DRC - INTERNET AND MOBILE TELECOMS GROWING RAPIDLY AS WAR SUBSIDES
The DRC is massive in every sense: it covers an enormous area and has a large population. Despite the continuing unresolved issues from the ending of the civil war, the internet and telecom sectors continue to show rapid growth. It has almost no incumbent telco to speak of and the rebel held areas lie beyond the reach of government regulation. This week Russell Southwood interviews Aubin Kashoba Kalasa of DRC ISP, Afrinet about who the main players are and how people operate in different parts of this vast country.
How did ISPA - DRC start?
We wanted to create a community of all the ISPs in the DRC. For the moment all our members are based in Kinshasa but that will change as things go forward. The objective is to promote and develop the internet in the DRC. Previously all ISPs worked in an isolated way in their own interest. Now they can work together for the end user.
Who are the key players and how many subscribers are there?
There are nine main players and about 5000 subscribers in Kinshasa and perhaps 10,000 across the whole country. Interconnect has around 1000 subscribers. All operate in Kinshasa but different ISPs have a significantly different regional presence. The main players are:
How big is the corporate sector?
There are probably more than a hundred companies and international organisations needing some form of connectivity.
How many cybercafes are there?
More than 500. The users are mainly young, usually students. For example at the University of Kinshasa there ten cybercafes. Most have between 5-20 machines and are used largely for e-mail but also for research on the web and for chat rooms.
How many ISPs belong to the new IXP?
There’s four of us: Afrinet, Roffe, Micronet and Interconnect.
What internet presence is there outside Government-controlled area?
As far as I know, there’s internet access in the North of the Congo in Gbadolite and also in Goma.
What happens about regulation in these areas?
The regulator issues licences to work across the whole of the DRC but it currently covers telecoms but not internet. There are companies running in rebel-held areas who don’t have licences. They will need to regularise their situation when peace comes. But these regions are not large in internet terms.
MTN began operating in Goma and asked for Government permission but they already had permission from the rebels. When you call Goma, the number is a Rwandan number. Celltel have the licence to implement GSM there.
What are future growth projections?
The internet is growing quite quickly. There is a project to implement a backbone at the University of Kinshasa and this will provide a substantial potential user base. There are 50,000 students and staff and teachers of around 20,000.
Lumumbashi has a population of 2 million but currently internet users are a paltry 500. In Kinshasa there are 8 million people and it’s not unrealistic to think that 1% might use the internet, either through having their own connection or through cyber-cafes.
What state is the incumbent telco in?
OCPT has suffered very badly from mismanagement and through a combination of this and the impact of the war, they are very small. It is estimated that they have only 1-2000 subscribers and therefore no reliable income base. They only serve a small area, largely the commercial area in Kinshasa.
Therefore many companies have their own VPNs to branch offices. For example we provide Western Union with internet connections this way in the provinces. Many companies moving from "classic" communications (radio, fax, etc) to IP communications.
What’s the position on VOIP?
Roffe and Raganet are authorised to do VOIP. There’s a supplementary licence costing US$100,000 and you can then offer public phones. Many people use this system and Roffe specialise in it, especially in the rural regions where OPCT has no presence or there is no GSM. Roffe has a satellite backbone using DVB, as do Interconnect and Micronet.