ZIMBABWE’S largest mobile cellular network’s $200 billion expansion programme is now in full swing with over 20 base stations already commissioned since the company announced last m
onth its intention to double the subscriber base to more than 500 000 by the end of the year.
Econet chief executive officer Douglas Mboweni said in a statement their plan is to progressively add 250 000 subscribers over the next nine months as the switching and network capacity is increased.
“Equipment from our main supplier, Erricson and other suppliers has started to roll in and contractors are working flat out to build and commission all the base stations. So far, over 20 base stations have been commissioned and we have another 70 base station sites ready to take new equipment within the next few weeks,” Mboweni said.
Econet, which eventually expects to have commissioned about 120 base stations countrywide by the end of the year, has already purchased all the necessary equipment which is now being delivered in batches.
Work is also ongoing to expand other elements of the network, with major improvements being made to the capacity and efficiency of the pre-paid Buddie system, while work is being carried out on the voicemail and short message system. In addition, Econet intends to add other advanced new features on the network in line with mobile operators in developed countries such as the UK.
“We do appreciate that this is a major exercise which sometimes does not go according to plan and this has as a result sometimes affected service to our customers. We however appeal to our customers to be patient as we are working on a live network although we are also trying to complete some of the essential elements of the project during the night when capacity utilisation is at its lowest,” Mboweni said.
He however cautioned that additional lines would only be available in at least two months.
“This is a very complex network and it is made up of many elements which must all work together. Until we have expanded all the systems we will not connect many customers because we will have instability on the network,” he said. Mboweni also said Econet intends to dilute the black market in pre-paid lines where people are paying as much as $2 million for an Econet line due to the current shortage which the company has not been able to meet as a result of capacity constraints.
“The only way to end this is to flood the market and once the expansion is complete, people will be able to walk into any of our shops and buy our products on demand at the correct retail price,” said Mboweni.