Zimbabwe Operators to Share Rural Network Infrastructure

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – IN a development that will potentially boost Zimbabwe’s rural mobile telephony, the telecommunications regulatory authority, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, recently announced that it is installing shared telecommunications infrastructure in the country’s rural areas.

Among the players in the telecommunications sector, infrastructure is highly regarded as a competitive advantage hence the reluctance to open up platforms.

“The duplication of infrastructure is reversing the aggressive expansion mood that investors are approaching the telecommunications sector with,” said Taonaziso Chowa, an investment analyst with Old Mutual Zimbabwe’s investment research division.

The reluctance of Zimbabwe’s mobile operators to share infrastructure has been widely reported as a shortcoming which has resulted in the duplication of infrastructure such as towers for base stations, and missing the opportunity to channel resources into other areas. It has been cited as one of the limiting factors of Zimbabwe’s telecommunications industry’s growth potential.

Moreover, mobile telecommunication operators have traditionally targeted urban areas, but it is the demand from rural and low-income areas that is likely to exceed all expectations. As urban markets become saturated, the next generation of mobile phone users will increasingly be rural based. Rural areas, where a majority of Zimbabweans live, are particularly in need of better mobile and broadband service.

According to POTRAZ, the programme is expected to improve coverage of mobile phone networks through the installation of towers, power back-ups and equipment rooms. Installation of the infrastructure will be financed by a total of US$20 million dollars from the Universal Service Fund (USF).

According to the state owned weekly newspaper, Sunday Mail, the USF was established under Section 10 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act. Essentially, licensed telephone operators and other ICT providers contribute 2 percent of their gross income to the USF which is used to finance provision of services in remote areas.

“We are already installing the passive infrastructure in one district in all the eight provinces and work should be completed before year end,” the Sunday Mail quoted Engineer Charles Sibanda, POTRAZ director.

Sibanda added that the three mobile phone operators in the country and ICT service providers would share the infrastructure to install transmitters for providing their services.

According to previous media reports, POTRAZ is planning to prohibit the number of towers that each operator can erect in a given area.

“This infrastructural development will certainly ensure that our rural areas that are often ignore by the big telecommunications players in the country will now be better connected. Its very important for the future development of our country, and is a welcome development,” said Bethel Goka, an IT specialist.

The infrastructure sharing arrangement will allow the telecommunication operators to increase their coverage by utilizing the proposed base stations to reach new subscribers while concentrating on value added services.

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