The arrival of new submarine telecommunications cables in 2009, paired with government investment in the national telecommunications backbone, has spurred a revolution in Tanzania that has seen the cost of internet connectivity drop to as little as US$ 0.15 a day on a prepaid service, according to an industry expert.
“This represents an effective drop of thousands of percent in the cost of internet bandwidth in the country over the past three to four years,” SEACOM Tanzania managing director, Anna Kahama-Rupia, said here Tuesday.
Before 2009, she pointed out, the US$ 5,000 to US$ 10,000 cost for dedicated fixed-line meant that only larger businesses could afford access to broadband connectivity while internet access for an ordinary person was almost unheard of.
“Today, many Tanzanians are paying as little as US$ 15 a month to enjoy high-speed mobile access to the internet from their cell phones, including the cost voice calls. This has had a transformative effect on education, entrepreneurship and social life in the country,” said Kahama-Rupia.
In her view, the change in Tanzania's telecommunications landscape could be attributed to two major factors -- the arrival of new submarine cables in the country, starting with SEACOM in 2009, and a massive effort led by the government to roll out 10,000km of national backbone criss-crossing Tanzania to the eight countries on its borders.
Before the arrival of SEACOM, there was just 300 Mbps of international bandwidth coming into Tanzania for the country's 40 million people.
Today, there is around 10G, a factor that has helped to bring connectivity costs down dramatically.
The government's US$ 200 million investment in the national backbone has taken international connectivity to towns and cities across the country, besides reaching the doorsteps of Tanzania's landlocked neighbours.
As a result, telecommunications experts here see Tanzania becoming a major technology and communications hub for the entire region.
Just recently, the state-owned Tanzania Telecommunication Company was awarded a US$ 6.7 million deal to supply 1,244 Mbps of internet bandwidth into Rwanda, a transaction with benefits for both countries.
“Cheaper broadband is also benefiting Tanzania's education sector,” Kahama-Rupia observed.
“The University of Dar es Salaam, for instance, was paying US$ 10,000 a month for 13Mbps of slow satellite connectivity. Now, SEACOM has linked it to the internet for a fraction of the price and with enough bandwidth to support richer web apps than the university could before,” she said.
More internet bandwidth also means that there are opportunities to reach young people in remote areas that are underserviced by schools and teachers with e-learning services at an affordable cost.
“Government has embraced telecommunications as part of a wider strategy to deliver electronic services, including education, healthcare, and e-government to the people. It plans to do so through telecentres spread throughout the country," said Kahama-Rupia.
There is a flurry of innovation underway in Tanzania's telecommunications market, thanks to lighter regulation of the market and the new national and international cables.
According to Kahama-Rupia, mobile networks have turned themselves into major data players, innovating with services such as voice-over-IP, video messaging and video calling.
African telecommunications operator, Smile Telecom, recently launched mobile broadband services, including live video chat and TV streaming, following its deployment of the first commercial LTE 800 Mhz network in Africa.
“The impact on Tanzanian consumers and businesses has been remarkable. Before mid-2009, internet cafes with high access costs were the only viable way for SMEs and ordinary consumers to use the web, and even corporates and educational institutions had to strictly ration bandwidth,” she recalled.
Now, SMEs are trading on the web, relying on instant messaging, and even using multimedia web applications for the first time.
Many large multinationals are looking at investing in Tanzania for the first time, now that a sound communications backbone is in place.
For consumers, social media, mobile banking and other applications are now a part of their everyday lives.
She added: "The opportunities this has created - economic and otherwise - are enormous. There is the reason to believe that we are just getting started.
“With only an estimated 2.5 percent of the population having access to the internet, there is plenty of scope for growth."
SEACOM is a privately owned cable company offering wholesale broadband services and products that have been fundamental in building the African internet