Always available, always affordable
In the last 12 months alone, Airtel Rwanda has doubled their customer base as a result of the brand's selling points which are affordability, innovativeness and high quality internet
Writer Matt Bone
Project Manager Donovan Smith
Airtel Rwanda commenced operations in March 2012 and has already become the most sought after telecom company in the industry for internet/data services and affordable smart devices. Unlike all other Bharti Airtel operations, Airtel Rwanda is in a unique position as the only greenfield operation in Africa to date. In the last year, the company has doubled its registered user base and is showing every indication that this number will further rise over the next 12 months.
Teddy Bhullar, Managing Director of Airtel Rwanda, believes this substantial growth in only 2 years is down to two key reasons: Affordability in terms of both local and international tariff s, products and services and smart data plans that have pushed Rwandans to join the network. "We have brought in a great variety of plans and options for consumers in the country. Data is a massive revenue stream for us, consumers are always looking for new ways to communicate across different social mediums and we want to be able to give them exactly what they want. So far we have been able to do that although we could do more," explains Bhullar.
Developing the Business Footprint
Business growth for Airtel Rwanda has been progressive the last 12 to 18 months. Although the predicted growth for the company is slightly higher than current figures, there has been a steady climb in the number of new registered users to the network. Airtel Rwanda are looking to capitalise on the consumer feedback, which indicates a desire for a bigger data and network presence. "Data is massive for us right now; we have seen more consumers join us because we can facilitate their need for data packages in rural areas, not just in the cities. If this current trend continues then I will be very happy with our market share," Bhullar remarks.
Currently, Airtel Rwanda commands a 16 percent share of mobile users in the country and are looking to double this in the shortest time possible. The country's mobile penetration now stands at 65 percent with Airtel Rwanda playing a significant role in this. "Last year alone, we launched an affordable mass market phone called Viziyo and we were able to connect over 50,000 Rwandans. This is in addition to other devices that we have made available to our customers. What we are doing really is supporting mobile penetration in this market," Bhullar explained.
He further added that so far, the brands highly targeted groups already own a mobile phone while the remaining group is predominantly made up of the over 75's and children under the age of 10, who are not the target audience for Airtel Rwanda currently. "People of the older generation or the very young are not likely to want to buy a phone or data plan, as either they do not have the income to do so or have no interest in social communication on a digital medium. We work around this by concentrating all our efforts on our targeted consumer group," cites Bhullar. It is not just the customer base that Airtel Rwanda are looking to grow. Over the next 12 to 18 months, the company are looking to expand their data service network from 65 percent coverage to an impressive 85 percent coverage, country-wide. "At the start of our fiscal year, we planned a $30 million investment in our operations which are mainly to improve and expand our network while spreading our footprint in the country to tap even the rural areas of Rwanda," Bhullar further explained.
Data, Downloads and Mobile Banking
Airtel Rwanda are not just looking at data as being the main customer draw, but now have mobile money as another string to their technology bow. Airtel Money is the convenient and safe way to transfer money from person to person, or pay for goods from your mobile phone. It has become one of the leading financial tools in Africa and Airtel Rwanda has been capitalising on the success in other parts of Africa and bringing it to the country. "Airtel Money is very important for the people of Rwanda in transferring money to each other or paying for utilities and other supplies. If you live in rural areas, accessing a bank is not very easy and can be very time consuming. Airtel Money can help you send payments quickly and safely to another person or pay bills, with the maximum of ease from your own home. This is a huge advantage to consumers who are working long hours and do not have time to get to the bank during the day," Bhullar highlights.
Mobile data is still the biggest draw for Airtel Rwanda to connect Rwandan's with the rest of the world. With 3G already present in the country, the company together with partners is looking to rollout 4G in the shortest time possible to all the main business districts, with a future nationwide rollout over the next 2-3 years. "We are confident that with the 4G rollout with our partners, consumers will really see the benefit in their social interactions and internet lifestyle, by being able to download music and films quicker than they could before," said Bhullar.
By having such a large customer base, Airtel Rwanda has had to look at their sales and supply strategies in a different way. Instead of having to travel to central locations in the cities for servicing and help, Airtel Rwanda have set up a greater number of zonal offices, where customers can access all the features normally reserved for large service centres. Within these zonal offices, Airtel Rwanda ensures that they always have a plentiful stock of affordable mobile devices, SIM cards and top-up cards available, so that customers can always get the items they need. "We believe that Airtel customers should have access to information and airtime accessories every time they go to one of our regional service locations. We pride ourselves on always being available and most importantly, always affordable. Without our customers, we would not have a business, so we do everything in our power to make the consumer experience with Airtel Rwanda as positive as it can be," proclaims Bhullar.
Corporate Social Responsibility
As a brand, Airtel is widely involved in CSR especially in the area of education with the 'Adopt a School programme', which is widely participated by Airtel in all of their operations. "Here in Rwanda, we have so far adopted one school called Nyirarukobwa where we made major refurbishments like painting, provided desks and generally created a model school. We shall be adopting another school this year in which we shall provide digitised educational content and data. Furthermore, through our Airtel Rising Stars sponsorship, we have been able to develop grassroot football talent. We are currently working out a strategic CSR policy that will guide the brand in further activities," Bhullar says.
Success is Always Achievable
Bhullar is keen to press just how successful Airtel Rwanda has been since it began only two years ago, and he puts this success down to three key steps: "Planning, application and affordability. These three points are exactly what has made Airtel Rwanda take long strides in such a short space of time. Firstly, we plan our expansion into the country carefully and with strong market research, taking into consideration all aspects of local economy and lifestyles. Secondly, we then apply this background knowledge into actionable steps that we build the foundations of our company onto. Thirdly, we guarantee our prices are affordable to the consumer, or no matter how good the first two steps are we will not have any business. This is what makes us so successful. This is the Airtel way."