Zimbabwean Telecom Rivals Econet, Telecel See Subscription Increases

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VENTURES AFRICA – The Zimbabwean telecommunications sector is experiencing a boost, with top two mobile provider rivals Econet Wireless and Telecel Zim recording hefty increases in subscriber numbers.

Econet is currently the most prolific provider in the country, announcing an increase in its subscription base to seven million clients. In second place is Econet’s biggest competition, Telecel, who has also recorded a rise, now boasting 2.2 million subscribers – although still a significant step behind rival Econet.

The gap may be set to close over the coming period, however, with Econet disclosing a difficult start to the fiscal year – having been forced to cease sales of new lines in March due to internal network capacity restrictions.

The company nonetheless insists that the detriment felt due to the halt in availability of new lines was limited, given that a black market in lines developed thanks to consumer commitment to the company. The company also insists that the capacity difficulties will not be repeated, having increased network capacity to 8.5 million lines.

Econet Chief Executive Office Douglas Mboweni noted that the company remains positive in the lead up to its mid-year results due at the start of October, disclosing that: “Our research shows that corporate Zimbabwe, both big and small, gets its service from Econet…We are very pleased to see that the most serious business users are our customers now. We are working hard to ensure that we give them the services they need”.

Meanwhile Telecel have been powering from strength to strength since a substantial increase in the company’s capital deriving from Russian stake-holder Vimpelcom: the company having injected an extra $70 million into the Zimbabwean company. On the back of this financial push, Telecel has implemented an aggressive promotion and sales strategy, becoming the only Zimbabwean telecom provider to drop the price of SIM cards to 50 cents – compared to the market rate of between $1 and $5.

Furthermore, Telecel has been rolling out an airtime bonus scheme attracting much attention and a flock of incoming new customers, as the company promises extra bonus airtime matching the amount of top-up airtime purchased – essentially doubling clients’ usage allowance.

All of these schemes are but the first steps of what Telecel intends to be a push to catch up with and overtake Econet, as it launches an aggressive expansion period. Telecel Chief Executive Officer Francis Mawindi detailed: “By the end of the year, we expect to have completed the installation of base stations at more than 200 new sites, bringing to more than 575 the number of base station sites we have”.

He added that such expansion – expected to take up some $35 million of the firm’s $70 million boost – would hopefully see subscription rise even further by the end of the year, suggesting that subscribers would total 2.67 billion by December. Mawindi noted that should the strategy go to plan, Telecel could steal 85 percent of the Zimbabwean telecom market.