23 May 2017

Rwanda: Innovative Business Models Key to Deepening Rwanda's ICT Sector, Says UAE Tech Expert

Photo: Timothy Kisambira/The New Times
Patrick Buchana CEO of AC Group demonstrates how a Tap&Go smart payment card works.

As Rwanda strives to become an ICT hub in the region experts say the country should embrace innovative business models to be able to attract more investors in the information and communication technology sector (ICT). Farhad Khan, the chief commercial officer at Al Yah Satellite Communications Company based in the Middle East, says Rwanda needs to invest more in digital technologies and innovative business models to be able to digitise the economy and thrive as an ICT centre in the region. He spoke to Business Times' Peterson Tumwebaze about this, the firm's interests in Rwanda and Africa, as well as other ICT-related issues

Briefly talk to us about Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat)

Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) is based in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates and is one of the leading global satellite operators. It is owned by Mubadala Investment Company, and provides communications, broadband and broadcast services in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and central and south West Asia. Our smart communications solutions unlock the potential of individuals, firms, communities, and countries across the globe by allowing connectivity and communication.

As the seventh largest global operator in terms of revenue, we are committed to providing reliable, innovative and cost-effective satellite solutions, for individual home users, businesses, governments and NGOs.

YahClick, our high-performance satellite broadband service, provides connectivity to home and business users anywhere within the coverage area, which spans across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

What is your plan for Africa and Rwanda in particular?

African countries developed and adopted the Smart Africa Manifesto in 2014 to drive the continent's development through ICT. The nations are looking to harness the transformative power of ICT to create new digital cities, connected villages and networked communities.

We believe that collaboration between governments, technology partners and businesses is the key to unleashing the dynamics of connectivity and ushering Africa into the knowledge revolution. Yahsat is constantly working with in-country partners across the continent to deliver state-of-the-art solutions to even the most rural of households. Our partners in Africa are market leaders in their ability to deliver, install, and support the solutions.

In Rwanda, we are proud to work with Tele10 to facilitate connectivity, as well as long-term socio-economic development of the country.

Rwanda is positioning itself as an IT hub on the continent. How can the country achieve this goal?

Innovation and connectivity are at the core of ICT and knowledge-driven economies. To become an IT hub in the region, a focus area for Rwanda would be investing in digital technologies and creating innovative business models that are powered by broadband.

Therefore, enhancing broadband connectivity will, not only increase business opportunities, but also drive socio-economic growth across sectors and industries.

Additionally, digital inclusion can extend various economic and social benefits to previously unconnected populations, fuelling a circle that improves infrastructure and further increases internet access - paving the way to an ICT driven economy.

How important is ICT toward economic development in Africa?

ICT has a profound impact on the society; it reduces poverty, improves education and health services, promotes gender equality and ensures environmental sustainability.

We have witnessed a direct correlation between connectivity and economic growth across Asia and Africa. World Bank research also suggests that a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration in low and middle-income countries results in a 1.38 per cent increase in GDP growth. We have worked with numerous organisations across Africa in countries like South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan, where jointly with our service partners and government agencies, we have facilitated projects such as provision of connectivity to remote libraries in South Africa, e-learning facilities for the Masai community schools in Kenya, and improving quality of life in Kiambu county by connecting healthcare facilities, which have contributed to socio-economic development in these areas.

Many emerging economies do not have the infrastructure to support the ICT industry. How can Africa address this challenge?

Until recently, much of the world's more advanced connectivity was driven by cable infrastructure. This type of physical infrastructure, which is labour-intensive and disruptive to install, requires significant governmental and private sector investment to build and maintain.

Therefore, there was a need for high performance broadband that is not subjected to costs and physical limitations faced by the cable-based systems. Broadband, powered by satellites, reaches users in the remotest parts of the world and facilitates social development unparalleled in the history of the world. Satellite communications have revolutionised the way children receive education; or how healthcare is delivered to patients, and government services are provided to citizens.

What opportunities does the satellite technology present business particularly in Africa?

Satellite communication is one of the foundations of the modern global communications eco-system. It connects individuals, businesses, and governments, enabling them to exchange information and facilitate socio-economic development.

Today, it is increasingly becoming clear that reliance on satellites will remain at the core of communications networks. However, there's need to increase satellite broadband penetration in Africa to connect people across suburbs of major cities, smaller towns, and rural areas to quality broadband. Improved connectivity across Africa will facilitate the local and international business organisations, enabling them to connect with consumers and enhancing their offerings. That's why we see Africa as a high-priority market for us.

With the launch of our third satellite, Al Yah 3, later this year, we will triple our existing presence in Africa and serve more home and business users, as well as government entities and non-governmental organisations.

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