BOTSWANA: RAPID INTERNET GROWTH OVER LAST FOUR YEARS

14 July 2000

Top Story

Botswana has one of the most well developed telephone infrastructures on the continent. This has helped the growth of the internet over the last four years despite the local telco, BTC remaining as the sole external gateway operator. Dr A.O.Eyitayo and Chedza Molefe look at what's happened and at the nascent growth of e-commerce.

Internet connectivity has grown very rapidly over the last four years. In 1996 very few organisations and individuals had a presence on the World Wide Web. There were no national Internet Service Providers and as such access was limited and expensive. A few agents provided connections through South African ISPs. At this stage e-mail was used more than the World Wide Web. The University of Botswana was the one major user with a batch connection to Rhodes University in South Africa. The Internet scene has changed drastically since that point.

Botswana Telecommunications Corporation now provides the backbone Internet service. Abacus and InfoBotswana (a representative of CompuServe) were the first Internet Service Providers. InfoBotswana was and is still the largest ISP in the country. Other big names in the trade are GIA Botswana and Mega. There are several Internet Cafes around the country especially in urban centres. A new company that specialises in e-commerce was established in January 2000. Satellite Internet access has also been introduced.

TELECOMMS FRAMEWORK - DIGITAL BUT BTC MONOPOLY NOT YET CHALLENGED

For many years the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) enjoyed a monopoly in communication. Government passed a bill in 1996 with a provision for establishing an independent regulator; the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) whose members are appointed by the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication . The monopoly of the national operator, BTC, was thus ended. BTC, however, still remains a public enterprise competing with new private entrants. BTC can operate joint ventures with them. A privatisation policy has just been endorsed in the first part of the year 2000. As a public enterprise the company may be privatised in the future.

Botswana has a telecommunications infrastructure that is one of the most modern in Africa. Its communications network, composed of an all-digital microwave and fibre optic system with digital exchanges at the main centres, provides a high quality service. The current network comprises 7,300 kilometres of microwave radio and fibre optic links between 12 main processors each serving a specific area of the country. The microwave network links 50 automatic exchanges and provides connections to neighbouring countries; South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Telecommunication services available in Botswana include national and international telephony, data networks, very small aperture terminal (VSAT), private wires, leased circuits, toll free services, Internet, paging, public telephones, voice messaging, telex, packet switching, telegraph and customer premises. At about 7 telephones for every 100 people in the population, this is currently one of the highest indicators on the African continent. Data Communications services are available through the Packet Switched Network (called BOTSPAC) managed data network.

A frame relay service together with an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is also being introduced in Botswana. These services offer high quality networks, with enhanced capacity, by utilizing advanced telecommunications technologies capable of carrying future multimedia services. Integrating speech, data, text and video services and offering users end-to-end digital connectivity through a standardized access point, ISDN offers users faster speeds, improved communications quality and reduced operating costs. Facilities to be made available by this technology include Internet Access, High Quality Sound Broadcasts, LAN Interconnection/ Access, Lease Line Backup, Transaction Services, Interactive Multi-Media, File Transfer/File Sharing and Desktop Video Conferencing. ISDN file transfer is offered as an alternative to couriers, post, and problems or, in many cases, expensive leased lines. ISDN's high bit rate (at least 64Kbit/s), together with the integrity offered by digital end-to-end digital conductivity, ensure fast and reliable data transfer anywhere in the world. (source: http://www.btc.bw/).

BOTSGATE - NOT A SCANDAL BUT A GATEWAY TO THE WORLD

The government of Botswana is convinced that opening of the Internet gateway by BTC will greatly contribute to the socioeconomic development of the country. Botsgate is a fixed bandwidth provider to corporate users and local Internet Service Providers (ISP), offering a range of bandwidth in multiples of 64 kbt/s. Botsgate offers a direct link via satellite to the United States which has created a platform for users to gain access to the information super highway to the rest of the world.

A number of organisations in Botswana have opted in to the Botsgate connection which offers leased circuits in the range of 64 kbt/s or more on full time basis. These have included corporate users such as the Government of Botswana, the University of Botswana, Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) and local ISPs. With the introduction of BOTSNET, a wholly BTC owned ISP, the trend is now for Botsgate to offer bandwidth to ISPs who will in turn service both individual and corporate users.

On the average, an initial application fee of about P100 (about US $20) is charged for private dial-up connection with full Internet and E-mail connectivity. Thereafter, the customer pays a monthly subscription of P75-100 (about US $15-20) per month. In a country with a minimum wage of about P500 ($100) per month, this is quite affordable to those earning above the minimum wage. The initial application fee for dedicated leased line is about P250, with a monthly subscription charge of about P1, 750. For corporate users, the cost of connecting to the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation is P3, 500, and a monthly rental of P10, 000 (US $2,000) for a 64KB data line. (1 Botswana Pula (BWP) = 0.1900 US Dollar)

SUMMARY OF ISPs IN THE MARKET

Currently there are more than six Internet Service Providers offering all internet services including Domain Name Registration, Virtual Domain Hosting, Web Page designing and Hosting, Dial-in Internet and e-mail Access, Corporate Access/ leased line access.

BOTSNET (http://www.botsnet.bw) is 100% owned by BTC and this has caused a lot of agitation among the local ISPs. Logically this seems to bring about an unleveled ground for competition. BTC is the overall owner of Botsgate, the Internet backbone. This means that BTC is expected to service all ISPs including BOTSNET in a fair and equitable manner. Some people have reservations about this arrangement.

Internet Costs

Dial up charges combined with telephone costs are still making Internet access beyond reach of an average Motswana (Botswana citizen) Below is a list of ISPs and their charges.(Figures below are in Botswana Pula and Dial up unrestricted Internet browsing and an email address with a 5MB email box accessible P99.00/month, P500.00 for six months prepaid or P900.00 for 12 months prepaid. Local Calls Cost P0.23 for 6 minutes or P0.15 during off peak periods (8pm-7am and Saturday afternoons, Sundays and holidays).

INFO BOTSWANA (http://www.info.bw):

Dialup: Unlimited Use - P150 per month, payable quarterly or P100 per month,

payable annually

Email only: P80 per month, payable quarterly or P53 per month payable

annually

 

GIA Botswana/Abacus Computing (http://www.gia.bw):

Dialup: Setup - P140, Unlimited use - P80/month / P470/year

 

Other ISPs include: Mega (http://www.mega.bw), 4sites (http://www.4site.bw/about.htm) and InterTswana (newly established),

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF WEB USE

 

Through the use of the Internet, corporate, government, educational institutions, small-scale business and individuals are getting connected with the rest of the world. For example, at the University of Botswana and its affiliated institution, the Botswana College of Agriculture, both academic and administrative staff members, not only have PCs in their offices, but also have direct links to the Internet and e-mail services from their desks. Through the Government Computer Bureau, most government departments and higher institutions have been connected to the internet with ample access provided to staff, while other Government corporations such as the Bank of Botswana, Water Corporation Utilities, Botswana Power Corporation, and Botswana Telecommunications Corporation are major internet users.

 

E-COMMERCE ON THE HORIZON

 

There is also a growing awareness about the potential of e-commerce with some organizations already making Internet presence, though most of these have been in the area of marketing and product promotion. At least one bank, Baclays Bank of Botswana is now offering Telephone Banking, while another bank,the Standard Chartered Bank has concluded plans that would allow customers to have access to their account details via the Internet.

 

While there is still a lot of hesitation about e-commerce technology in Botswana business, some significant developments are beginning to show. Savannah Guest House located in Palapye accepts online reservation and accepts all major credit card including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Dinner¹s Club and Discover. Botswana Craft (http://www.botswanacraft.bw ) has shopping cart facilities and accepts Visa and MasterCard.

 

A number of new e-commerce companies have recently set up. One recent launch was e-Biz.The Managing Director of e-Biz, Thapelo Pabalinga, says his company is currently negotiating with most of the utility companies in Botswana so that people can settle their monthly bills with these corporations over the Internet, either from their homes or their offices. To facilitate online transactions, e-Biz has secured the services of First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB). Besides providing security, FNBB also keeps records, statistics, and protects credit card holder. The bank will also support the e-Biz venture by processing orders, transferring orders, and providing verification for all transactions made over the Internet. In pursuit of becoming the premier online directory and provider of e-commerce solutions, e-Biz has become the first international partner to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed, Ecnet (Pty) Ltd. (SOURCE: The Botswana Gazette of 23 August, 2000).

 

Another similar launch was the Business Advertiser's (Bizad), established early this year. Bizad specialises in electronic commerce services provision. The company offers a large variety of e-commerce services, ranging from fully outsourced e-commerce services to consulting services for e-commerce projects.

 

The Bizad provides a comprehensive range of services, including: Commerce-enablement, Security Services, including the provision of digital identification certificates to authenticate merchants in order to safeguard all trading parties, Secure transportation and processing of business transactions over the Internet, both for business to consumer and business to business transactions, Switching services, managing the electronic transaction process as it flows between customers, merchants and banks, Provision of Full Record and Electronic Trading Information services to merchants and consumers via on-line inquiries and automated generation of business statements and Shopping cart facilities.

 

The use and presence of Internet in Botswana is growing rapidly. It is estimated that there are some 15,000 to 20,000 users of the internet in Botswana today. This number includes private and business users. The number of local web sites is now more than 200 excluding personal web pages. The numbers are growing fast. With the introduction of satellite internet access (MINDQ - http://www.mindq.bw/satellite.htm) more users are likely to jump onto the bandwagon and e-commerce is likely to expand due to the capability to relay huge amounts of data by the new system.

 

Dr A.O.Eyitayo is in the Department of Computer Sciences at the University Of Botswana and Chedza Molefe is Chief Librarian for the Botswana Institute

for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA).