Uncompetitive web hosting services make Rwandatel lose
When Rwandatel was declared insolvent last year, and part of its assets were sold to pay off its debts, that didn’t mean that the company ceased all of its activities – it only concerned its mobile telephone operations. Yet before the company ventured into that area, its activities consisted of operating the country’s fixed telephone lines (the reason of its creation in 93) as well as internet services, including web hosting.
Today, Rwandatel is still active in these two areas, although it seems it is quickly making itself irrelevant when it comes to web hosting. Visiting the company’s main headquarters, it’s easy to notice that something is not quite right: the front door is always closed, the TV screens on the wall (once used to keep the waiting customers busy) are switched off, and many of the desks are vacant.
It’s difficult to imagine that this is the same company that only three years ago launched its mobile network with a lot of fanfare, including becoming the main sponsor of Miss Rwanda 2009 and painting its signature orange all around town. Yet it seems that Rwandatel has only itself to blame for this downfall – while it is still the only provider of fixed telephone lines (a service that has become rather obsolete due to mobile), the webhosting market is a competitive one, and pundits say that the company has not really moved with the times.
It was early in 2000 that Rwandatel pioneered web and domain hosting services in Rwanda, offering both services free of charge. The platform supported only static web sites (which were the norm then) but it came with unlimited space.
“We registered the web site of Kiyovu Sports in 2004 and used it ever since,” says Clément Mukimbili, the football club’s webmaster. “Rwandatel upgraded its servers in 2009 so that web developers could run dynamic websites on them.”
However, things then started to go seriously wrong. “Without any warning, they deleted all our data,” Mukimbili recounts.
Apparently, this was due to low-skilled technicians, and affected every website hosted at Rwandatel. Those who went to Rwandatel to ask why their content was deleted were told — without elaborating — that it was because of a technical glitch, and were advised “to start from scratch.”
“It wasn’t a big problem for me because on my computer I had a full backup of all the content for the past five years – imagine that I wouldn’t have done so, then all the data would be lost,” Mukimbili remarks. “Some folks were disappointed, though, and left Rwandatel for good and started afresh with another hosting company.”
Kiyovu Sports however did not move, because Rwandatel a free platform adapted to dynamic websites. So Mukimbili started converting Kiyovu Sports’ website from static HTML to dynamic PHP using Joomla (a free PHP content management system), but only a few days late the access to the website was blocked – once again without warning – with an announcement telling developers that they should contact Rwandatel.
When sometime later access to the website was blocked once again, Mukimbili didn’t bother anymore to ask for an explanation, but advised Kiyovu’s management to go to another web host.
“They said that, according to the company’s new policies, web and domain hosting were no longer free. They also stripped the unlimited space and left free 20 MB by default,” Mukimbili explains. “I negotiated and they agreed to offer me 80 MB in the meantime but by the time I got back to the office, the space had already been downgraded to 60 MB. I tried to install Joomla to no avail because it required at least 42 MB.”
So not only did this very limited space force him to revert to the static HTML which does not accommodate many of today’s website features, but he also had to find alternative places to store heavy files such as photos and videos, for which he used free remote servers.
To add insult to injury, Rwandatel demanded a hefty Frw 114,000 for its service.
When sometime later access to the website was blocked once again, Mukimbili didn’t bother anymore to ask for an explanation, but advised Kiyovu’s management to go to another webhost. The Kiyovu Sports site is now hosted at Google, and many others have also abandoned Rwandatel.
That is not surprising, because even today the company’s services are no match for those of the competition. For instance, Rwandatel’s cheapest hosting plan – with 20 MB of space (a space that can’t even store two high-resolution pictures), 500 MB of bandwidth, 10 email accounts, 1 FTP account, 1 MySQL database — is Frw 68,644 RWF per year, while one of its competitors offers 1 GB of space, 20 GB of bandwidth, 300 email accounts, 5 FTP accounts, and 5 MySQL databases for only Frw 30,000.
As a result, Rwandatel, the pioneer of web and domain hosting in Rwanda, is now remaining with only 301 existing customers, according to an insider. Those customers have to suffer unexplained service interruption, lack of modern technologies, unreliable servers, and high prices. They too might soon realize they are being cheated.