Rwanda set to pilot 5G internet

The Government is preparing to pilot fifth-generation technology (5G) by the end of this year, aiming to leverage high-speed internet to deliver services more efficiently, according to Paula Ingabire, the Minister of ICT and Innovation.

Ingabire made the announcement during a consultative session with the Senate on the country’s plans for ICT development on Thursday, June 1.

As part of the revised National Broadband Policy and Strategy released in October 2022, Rwanda intends to establish 5G-related infrastructure. Ingabire said that pilot projects would be conducted this year to test the technology, with 16 sites planned for setup in collaboration with telecommunication companies.

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The number of sites is expected to increase to 35 next year, as areas suitable for implementation are identified. The government aims to have a total of 60 5G sites in operation by 2025, according to data from the Ministry of ICT and Innovation.

5G technology, as defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), allows for the faster transmission of large amounts of data, reliable connectivity for a vast number of devices, and the processing of high volumes of data with minimal delay. Its applications include smart homes and buildings, smart cities, 3D video, cloud-based work and entertainment, remote medical services, virtual and augmented reality, as well as machine-to-machine communications for industrial automation. Legacy 3G and 4G networks face limitations in supporting these advanced services.

Ingabire emphasized that the adoption of 5G internet would be accompanied by increased access to smart devices such as computers and smartphones among Rwandan residents. This would enable them to benefit from services that require high-speed internet.

The minister noted that the implementation of 5G would facilitate the realization of smart city technologies, which require fast and reliable internet connections. Antoine Sebera, the Government Chief Innovation Officer at Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA), gave an example of how smart city technology could be used to monitor electricity and water supply in the City of Kigali in real-time, enabling prompt interventions in cases of power cuts or water disconnections. Additionally, plans are underway to develop a smart parking system that provides drivers with information on available parking spaces, thus improving efficiency.

Ingabire acknowledged that prior to the policy revision, there was a monopoly on internet services in Rwanda held by Korea Telecom Rwanda Networks (KTRN). This led to high internet costs for services like 4G, as telecommunication companies had no alternative but to purchase internet from KTRN and resell it to Rwandan residents. This situation also hindered the adoption of next-generation internet products like 5G.

The policy revision has opened the internet market to telecommunication companies operating in Rwanda, including MTN and Airtel, granting them permission to establish their own internet infrastructure. This change aims to address the high costs associated with purchasing bulk internet from a single provider, reducing expenses for both the companies and end-users. Additionally, the revised policy allows for the sharing of internet infrastructure among ICT firms, further lowering costs.

Currently, approximately 95% of populated areas in Rwanda have 2G and 3G coverage, while 96% have access to 4G infrastructure. However, internet usage among Rwandan residents stands at only 22.8%, mainly due to the high cost and limited accessibility in remote areas. The usage of 4G internet specifically is estimated to be only 2% among the population, according to the minister.


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