As a company driven by the vision of making mobile communications affordable and accessible to all, Airtel Rwanda has major plans to increase its customer reach through rural network expansion.
RWANDA’S OPERATOR OF CHOICE
Airtel Rwanda has already made waves in the telecoms industry since entering the country three years ago. With big plans all-round to launch value-added voice and non-voice services, expand the network and adopt seven new service centres, the company is positioning itself to gain an increased market share and accelerate growth in rural areas.
In 2014, Managing Director, Teddy Bhullar told Africa Outlook how network growth was being driven by consumer feedback in order to develop the company footprint in Rwanda. The response pointed towards a desire for increased data services across a wider reach.
Speaking in 2015, Bhullar feels Airtel is on its way to accomplishing this: “The high mobile penetration rate of 72 percent in Rwanda has helped in our decision to add a further 126 sites for 2G and 100 3G/3.75G sites to our portfolio, and we recently commercially launched 4G alongside partners in the city of Kigali and soon in major towns around the country. Similarly, our competitive packages represent our strong drive to connect as many people as possible through the power of Airtel,” says Bhullar.
AFFORDABLE DATA SERVICES
Boasting a 15 percent market share, Airtel Rwanda has become the operator of choice for data and affordable smart devices. The Airtel Money platform is also steadily taking centre stage. “Availability, affordability, innovation and speed-to-market are the key reasons for our growth. By keeping ahead of the latest technological demands, we have been able to give customers what they want,” he adds.
In addition to data services, Airtel Money is another of major interest to Airtel Rwanda. The service is already present in 17 African countries and has become one of the leading financial tools that has revolutionised the continent by providing the means for more people to access a wide range of banking, insurance and payment options. “Mobile payment methods are fast becoming the norm in many African countries. Airtel Money service is equally as important for Rwandans as it brings the power of banking and the ease of paying bills directly to the customer via quick payments, even from rural areas. Currently, we have almost one million subscribers registered on the platform, a number which continues to rise in conjunction with transaction values,” emphasises Bhullar.
With the budget smartphone market in Rwanda, and Africa more broadly, booming, Airtel Rwanda is seeing great returns from its affordable data services and the financial services that are readily available to customers. Moreover, the adoption of a connected social lifestyle means faster speeds for browsing, social media, streaming and download services.
The Rwandan telecom sector witnessed particularly strong growth levels in 2014, testament to a sustained GDP growth of between seven and eight percent annually since 2008. Consequently, the country is catching up with other markets in Africa and boasts a mobile internet penetration rate of 27 percent, signalling huge potential for growth. Although, challenges along the way are of course present, the main problem of access to data and voice services in the rural areas of Rwanda has since been addressed by getting the network up and running for the population living here.
Right now, more than 40 rural areas are receiving Airtel network upgrades and this will be complemented by seven new service centres and a range of value-added services with affordability in mind. “When we started operations in 2012, we did not have any service centres, now we have six with a seventh on its way,” comments Bhullar.
The most prevalent factor of these network upgrades is to make sure customers can access the network anywhere they may be in the country. The hope is to grow Rwanda’s mobile penetration rate and continue to connect more people. “Through targeted voice and data services, we are driving the Airtel promise of affordable, tailored services into new waters in close conjunction with increased availability,” he says.
There is one challenge that remains for Airtel Rwanda as Bhullar explains: “It presents difficulties in making people see the benefit of changing their service provider to Airtel.
“As we have only been in the market for three years compared to some of the competition being here for 15, we hope that by demonstrating our innovative spirit through the application of data and other attractive products such as financial services, we can capture an even larger audience going forward.”
Since last year, Airtel Rwanda has more than doubled its workforce – jumping from 70 to just under 150 members of staff – and launched an e-learning portal for the whole Group. Additionally, the company has made a conscious effort to support the local student population by working closely with universities and local schools to provide training programmes.
“Airtel has a huge presence across Africa in 17 countries and there is ample opportunity to skills share with other countries via exchange programmes and expert support. A substantial part of our success can be attributed to this as our staff are continuously learning and developing their skills,” states Bhullar.
In terms of initiatives to connect the staff and brand to the Rwandan community, Airtel is a known contributor to corporate social responsibility projects continent-wide. “Filtered right back to Group level, Airtel has taken part in a generous amount of community activity over the years. Specific to Rwanda though, we have taken part in a number of activities over the past year across the education and enterprise development sector in particular,” highlights Bhullar.
Moreover, members of staff at Airtel Rwanda have been taking part in volunteering activities to help build a brighter future for the country and “bond with its people”. This year, the company is working on a number of initiatives such as going green and enterprise development for Rwanda’s disabled persons, which address key areas of need in society.
By next year, Bhullar hopes that Airtel Rwanda will have gained increased market share; a result of boosted data penetration projections in the country and the uptake of mobile financial services. “Over the past year our customer base has grown substantially to around 1.4 million and we command a 15 percent market share. Our value-add propositions combined with the best data connectivity speeds and extended rural reach, an increased number of staff and some great partners all behind the Airtel brand in Rwanda means we can only grow in the coming years,” concludes Bhullar.