Ivan Ngoboka, New Times
March 11, 2013
BlackBerry phones have become the newest battle tool for customers in the telecom service sector in Rwanda, indicating that data services, coupled with mobile money services, may become the latest prospective propellers of the industry revenue.
This comes a week after MTN and Tigo launched BlackBerry services at pocket-friendly subscription rates. The latest entrant in the telecom sector, Airtel, introduced cheaper BlackBerry packages about a month back.
In the past 10 months or so, telecom firms have, in a desperate attempt to maximise returns and build robust clientele bases, turned to the untapped markets in rural areas with low charges on voice services. Now the focus has turned to the data market, targeting urban elites, students and the working class with an average income who spend a lot of time browsing the Internet for information, or on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
Last week, MTN introduced two BlackBerry service plans, the social plan, which costs Rwf5,000 per month and Rwf1,500 per week and the complete plan, which goes for Rwf8,000month and Rwf2,500 a week. This is a sharp price cut from about a month ago, where there was a standard rate of Rwf20,000 per month and Rwf6,000 per week.
Tigo had earlier dropped its charges for the same service to Rwf800 from Rwf1000 daily and Rwf3,500 from Rwf 6,000 per week. Over a month ago, Airtel cut the same service fees to Rwf2,500 a week and Rwf10,000 a month.
"The reduction in prices of our BlackBerry Internet packages is not influenced by competition, rather it is in response to cries for an affordable and efficient service from customers. Otherwise, we don't compete with anyone, we only compete with ourselves," remarked Pierre Kayitana, the Tigo public relations officer.
"We know that BlackBerry customers have different needs, so the new service plans will allow them to choose and pay for the options they can afford, while allowing them to be in control of their monthly costs. The new service plans will also introduce BlackBerry smartphones and services to a wider segment of new customers," remarked Khaled Mikkawi, the MTN chief executive officer, during the launch of the two BlackBerry service plans last week.
According to the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) statistics as of late last year, Tigo has the highest mobile Internet charges at Rwf50 per megabyte, followed by MTN where clients part with Rwf30 and Airtel is the cheapest at Rwf20 per megabyte.
The Internet penetration in the country is still low, but has progressively grown to 7.1 per cent from 0.01 per cent in 2003. MTN has 509,491 mobile Internet subscribers, Tigo 235,234, while Airtel has 11,822, according to RURA.