ECONET Wireless Zimbabwe’s broadband subscriber base now stands at 2,5 million while 1,5 million previously unbanked individuals are now connected to its mobile money transfer service, EcoCash, CEO Douglas Mboweni has said. Mboweni told shareholders at an annual general meeting last week in the capital that there were still opportunities for the company in the ICT sector, adding that EcoCash has the potential to tap into the R5 billion sent by Zimbabweans in South Africa.
He also said there were opportunities in e-government, e-learning, telemedicine and e-health.
Mboweni, however, said Econet was still focused on driving voice uptake as some of the projects were still developing products. The group will only change its focus to usage and other overlay services once 100% penetration is achieved, he said.
Econet is targeting a mobile penetration rate of 100% by 2014 from the current 78%. Mboweni said an increase in the penetration rate would aid economic growth as an increase of 10 mobile phones per 100 people boosts GDP growth by 1,2% in developing countries.
According to figures from Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), the number of mobile subscribers has increased to 10,3 million from a penetration rate of 7,7% in 2001, or 576 000 subscribers. Internet users were now at 2,3 million, a figure representing a penetration rate of 18%.
Mboweni said in terms of internet penetration, Zimbabwe at 30% was ahead of the African average of 17% and slightly below the world’s average at 32%.
Commenting on the country’s tariffs, often said to be high, Mboweni said they were very competitive with Econet’s peak tariffs of 20 cents way below MTN (SA)’s 33 cents, Vodacom (SA)’s 31 cents but above Airtel Zambia’s 19 cents and Botswana’s Mascom at 18 cents.
He added that Econet’s tariffs had remained at current levels despite increased costs emanating from the need to power base stations with generators.
He said power outages continued to be a major drag on operations but the group had 72% of the network under back-up power in the form of generators at a cost of US$15 million a year.
At a recent parliamentary committee hearing recenly, Mboweni said the group currently had 300 shared sites with Telecel, Telone, NRZ and Local authorities. Only NetOne did not wish to share.
He said before expansion, Econet had approached NetOne for infrastructure sharing but the smallest mobile phone operator by subscribers had refused.
“And now because Econet has grown big after the expansion, the same network is crying foul that we do not want to share,” he said.
Mboweni added that it costs between US$80 000 to US$250 000 to construct a base station.
Potraz is planning to construct 43 base stations using funds from the Universal Service Fund at a cost of over US$20 million, which will be shared amongst networks.