There's no arguing the importance of Internet access and how it impacts our daily lives, not just in urban areas but also in rural parts of Afrika. From communications with colleagues, clients, and suppliers to using mobile money to send money where no banking infrastructure is present, the Internet has become a crucial part of our lives.
Despite its importance, it remains expensive in most parts of Afrika as Internet access remains largely the responsibility of private organizations. We have witnessed some public-private partnerships where governments at a local level, i.e. municipalities, offer free capped Wi-Fi services to citizens, but even this is still paid for by citizens as it is their tax money that is used to deploy the services.
Cost of 1GB data based on prepaid data top-ups or bundled top-ups (in $) for Afrikan countries.
It is with this background that the announcement made by MTN Rwanda and Vanu caught my attention. The companies entered into a partnership that will see them deliver mobile Internet connectivity to thousands of people in rural parts of Rwanda. I caught up with Anthony Masozera, CEO at Vanu Rwanda, to get more details on the planned deployment and get a better understanding of the project.
iAfrikan:Why mobile Internet access and not fixed line (delivered via Wi-Fi)?
Anthony Masozera, CEO at Vanu Rwanda:Fixed line infrastructure and devices are not available in the targeted areas. The success of mobile telephony in many parts of the world, but more so in Afrika, has been the business model's explicitly designed to reach the poorest (and largest) section of the population. So, in our case it makes most business sense to use mobile Internet access.
How much will the service cost to the consumer per 1GB of data?
We will use commercially competitive rates. Our rates will be a fraction of the headline tariffs charged today mainly because the target market we intend to address is in the rural areas. Charging standard rates would not make the services affordable to this segment of the population. We are able to provide the services at subsidized rates because of the efficient model that we will be deploying.
What will Vanu Rwanda's role be in the collaboration with MTN Rwanda?
The Vanu Rwanda model is a wholesale model. We provide the infrastructure while MTN provides the customers. We, in essence, extend MTN's coverage so that their customers are able to access GSM services in areas that previously had no coverage.
How did the partnership come about?
Vanu’s wholesale model is feasible only if there is a relationship with the MNOs. We, therefore, approached MTN which is the largest operator in Rwanda with a proposal for an alliance that could increase their coverage footprint thus facilitating their ability to grow their subscriber base and generate additional revenue. I must add that our alliance with MTN is non-exclusive. We are open to working with other operators.
Given that MTN is a mobile services provider, why did it choose to partner with Vanu and not go at this alone?
MTN and other MNOs in the market today use a model that would not be sustainable in the areas that we are targeting. Vanu’s business model, on the other hand, allows for the provision of GSM services at a fraction of the cost incurred using the traditional models. This makes the Vanu model feasible in areas that generate very low ARPUs.
We at Vanu are truly excited about this project because we believe it is, in our view, going to go a long way in bridging the digital divide between the largest segment of the population which lives in rural areas and the urban dwellers.