Rwanda rolls out free wireless in bid for a new business boom
By Stephanie Aglietti, AFPKIGALI--It's a scene any visitor would be surprised to see deep in central Africa: a tech-savvy consumer sitting in a restaurant and surfing a broadband connection with a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
October 21, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
But in a region long associated with war and genocide, Rwanda is busy trying to reinvent itself as a regional high tech hub by rolling out free citywide and eventually nationwide wireless connectivity.
“I came to use the Internet. Sometimes I download video and books,” said South Korean development worker Lee Il-mo, aged 31 and a resident of the Rwandan capital Kigali for the past two years.
“Before I went to restaurants or coffee bars and I had to buy a drink, but here it's a free area,” he said, sitting in Kigali City Tower — a zone slated as the city's new tech hub and the one of the first steps of the so-called “Smart Kigali” project.
Last month the Rwandan government announced it had started to cover the lush green, rolling hills of the capital with wireless hotspots.
This was the first step of a plan to provide Wi-Fi coverage to all schools and public buildings, markets, bus stations and hotels in the city and, in the long term, to the entire country.
Rwanda's minister in charge of Information Technology, Jean Philibert Nsengimana, said he wanted to see the plan “accelerate growth of the Internet sector” and attract more investors.
“Connectivity is one of the most important draws for business in this age of digital economy,” he said, asserting that free Wi-Fi was merely a step in the direction of a much bigger infrastructure goal — that of fourth generation, or 4G, access.
In June, the Rwandan government signed South Korea's KT Corp to build a 4G network that it wants delivered to 95 percent of the country, up from the estimated 10 percent who currently have 3G access.
“Broadband access,” said Nsengimana, “has to be considered as an essential, just like water and electricity.”