This guest post was authored by Fungai Tichawangana. Fungai is the founder and editor of The Zimbo Jam, Zimbabwe’s leading showbiz, arts and lifestyle website, receiving over 1,3 million page views a month. He is also the Senior Web Imagineer of Exist Digital, a professional web development firm in Harare. He spends a lot of his free time taking photos at events around Harare, capturing the entertainment and social history of our time. His other passion is writing and his articles and photos are published regularly in Zimbabwe’s leading newspapers and online publications.
As the editor of an online magazine that is updated several times a day, the Internet is a critical tool for my team and I. Also, as a member of a web development team doing critical updates and uploads for several clients the Internet is indispensable. So it is totally frustrating the amount of down time we have to deal with in Zimbabwe.
In total, we have FOUR internet connections at the office. WiMAX through Yo Africa and wireless connections through Powertel, Econet and as of last week, Africom. The reason we have so many connections is because none of them provide satisfactory connectivity and none of them really feel like broadband, so we are still shopping for the true broadband experience in Zimbabwe.
There are times when ALL FOUR are down or so slow that you couldn’t download a single word document even if you zipped it. Then, with almost every connection I have tried, the speeds are faster at night and slow down greatly during the day. The providers tell us that this is because more users log on during the day. I say that’s a bad excuse. Broadband should be broadband whether my next door neighbour is awake or not.
Worst of all is the really bad support that comes with the connections. You almost NEVER know why your link is down or slow. They don’t SMS you, don’t email you, and sometimes don’t know what’s up when you call them to find out. For instance I emailed Powertel over two weeks ago to ask why their connection had become so slow all of a sudden. I got a response after a week or so- which said that someone would call me. I am still waiting for that phone call. Perhaps they too have a slow connection?
I rejoiced recently when I heard that Econet was introducing mobile broadband around the country. Then just last week I saw the price list and I laughed. Econet’s new packages are totally elitist and far from their proclamation that they are bringing broadband for everyone. $2 will get you 5MB of data which you have to use within two days. Ha! Ha! Ha!
Let’s put this in perspective. Say you were buying a song online it would cost you $0.99 to buy the song and $2 to download it over an Econet connection. The bandwidth is more expensive than the product! That’s like buying a loaf of bread for US$1 and paying $2 for someone to deliver it. Is this a joke Mr. Mboweni? I hope it is because as a fan of Econet and everything it stands for; I am deeply disappointed by this turn of events.
A friend of mine last week happily told me that he had just paid US$20 for 50Mb of Econet bandwidth. That was until I explained to him that he was being ripped off and that for the same amount he could get twenty times the bandwidth from Africom, which, from my experience currently provides better connection speeds than Econet.
The other ISPs charge about the same for a gigabyte as Econet does, around US$100 except that with Yo Africa and ZOL they don’t charge you for visiting local sites, for weekends and for after hours surfing. So you can use 100GB after hours and you’d still pay only for the 1GB you use during office hours. I totally appreciate this initiative as it gives great flexibility to cash strapped users.
I’ve been told that VSAT is super fast, but the equipment costs you $2 200 and the monthly fees will make you cry.
So I conclude that despite all the full page adverts being taken out in the papers, despite all the digging up of our roads, despite all the noise- there is no real accessible, affordable broadband yet in Zimbabwe.
However, with so many players entering the internet market right now, I know it’s only a matter of time before we start getting competitive packages. I have waited so long already, I suppose I can wait a few more months – albeit painfully.