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Airtel to invest over USD30million in network expansion- Teddy Bhullar

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Recently, the country’s youngest telecommunication company Airtel Rwanda, at hardly two years old, received a new Managing Director (MD) to run the brand’s operation replacing Marcellin Paluku who evidently saw the company establish strongly in the market.

Teddy Bhullar comes at a time when Rwanda as a country is making efforts to ensure that the set goals of Vision 2020 (Rwanda’s blueprint to development) are reached.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are envisioned to play a crosscutting role in achieving intended results. Against the backdrop, Airtel as a telecom company, and particularly its new MD is expected to contribute heavily to achieving the set goals.

In an interview with Hope Magazine (HM), the new boss for Airtel Rwanda shared his position on matters ranging from his package for the Rwandan market to what he thinks telecoms ought to do in order to unleash Rwanda’s potentials. Following are excerpts from the interview.

HM: Where were you working before joining Airtel Rwanda and which unique experiences from your years of practice do you bring to Rwanda\’s telecom industry?

MD- Before joining the Rwandan market, I served as CEO of Airtel Sierra Leon since the brand’s launch in the country back in November 2010 and prior to that, I also served as CEO of Airtel Seychelles. What I bring with me to Rwanda is dedicated service delivery, innovations and a broader understanding of telecoms markets in Africa. I come with vast experience working with the Airtel brand and I believe this will translate into my strategy for the company and the industry as a whole.

HM:  As a veteran in the mobile telecoms industry, what is your view of the current state of the Rwandan telecommunications market?

MD- Rwanda’s telecom market is growing very fast taking for instance the 63% mobile phone penetration in the country. Mobile money has also seen steady growth over the last two years.  In general, the industry has already had a transformative effect on the social and economic development of Rwanda. Notwithstanding the impressive progress of the mobile industry in Rwanda over the years, the biggest impact of telecommunications in Rwanda and Africa as a continent is yet to come. Mobile solutions in the industry are beginning to address a range of social and economic challenges in the country like education and agriculture among others.

HM: What roles ought telecoms companies like Airtel play in unearthing the potentials of telecommunication technologies so as to yield improvement in the living standards of Rwandans?

MD- Telecommunication technologies ought to be seen as nothing less than an opportunity to facilitate the growth of potentials and improve living standards of the people in the country in which they are operating.

Airtel as a brand has gone deep to unearth potential by creating strategic partnerships that facilitate development. For example Airtel recently launched the Social EDU

initiative in partnership with Facebook, Nokia and the government of Rwanda. This initiative is aimed to address key barriers in access to education by providing free content, free data, affordable smart phones and a localized social education experience for Rwandans. This goes a long way to show that Airtel should no longer be seen as just Voice and SMS service providers but as a partner in providing solutions to improve the living standards Rwandans.

HM: Airtel group recently received the Kalahari award for the fastest growing mobile money platform in the 4th mobile money expo 2014. What does this mean for the brand and Airtel Rwanda in particular?

MD – Rwanda and Africa as a whole has the fastest growing mobile money market in the world with almost 20 percent annual growth over the past five years. These figures tally well with Rwanda as statistics show that Rwf330bn was pushed through mobile money the past year. With these kinds of numbers, mobile-money services can be especially used as an opportunity to improve the ways in which business is conducted in developing countries like Rwanda.

Airtel money in particular has diversified with first innovations like the recent launch of the Airtel money cardless withdrawal service in Rwanda where customers are now capable of withdrawing money from any I&M bank ATM in the country just like they would from an agent. It is firsts like these and Airtel money’s footprint in 17 African countries that make Airtel money the fastest growing mobile money platform in Rwanda and Africa as a whole. It is needless to say that Airtel money is positioned to become Africa’s widest  financial service provider serving more diverse communities than any other financial institution in Africa.

HM: Airtel has just made two years in Rwanda. What are your achievements so far?

MD- We at Airtel have had some great achievements in the past two years of operation. We were the first telecom in Rwanda to hit the 1m subscriber in less than two years. We would love to thank Rwandans for their support over the past years and we pledge to continue serving Rwanda with world class products and services.

Airtel was also the first telecom to introduce the ATM cardless withdrawal service to Rwandans, one of the milestones in Rwanda’s road to a cashless economy and financial inclusion.

HM: Rwanda envisions developing a cashless economy and which is inclusive of all citizens, a goal in which telecoms have a key role to play. What has Airtel done to harness this government dream and contribute to its achievement?

MD- As far as mobile commerce is concerned;  Airtel has over 3000 Airtel money agents spread across the country to make available mobile banking services to everyone. In addition, Airtel customers can move their Airtel money between mobile wallets and their bank accounts to using the 24/7 I&M Bank ATMs spread across the country. This service goes a long way in promoting a cashless economy by enabling customers to make transactions with their Airtel money e-wallet at anytime, anywhere and replenishing it with more electronic cash from their accounts in case of need.

HM: The Airtel brand and particularly its Rwandan operations have exhibited strong support for sports and education. What do you have in plan for this year in taking the initiatives forward?

MD- I am proud to announce that Airtel will be adopting two schools this year in our “Adopt a school” initiative where we identify a school and undertake major refurbishments to create models around the country. This is done in partnership with the government of Rwanda. Last year we adopted, Nyirarukobwa School in Bugesera. We shall soon make an announcement of the two schools identified this year.

Airtel also supports sports through the Airtel Rising Stars initiative, where we identify, nurture and promote grass root football talent to create world class professionals. Last year we sent a Rwandan team to the Pan African tournament in Nigeria and we are happy that they made us proud with great results.

This year, Rwanda as a country will be hosting the Airtel Rising Stars Soccer Clinic starting in April 25. This clinic will not only give children a shot at achieving their dream but will also promote Pan Africanism owing to the fact that different children from all over Africa will be training together in the game of football.

HM: As the new CEO of Airtel Rwanda, what is your strategy to ensure a steady growth of the Company?

MD- Firstly on my plate for Airtel Rwanda is to lead with innovative products and services. We have achieved a number of firsts in the telecom industry and market as a whole and we would love for it to stay that way as we continue to drive customer satisfaction for even the modest Rwandan using an Airtel powered gadget.

The biggest strategy is to bring        products and services that will drive business growth for not only individuals but also the business community in Rwanda; we want to help them reach their maximum potential by providing smart business plans and solutions like affordable internet and data plans. As a matter of fact, the internet is major tool in today’s modern business.

From an investment standpoint we have invested heavily in Rwanda with infrastructure and building worth over US$150million.This year we are investing over $30m to improve and expand our network. We have created over 110 direct jobs and more than 3000 indirect ones.

We will continue impacting the lives of those in communities from which we operate, it is a pledge we make because we believe Rwanda deserves the best.

Airtel Rwanda is here to stay for the long run!

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