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Zim to reduce data charges

ZIMBABWE’S high broadband charges could be reduced as more people take up broadband internet usage, experts say.

Taurai Mangudhla

This follows a 2012 Freedom House report which indicated Zimbabwe faces a number of practical obstacles that hindered citizens’ access to internet services, including high prices and limited infrastructure.

Freedom House said the rates charged for pre-paid mobile web access by Telecel, Econet and NetOne are US$0,11, US$0,15 and US$0,10 per megabyte, respectively, effectively making NetOne the cheapest.

Speaking at the country’s inaugural Broadband Forum last week, Liquid Telecom (Liquid) southern Africa executive director David Behr said the cost of broadband would be reduced as adoption grows.

“Liquid fibre internet started in January 2011 and for the first time all-fibre network was viable (and) just over two years later ZOL (Zimbabwe on Line) buys 8 times as much capacity at 1/6th of the average price,” Behr said.

He added the cost of internet could be 1/5th of current charges in the short to medium-terms if the country continues growing capacity.
Behr said Zimbabwe needed to invest heavily in fibre connectivity as it has more data capacity and can be upgraded at affordable rates in order to grow capacity.

However, he said Zimbabwe could have trouble securing capital as it lacks policy stability and has an environment that is generally not investor friendly.

“ISPs (internet service providers) should also be innovative and come up with something new and interesting because they are generally boring. Even the new ones come up with boring packages,” he said.
“Nothing has changed in the way internet is packaged and sold for 10 years.”

Currently, the country is connected to the undersea cable in three directions on cables owned by Liquid, Powertel and TelOne.
Behr said his company had plans to add another 100 gigabits per second fiber ring around Harare drive area.

Local distribution remains a challenge as the cost of getting the internet to the end-user is expensive, mainly due to low density of users.

According to statistics, Zimbabwe’s internet consumption pattern shows the country’s peak levels are between 8am and 5pm when people access internet at their offices.

“What this means is that we need to promote more home use because at the moment we are almost giving away internet off peak because we have so much capacity which is not being used,” Behr said.

“We also need to create local content or at least have content stored locally to reduce costs for instance if we realise a video clip is relevant to Zimbabweans we can only download it once and store it locally so it becomes cheaper to access.”

Speaking at the same forum, Africa’s leading bandwidth provider WIOCC chief commercial officer James Wekesa said the low level of internet penetration in Africa presented a business opportunity for investors.
“Today, 36% of Africa’s population doesn’t have internet connectivity,” he said.

In the case of Zimbabwe, there is a huge market potential given that 52% of its population is between 15 and 54 years of age and is the immediate potential market.

People aged below 14 years constitute 41% of the population and are a future potential market for internet.

“It is up to ISPs to come up with ways to ensure they secure this future market and get them addicted to phones,” he added.

According to the 2012 census, Zimbabwe’s population is 13 million and 2,1 million citizens live in Harare.

Globally, the terrain is also improving with mobile phone manufacturers having shipped a total of 216,2 million smart phones across the world in the first three months of 2012.

This was 52% of total mobile phone shipments and was the first time smart phones were more than feature phones according to international reports.

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