High speed internet exists, but is inaccessible
With the omnipresence of the Internet today, thanks to mobile phones and laptops, it would be easy to forget that the technology only came to Rwanda at the turn of the century. Back then, the horrible dial-up connections were used where you could spend almost an hour sending one email.
With technology evolving at light speed, dial-up quickly became obsolete. The government, recognizing the potential of ICT for national development, established the vision of becoming the regional ICT hub by 2020. Through the Rwanda Information Technology Agency (RITA) which later became the IT department of the Rwanda Development Board, it embarked on building a backbone for high-speed internet in the form of a fiber-optic network and advanced data center.
“There’s fiber (Kigali Metropolitan Network, KMN) on all the main roads of Kigali, as well as all the provinces (National Backbone, NBB), and we have installed enough of it not just for today’s needs but for many years to come,” says Morris Kayitare, senior fiber engineer at Broadband Systems Corporation (BSC), a private company that was put in charge of managing the fiber-optic in August 2011, after the network was tested for several years. “The free test period is now over, today we sell high-speed internet connection to both government and private institutions.”
The problem is, that high-speed internet is nearly nowhere accessible. While apart from the national backbone private IT companies also laid their own fiber-optic, the vast majority of internet users is still unable for example to watch a streaming YouTube video, i.e. without interruption. The reason is that specialized high-speed emitters, creating so-called WiBro hotspots, are few and far between.
The implementation of KMN started in 2008 and was concluded one year later, while NBB was completed in 2010. Initially, only a few WiBro spots were established to allow testing the system. There was also a significant delay during the transition from RITA to RDB/IT.
Since BSC took over the management of the network and started commercializing it, however, it has not added more WiBro hotspots, thus leaving only a few isolated areas in Kigali accessible to high-speed internet. Yet at the same time, the company continues to sell the special modems required to capture WiBro, which of course often results in frustration.
“I got a WiBro modem when they were still in the testing phase. But I’ve never managed to get a signal,” complains Isaac Shumbusho, a self-employed web designer. “This is strange I live near Telecom House (where BSC is located, ed.).”
So he abandoned the WiBro modem long ago.
To BSC’s credit it has to be said that the company gives its customers a two-day trial period: you pay a caution of Frw 30,000 for the modem, and if you don’t get a signal you can bring it back within two days and get a refund. In addition, the company’s senior fiber engineer says they are looking into making WiBro more accessible. “This will end very soon; we are planning to expand the hotspots, possibly this year,” Kayitare explains.
That would be timely, since today the network is largely unexploited with only a few institutions having high-speed internet, while it remains nearly inaccessible for individuals. Which is a pity, since the BSC fiber network is vastly superior in speed compared to what other providers offer. It is also quite cheap: you can get a Wibro USB modem for Frw 20,000 and a flat monthly fee of the same amount gives you unlimited internet access.
Another problem that needs to be solved is that currently the WiBro USB modem only comes with Windows software – Mac and Linux still have to look elsewhere.
“I think something must be done quickly if we really want this connection to be the ICT backbone,” says Janvier Mico, a frustrated video library owner who makes a living from downloading and selling new movies. “People are suffering because of poor internet connection, yet we have fiber. Why can’t those in charge expand the network? Why?”
If BSC makes good on its promise, his question should be answered before the end of the year.