On March 27, OneWeb, a global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone everywhere, filed a bankruptcy relief case to a U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, citing failure to raise money from donors and its core business being affected by the current Coronavirus global epidemic.
As part of its constellation, the OneWeb had successfully launched 74 satellites (including one of Rwanda’s maiden satelite internet code-named ‘Icyerekezo’ launched in 2019.
In the whole OneWeb deal which cost globally $3billion (with $1.2billion in capital funding raised from Rwanda and other partners) for installations, Rwanda was supposed to be connected with the rest of the world next year around April 2021.
Patrick Kariningufu, vice president of the Middle East and Africa at One web told KT Press this year, that his company was focusing on providing 24/7 internet at the same time globally where St Pierre students from Nkombo would be beneficiaries probably in April 2021. They would have free internet for 10 years.
Rwanda’s launch of global satellite was aimed at building the local space industry, build local capacity, inspire the younger generation and prepare to usher Rwanda into a hyper-connected future.
Besides the science students in Nkombo islands, local communities in Rwanda were targeted to be connected as well.
With this prospectus now at stake, especially that OneWeb failed to secure negotiations regarding investment that would fully fund the company through its deployment and commercial launch, it means that either the company is bailed out by its government or goes bankrupt.
If OneWeb goes bankrupt, it would mean a sale off of all its assets including the 74 global satellites of which Rwanda has one and share dividends with its shareholders.
Whatever the case, Rwanda’s Ministry of ICT and Innovation said that the country will pursue its partnership with the firm but also look at other options.
“Our partnership with OneWeb isn’t the only avenue through which the Government seeks to leverage satellites to connect underserved areas. Particularly, for schools in remote locations we are working with other partners that will bridge the connectivity gap in remote locations,” ICT and Innovation Minister, Paula Ingabire said in an email yesterday.
Ingabire added that even before the partnership with OneWeb, Rwandans have been consumers of satellite internet services and will continue to do so through different arrangements, including its partnership with OneWeb once they reach commercialization.
“Our Partnership with OneWeb will continue despite the recent developments. We strongly believe in their mission to connect everyone everywhere, especially for a country like ours that is land locked,” Ingabire said.
Currently, there is only 52% Internet penetration and less than 10% digital inclusivity in the country of estimated 12milllion Rwandans.
However, Rwanda has laid over 3,000km of a $130 million fiber optic network with an additional $10million injected by Korea Telecommunication Rwanda Networks (KTRN) into 4G LTE connectivity, which now covers 96% of the country as 2019
This infrastructure has enabled to connect district offices, hospitals, some schools and other public institutions.
Private companies like Liquid Telecom – a multinational telecom company have also announced plans to connect over 20,000 offices and buildings around the country, while smart public transport companies like TapnGo have also invested in free bus WiFi internet to keep Rwandans connected to the rest of the world.