Zimbabwe’s struggling telecommunications companies have been ordered to invest heavily in infrastructure to ensure total service availability in all areas in the country within three years.
Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira last Friday gazetted new quality of service regulations for the telecommunications sector that force firms to achieve at least 90 percent network coverage within one year and 95 percent coverage in year two.
The new regulations, which were drafted by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), comes at a time when the country’s telephone companies are facing declining revenues due to depressed demand and the acute liquidity crisis in the economy.
Last year, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile telecommunications company Econet Wireless (Econet) asked its local and foreign suppliers to slash prices by at least 15 percent and announced pay cuts as an economic slowdown catches up with one of the fastest growing sectors.
Telecel Zimbabwe and State-owned fixed telecommunications operator, TelOne, also slashed salaries following a 40 percent reduction on voice calls by Potraz in early 2015.
The World Bank expects the country’s economy to flatline this year due to drought and low global commodity prices which will impact mining production, low foreign investment and company closures as a result of power shortages and expensive finance.
However, according to Potraz the telephony firms must find creative ways to ensure that the percentage of calls successfully set-up to a valid number should be at least 95 percent while call success rate — refers to the number of calls established over the total number of call attempts to a valid number — must be up to 90 percent.
Among other things, the regulations also enforce telecommunications firms to reduce call drop rate to at most two percent.
A dropped call is a call that is prematurely terminated being released normally by either the caller or called party.
Potraz also expects a 98 percent SMS delivery rate and the messages to be delivered within two minutes by the recipient.
The telecommunications regulator has set five years as the minimum time that an SMS/MMS call data record can be stored before an operator can delete it.
On mobile data and Internet, companies are expected to ensure 95 percent data service availability and a 10 millisecond data access time.
Industry experts say the new raft of measures could be viewed as part of a government ploy to consolidate its grip on the telecommunications sector through forcing mobile operators into infrastructure sharing and keeping the biggest mobile operator, Econet in check.
Potraz, which is now under the Office of the President, has been holding meetings on infrastructure sharing, which Econet is opposed to, saying it built extensive infrastructure and the other two companies want to piggyback on it without investing.
The listed mobile giant has to date invested over $1,2 billion in infrastructure and has over 1 500 base stations across the country compared to $200 million invested by State-owned NetOne which has a little over 500 base stations.
Infrastructure sharing is common globally and it has proven to be one of the most effective ways of promoting affordable prices and reducing the duplication of huge capital investments in infrastructure by service providers. daily news