Viettel touch-down turns around lives in Burundi

December 27, 2021 | 14:37
From a life without the lights of civilisation, Burundians can now call, text, use the internet cheaply as well as make payments via e-wallets.
Viettel touch-down turns around lives in Burundi
The lives of Burundians have changed a great deal since the arrival of Viettel

About eight years ago, in December 2013, Viettel Burundi (Lumitel) was officially established in the Republic of Burundi, an underdeveloped country in Eastern Africa. It is not unusual for Viettel to invest in countries less developed than Vietnam, but it was a surprise that Viettel did not leave Burundi when the country was caught up in difficulties and political instability.

Amidst Burundi’s instability in 2014, all telecom operators temporarily suspended operation and relocated key personnel from the country to ensure their safety. Meanwhile, Lumitel, Viettel’s newly-establish network, decided to stay to ensure the smooth connection for Burundians.

Turning challenges into opportunities, Viettel posted skyrocketing growth in Burundi. The corporate became the leading telecom operator in the country with one million customers. The positive business results are only part of the pride of the Vietnamese telecom giant in the African country. What is more remarkable is what they have brought to the people of Burundi.

From limited access to television and internet to popularity of e-wallets

In 2013, the average income per capita in Burundi is about $200 per year. People’s main occupations are farming and animal husbandry. The country of 10 million has only one television and radio station. Nearly 80 per cent of households do not own a television while 98 per cent of the population has never used the internet.

With the arrival of Lumitel in 2014, Viettel has set up broadcast stations across 18 localities in the country, bringing mobile coverage to all corners and remote areas. A dedicated team of salespeople were not hesitant to overcome challenges to deliver affordable SIM cards to the locals, who have yet to enjoy any convenience of modern life.

In addition, Lumitel has been pioneering providing mobile phone packages with promotions for calling, text messaging, and internet connection such as a social package with unlimited access to Facebook and WhatsApp as well as a Student package.

Burundi is also the first international market that Viettel offers an unlimited in-network texting package for brick phones with fees equivalent to VND500 ($2.2) a day.

Nguyen Huy Tan, general director of Lumitel said that the company's technical network infrastructure continues to retain the largest position in all 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies, with mobile phone coverage reaching 96 per cent of the country's territory. Lumitel’s fibre optic transmission infrastructure boasts nationwide coverage and accounts for over 75 per cent of the total international outbound call traffic. Lumitel has accounted for the largest mobile market share in Burundi with 3 million customers and 58 per cent of the market share. The operator also holds 75 per cent of data service segment in the country.

Viettel touch-down turns around lives in Burundi
Millions of Burundians use e-wallet service offered by Lumitel

It is hard to believe that television was once considered a luxury in this country. Today, millions of Burundians have used e-wallet – the most modern payment service. In September 2016, Viettel Burundi has developed Lumicash into a friendly e-wallet service for people and businesses so they can easily make payments via e-wallets. As of present, Lumicash currently has over 1.5 million accounts in Burundi, accounting for 78 per cent of the market share.

Lumicash's e-wallet service allows Burundians to pay taxes, fees, electricity bills, water bills, as well as buy electronic scratch cards and other items using their mobile phone. Lumicash's features are also tailored to the needs of the market using a 2G USSD network.

While most e-wallets are only compatible with smartphones, Lumicash was created to work with even the most basic phone models. This reflects Viettel's business philosophy that "Technology is for the users' convenience".

Doing business with corporate social responsibility

Tan said, “Lumitel’s mission is not only to generate profits but also to drive the local socioeconomic development, thereby contributing to cementing the bilateral ties between two countries. This will help build a good image for Vietnam in Burundi.”

Viettel's good and humane tradition has been widely spread and appreciated in the Burundian social community. The group has led many practical and effective funding projects. In particular, Lumitel has offered free broadband internet access for all public schools and public health centres across the country. It also provides free installation of the online video conferencing systems for local ministries and agencies from the national to provincial level. Also, it has donated health insurance cards for the poor. Lumitel has spent $1 million to run these corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes each year.

As a result, Lumitel has been one of the five largest tax contributors to Burundi’s state budget. Accumulated to the end of 2021, Lumitel has paid $125 million in taxes. The company has generated employment and stable income for nearly 80,000 local people, making a significant contribution to ensuring social security of the government of Burundi.

Nguyen Huy Tan stated that, "As we enter a new decade marked by global digital transformation, the era of Industry 4.0, Lumitel has an ambition and determination to grow into Burundi's largest telecom and digital tech company. Lumitel continues to be a pioneer in establishing digital infrastructure, digital platforms, and digital services to help achieve this goal."

The company will actively contribute to the development of Burundi’s digital economy through a diverse ecosystem including telecommunications, fintech, IT solutions, and digital services. Lumitel aims to take a lead in innovative services such as e-commerce, electronic lottery, enterprise technology solutions, and e-government, which will contribute to enhancing the prosperity and happiness of Burundians.

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