newsupdates in zimbabwe

Base station

Customers are wont to complain even when their complaints are not justified. Businesses are aware of this and customer care personnel are taught, ‘the customer is king, so just smile and take in their abuse.’ Customer service people will tell you stories for days about all that. 

That may be but sometimes the customer is justified in his complaining. So, the customer service person has to take the vitriol on behalf of the whole company.

Then there is the more common scenario. The customer is justified in complaining but the company only let them down owing to forces outside their control. 

This scenario leads to frustrated businesses bemoaning that their customers are never willing to listen to their genuine reasons for dropping the ball. The customer on his part views those ‘genuine reasons’ as mere excuses and loathes the company even more for making them.

Is this what is going on with Zimbabwean mobile network operators (MNOs) and their customers?

Poor service

We can all agree that mobile network service providers have not been covering themselves in glory for the past few years. At almost any given time, there is someone in Zimbabwe complaining about poor service. This cannot be disputed.

Personally, I have felt this. I cannot count how many times I have been dropped down to EDGE (turtle speeds) whilst trying to work online. All this despite being in an area that’s supposed to offer 4G. Even in 5G areas too.

Like most Zimbabweans, I have been forced to carry SIM cards from all 3 mobile network operators. Okay, I’m down to 2 cards, but you get the point. There was a time when some operators offered better service than others but it doesn’t feel like it anymore.

Scour through social media and you will see complaints from Econet, NetOne and Telecel subscribers alike. Econet has the most subscribers and gets the most complaints, it feels like, which makes sense. One user says ‘Econet is useless, I’m moving to NetOne’ and NetOne subscribers tell them, ‘oh, you don’t want to do that.’

The latest in the network disruption saga was Econet having to apologise for their data services being down countrywide for hours. 

The reasons (excuses?) for shoddy service 

Forex shortages

The reality is that operators need foreign currency to pay for bandwidth, new equipment and spares, software etc.

We all know that there has been a shortage of forex in Zimbabwe for years and operators have not been getting the forex they need. Unfortunately, as strategic as their sector is, it has been hard for the government to prioritise them over bread-and-butter issues.

This means it is not an excuse. Operators are not able to keep up with their routine maintenance schedules. They are also not able to expand as they would want. Said Econet on the issue,

Overall, the local telecommunications industry has been struggling to meet the capacity and coverage demands of consumers as investment is long overdue. Capacity enhancements and routine maintenance has remained severely constrained by the lack of access to foreign currency to service our foreign network suppliers.

To what extent is this forex shortage responsible for the shoddy service we are seeing? That’s the part we don’t know. Operators could be exaggerating its impact and we cannot know with any certainty.

Power cuts

I cannot remember a time when power cuts were not an everyday reality in this country. Unfortunately, there will be no service without electricity.

For the base station (booster) in your neighbourhood to serve you in those dark times, the MNO has to resort to alternative sources of energy. It’s mostly diesel generators they turn to although solar is starting to become popular.

According to Econet, the move to solar would have happened quicker if it weren’t for those pesky forex shortages we touched on above. We have to remember that it costs money to invest in solar systems and this is one cost that MNOs in most other countries don’t have to contend with.

Running generators through the 16-hour power cuts we were experiencing is too expensive. It looks like these MNOs choose to power on generators in especially busy areas. If your neighbourhood doesn’t win this lottery, when there is no Zesa-power, there will be poor service.

I remember a candid NetOne customer care lady telling me, ‘if there’s no Zesa there will be no data services.’ The Econet employees have been trained not to admit this but in my neighbourhood, it really is ‘no Zesa, no data’ with them too.

Low tariffs

The MNOs complain that not only are they making their revenue in ZW$, but they are also making less than they should be making. 

If we leave emotion out of it we can see where they are coming from. Their regulator, Potraz, does not allow them to raise their prices willy-nilly. Potraz has to approve any price increase.

Now, Potraz does not seem to consider the prevailing inflation rate when deciding on what percentage increase to authorise. Not once in 2022 did Potraz allow a tariff hike that at the very least matched inflation. This means the MNOs’ revenues are falling in real terms the more this goes on. 

The first tariff hike of 2023 has come and Potraz has allowed operators to increase their tariffs by 50%. No surprise that they have jumped on this, announcing tariff hikes with immediate effect. Potraz has also promised another 50% hike in April.

Econet says “Zimbabwe’s current telecom tariffs remain below regional benchmarks, hence the underinvestment in the sector.” 

South African tariffs

Looking at the tariff schedule on their website, we see that the Econet-to-Econet call is the most expensive at ZW$ 62.94 per minute. That’s US$0.07 cents per minute using a rate of 1:960.

Looking at the flat rates that South African MNOs charge, we find that Vodacom’s Anytime per second is R1.25 per minute (US$ 0.07), MTN’s Pay per second tariff is R0.99 per minute (US$ 0.06) and Cell-C’s default plan charges R1.50 per minute (US$ 0.08).

I don’t think we can agree with Econet’s assertion that Zimbabwe’s current telecom tariffs remain below regional benchmarks. 

There seems to be a difference when it comes to data tariffs though. Econet’s out-of-bundle rate is ZW$ 9.96 (US$ 0.01) per MB whilst Vodacom and MTN charge R0.49 (US$ 0.03). Cell-C charges even more. That’s the South Africans being able to charge 3 times as much per MB.

So, the low tariffs point is not quite the excuse it feels like. There is some truth to it. The only problem is that Zimbabweans have been seeing their disposable incomes fall too. 

This means that from the perspective of users, prices have been going up and yet service quality has been deteriorating. Just look at Econet’s latest price hike coming in soon after a day of interrupted data services. It’s unfortunate for them but it ends up feeling like we’re being shortchanged as customers.

Anyway, those are my two cents on the matter. What do you think about all this? Do let us know in the comments below.

Also read:

Why is internet so expensive in Zimbabwe?

Liquid was facing an internet outage earlier this morning. Why was it just slow and not completely off?

Quick NetOne, Econet, And Telecel Airtime Recharge

Please dial our USSD code *405# on your phone to buy airtime because this page will not work.

The post Should we give Econet, NetOne and Telecel a pass for shoddy service? Maybe appeared first on Techzim.

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