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When considering which countries to enter, we first look at what the current state of connectivity is. How many individuals are connected? How many businesses already rely on broadband access? How difficult will it be to set up and expand locally?
DRC is an enormous country with a population of almost 90 million and a total size of 2.345.000 square km. That is 6 times the size of Germany and two thirds of all of Europe!
According to the Digital2020 report, there were 21.14 million internet users in the DRC in January 2021. This represents an increase of 4.8 million (+29%) between 2020 and 2021. Total Internet penetration stood at 23.2%.
Most of the internet users in DRC rely on mobile internet connections to get online. Many people have more than one mobile connection, which explains why there were 39.63 million mobile connections in total. The number of mobile connections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo increased by 2.0 million (+5.3%) between January 2020 and January 2021. In total, the number of mobile connections was equivalent to 43.6% of the total population.
With DRC being such large country, there is a big divide between half of the population that lives in rural areas, and the other half who live in big cities like Kinshasa and Lubumbashi.
First, 3air plans to focus on setting up three base stations in the capital city of Kinshasa. With a population of 17,07 million, Kinshasa is the DRC’s economic center. This means that there are millions of residents as well as thousands of businesses that need to rely on internet connectivity in every day life.
A study by the CDC group analyzed both business and private household internet access. Their research showed that only about 30 per cent of surveyed companies in urban Kinshasa have dedicated business access to the internet. This is driven by low rates of internet access in micro and small-sized firms, while medium and large-sized firms are much more likely to have access.
Business connectivity in Kinshasa, DRC
On average, surveyed firms in Kinshasa use the internet for 5.6 hours per day. Over 70% of these firms agree the internet helps expand their supplier network, helps staff improve skills, provides ideas for new or improved services, and helps to keep up with the competition.
This very much aligns with what we saw when our team visited Ethiopia. Companies and individuals from all sectors explained to us that a stable internet connection would greatly improve their ability to do business.
However, among connected firms in Kinshasa, 55% felt that the internet was too expensive or not worth it, mainly because of affordability and familiarity issues, and almost half of of the connected firms experience problems with internet connectivity on a daily basis. On the other hand, 47% of the companies that don’t use the internet state that their primary reason for staying unconnected is a lack of need or know-how.
Household connectivity in Kinshasa, DRC
In urban Kinshasa, almost 90% of surveyed households in urban Kinshasa have some form of internet access, primarily mobile — much higher than the average across the DRC’s total population. 97% of surveyed connected working-age individuals use mobile phones as their primary method of accessing the internet. Only 28% of users describe their internet connection speed as good or very good, while 23% describe their service as being unstable with frequent disconnections.
The technology that 3air and K3 Last Mile propose aims to solve disturbances and has proven to provide very good coverage with speeds up to 1 GBPS.
The most common uses of the internet for individuals surveyed are social networking, educational purposes, and job searching. 61% of respondents say they have used the internet to find work, while about 20% regularly access job search materials or content online. 65% of respondents agree that the internet has helped to expand their work opportunities and 11% engage in work-related activities online.
Costs are the primary barrier to internet access for households in urban Kinshasa, with more than 30% of individuals citing costs as the main limitation for internet use. The average monthly spending on data is roughly 17 per cent of average income per working-age individual.
High costs of connectivity — and a lack of affordable options — are significant challenges. As a percentage of average income (or GDP), the cost of data ranks among the highest in the world. DRC ranks 28 out of 29 African countries on the latest affordability index developed by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).
Because of Kinshasa’s size, economic importance and geographical location, it is strategically important for us to provide coverage here first. Our operations in the DRC are already in the funding phase, and its terrain offers a good terrain for K3 technology with an easy expansion option to Congo Brazzaville.
There are 3 initial base stations planned in Kinshasa at:
- Binza Pigon
- Mont Ngaliema
- Limete Tower
Each base station has signal range of up to 50 kilometers (31 miles), so this setup will allow coverage of about 90% target areas within Kinshasa.
You can find a comparison of the current biggest alternatives of broadband access on the African continent here.
Building out the K3 Last Mile solution infrastructure could include but is not limited to: acquiring a license, setting up initial infrastructure, staffing, marketing, providing users with support and maintaining the local infrastructure.
3air opens a local office in each of its target countries, which means that there are locals with experience in their local markets involved in managing our day-to-day operations.
Fast, stable and affordable internet connections will have a great impact on millions of people who rely on the internet for work, education, finding a job or even staying in touch with family and friends.
Aside from solving the challenges related to reliability, speed and cost, we also need to tackle the challenge of education. Educating local companies about the importance of internet and how it will help them do business is one of our key objectives.
We expect that our investment in the DRC will help improve the quality of life of many Congolese citizens. We hope that we can contribute to the development of society in the DRC through our investments in infrastructure and services.