Telecommunication companies in Zimbabwe are exploring new and cheap ways of connecting marginalised areas in support of the Government’s agenda to develop a digital economy.
Under the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), the Government expects Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to drive the economy going forward.
Econet Wireless Zimbabwe said although most rural communities in developing countries such as Zimbabwe are underserved or unserved with regard to telecommunication connectivity, the listed group is planning to reverse the trend.
“We welcome the priority given to developing the digital economy as part of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) and we believe we already have and can continue to make a significant contribution to the national efforts,” said Econet chairperson Dr James Myers.
“The rural population remains underserved in the new digital economy and we are always investigating lower cost, relevant solutions to address this segment in line with Government’s developmental agenda,” he added.
Several mobile network operators in Africa such as MTN are using OpenRAN technology, which enables operators to achieve cost-effective deployments allowing for greater connectivity to previously unconnected areas.
In the past, companies were reluctant to invest in rural and marginalised areas due to the cost of setting up and managing the network infrastructure.
Difficult terrain coupled with uneven population distribution further makes it tough for the telecommunication companies to expand in the country’s hinterland.
Analysts believe that the deployment of a cost-effective network approach, which is fast to install and requires low maintenance, would help to connect the rural areas.
“The need of the hour is to go for out-of-the-box solutions that address the unique requirements of the Zimbabwean rural network.
“For instance, availability of power grid is an issue in the rural areas and telcos should go for cell sites, which consume less power to bring down the cost,” said Mr Terrence Dhlamini, a South African-based telecommunications engineer.
“Low maintenance base stations that can be managed by the community can further bring down the operational expenditure.
“These innovative concepts can go a long way in addressing the telco’s concerns in addressing the rural market,” he added.
Dr Myers said on its part Econet is embracing emerging new realities, as consumers demand a different digital experience as the world evolves and technology changes to cater for new needs and expectations.
“We believe that we will play a part in the resurgence of Zimbabwe’s economy through providing world-class services to support the enhanced growth and digitalisation of the economy,” he said.
Zimbabwe has accelerated the adoption of technology, spurred by public health and safety concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a result of the increased uptake of digital services, Dr Myers added, Econet’s data products have increased their contribution to revenue from 24,8 percent to 29,2 percent.
“In response, we embarked on several initiatives to support the growth in data traffic and increased LTE/4G data speeds by 50 percent, commissioning 12 new LTE sites countrywide and accessing additional 3G spectrum under the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe Covid-19 relief programme,” he said.
“We have also facilitated the import of low-cost data-capable handsets to ensure data connectivity is accessible across all sectors of society — though as mentioned in our previous reports, the duty regime on devices for accessing the network increases the cost of connectivity for our consumers.”
Econet’s revenue increased to $35 billion in the full year to February 28, 2021, an increase of 23 percent from the previous year, largely due to the increase in data usage, which rose by 47 percent.
In the period under review, improving operational efficiencies and continued cost-containment measures yielded positive results, which saw the earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margin increase to 52 percent.