Rwandans Turn to SMS As Mobile Phone Ownership Grows to 70 Per Cent

More Rwandans have turned to short text messages (SMSs) to communicate, with the number of SMSs sent last year rising by over six billion for on-net texts compared to the previous year.

According to the telecom sector 2014 report by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), close to 7.4 billion on-net short messages were sent out last year compared to 961.7 million in 2013. Off-net text messages also increased tremendously to 159.9 million texts, up from just 22.8 million SMSs the previous year.

The report attributed the rise in SMS traffic to the increasing mobile phone penetration levels across the country, and high calling rates that was occasioned by the increase in excise tax on airtime by government this financial year, from eight to 10 per cent. This seems to have had an impact, as the amount of time subscribers spent on on-net calls grew marginally compared to the huge rise in text messages over the same period. The decline in cross-net calls is also attributed to the increase in calling rates this financial year.

Rwanda has three mobile telecom firms – Airtel, Tigo and MTN Rwanda.

Call traffic increased marginally compared to the rate of increase in text messages, with subscribers spending a total of 7.4 billion minutes on on-net calls, up from 6.4 billion minutes in 2013, the report indicates.

However, the number of people calling across networks over the same period dropped, accumulating a total of 159.2 million minutes, down from over 171.5 million minutes the previous year.

Over 70 per cent of Rwandans own mobile phones, according to RURA, up from 63 per cent in 2013. This means that, of the estimated 11.5 million Rwandans, over 7.7 million of them own mobile phones.

Pioneer mobile telecom MTN Rwanda still dominates the market with over 3.8 million subscribers, followed by Tigo Rwanda with 2.8 million subscribers and Airtel Rwanda with 1.16 million.

The report shows MTN charged subscribers Rwf46 per minute for calls on the same network, and Rwf50 minute for off-net calls.

This amounted to an increase of Rwf10 from Rwf36 per minute charged in 2013 for making calls on the same network, but a reduction for off-net calls from Rwf60 in 2013. Tigo was charging clients Rwf34 per minute for on-net calls by December last year, up from Rwf25 in 2013. Off-net calls were unchanged from 2013 at Rwf60 per minute.

Airtel charged clients Rwf25 and Rwf62 per minute for on and off-net calls, over the reporting period, up from Rwf20 and Rwf60 per minute in 2013.

Liquid telecom chief executive Sam Nkusi said, communication should not take more than four per cent of one’s monthly income.

He argued that since airtime has become a basic item on people’s budgets, people have to weigh their options and use that which is cost-effective.

“That’s why we see more Rwandans using SMSs to communicate,” he said.

The report indicates that Rwandans used an average of 1,005 minutes each on phone per year. However, subscribers want telecoms to cut their rates to enable them easily communicate and transact business.

Diane Uwamahoro, a textiles trader in Kigali’s Central Business District, argued that communication should be more affordable to ease business transactions.

“The telecom firms should lower calling rates to enable us contact suppliers instead of having to resort to using time-consuming text messages to save on airtme,” she to The New Times last week.