponential growth of mobile phone subscriptions which jumped from 3.25% in 2006 to 70.48% in 2015 (ITU, 2016). It is nevertheless important to note that these subscription rates, while significant, are based on the number of active SIM cards and, as such, and not unique subscribers. This number reflects duplicate SIM cards held by individuals to optimise on-net and promotional prices on other networks.

The only way of establishing the real numbers of subscribers in a prepaid mobile market is through nationally representative demand-side surveys, which Research ICT Africa is currently undertaking in Rwanda. The high-level results will be available for RURA for the ITU to feed into the UN statistical system by October 2017. This survey is part of an eight-country African study and 16-country survey across the Global South.

Highlights:

1. Rwanda is ranked ninth out of 38 African countries in terms of mobile broadband affordability.

2. It performs better than leading African markets, Kenya and South Africa, in terms of cost of 1GB data.

3. As with many predominantly prepaid mobile markets, bundled and dynamically priced products are better value for money than 1GB of data, the international standard for data measurement.

4. Airtel’s bundled products provide more value for money, more data, and a cheaper option than 1GB of data.

5. Despite a number of policy and regulatory initiatives aimed at improving broadband access and use, broadband demand remains relatively low, with the majority of Rwandans unable to access mobile broadband services.

6. As indicated by the low penetration rate and poor usage rates, Internet access remains unaffordable to the majority of Rwandans despite the relatively strong performance of mobile broadband products.

Suggested citation

Mothobi, O., & Rademan, B. (2017). Disentangling the broadband divide in Rwanda: Supply-side vs demand-side (Policy Brief No. 2). Research ICT Africa. https://researchictafrica.net/polbrf/Research_ICT_Africa_Policy_Briefs/2017%20Policy%20Brief%202_Rwanda.pdf