Subscriber numbers faulted as Rwanda telcos urged to invest in data

Despite registering rise in subscriber numbers, telcos have been challenged to invest in the rural areas to balance the benefits of increased data and mobile services.

Tigo Rwanda currently has three million subscriber on its network while MTN Rwanda, the market leader, reached four million in July. Airtel had 1,527,449 subscribers as of October 2015.

Market experts have also faulted focus on subscriber numbers, saying telcos should invest more in data-based services.

“The telecom business is dynamic, data is becoming vital, there should be more focus on data. There is a need for more investments here the enlightened smart clients are more interested in data, because through this, they can do anything,” said Sam Nkusi, chairman of Liquid Telecom.

“At this point, every operator has to reinvent themselves this can only easily be done through data,” added Mr Nkusi.

He also observed that concentration on subscriber numbers by the telcos is deceptive because it does not depict real growth in the sector.

“The key parameter should be the average revenue per user (ARPU) when you say you have three or four million subscribers, what is your ARPU? I am sure it’s under $2,” Mr Nkusi said.

He noted that the way the numbers are measured does not depict the real growth in subscription.

“These numbers are deceiving. Some people com for a few days get simcards and go. Using this is somehow misleading,” said Mr Nkusi.

There is a large number of people who have more than one simcards of different networks, which could also led to the upsurge in numbers of subscribers.

Dadi Niwengye, Tigo public relations officer, said to come up with the subscriber numbers, the telcos uses guidelines provided by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura).

“We measure numbers according to guidelines provided by Rura. There is definitely growth in the industry looking at the numbers, but we are also investing more in data and other mobile-based services,” Mr Niwengye said.

Upcountry investments

He said Tigo is currently investing in upcountry.

“This year, we have launched towers in Rubavu and Rusizi. We are investing across the country there are more investments going on,” said Mr Niwengye.

Gunter Engling, MTN Rwanda chief executive when asked whether the market can accommodate a fourth player, in a recent talk show on KFM, (see page 11) said much as the total subscriber for the three telcos are in excess of eight million subscribers, the telcos are serving the same customers twice.

“Even today when one counts those customers in Rwanda, you will probably get 8.5 million, yet we all know of the 11 million people in the country, nine million don’t have hand sets,”

“Probably most people in the country today have two lines at least some even three and in all honesty, while we are no longer addressing new customers every day, we are each addressing the same customer twice already,” he added.

He said even the existing telcos are struggling to be profitable, adding that “a fourth player might influence prices even further but I don’t even believe that all three players today are profitable at all.”

Airtel Rwanda, the relatively younger player in the market, has positioned itself in the market after expanding its reach to different parts of the country through its Airtel shops.