Econet Wireless has announced it will be launching an email system for its broadband subscribers before Christmas. Referring to email as the next phase of making Zimbabweans the most digitally connected people in Africa, Econet says it will issue broadband subscribers with free email addresses linked to the Econet mobile number.
Effectively, this will allow Econet Broadband subscribers to use their mobile numbers as their email address, probably in the firstname.lastname@example.org fashion. Or maybe, the Econet domain ecomail.co.zw.
Econet reports that the solution has been in development for months and plans to spread it to Econet operators in other countries.
In Zimbabwe, the plan is to introduce the email service first to Econet Broadband contract subscribers this month, and then add on all broadband prepaid customers later in January 2011. It’s not clear yet if the email option will be available to subscribers that are not activated for broadband. The kind of subscribers who, for example, would love having their Econet mobile number as their email address but do not want to use the Econet broadband service.
Econet‘s move into email takes on established free webmail service providers like Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail in Zimbabwe. Just Gmail actually (by the time ordinary Zimbabweans started using the internet, Yahoo and Hotmail had already fallen out of email fashion).
The first and obvious advantage Econet will enjoy over competing services like Gmail is the local factor. Assuming the mail servers are located in Zimbabwe, Econet will offer one the fastest email experiences possible. If you’ve used ZOL or Mweb webmail you probably know what we’re talking about here.
The other factor playing to Econet’s advantage is its huge existing subscriber base. Econet is currently enjoying the same advantage over players like Africom in the mobile broadband market. To use Econet Broadband, one just has to activate it. To use Africom broadband on the other hand, a potential subscriber has to go to Africom, fill in some forms, buy a dongle, have it configured, and go home hoping they’re not making a mistake worth 80+ USD.
Same concept will probably work in Econet’s favour here; to use the Econet email system, users will just need to enable it. Econet has over 5 million mobile subscribers already.
Econet could also use their broadband service to encourage users to choose Econet email over Gmail. Something along the lines of “All data to the Econet mail system will not be charged to your bundle. It’s free!”
But there’s the problem of features. The Econet mail system will probably not support extra stuff like instant messaging, video chat, intelligent email filtering, IMAP… the whole list of bells and whistles that make Gmail such a great email system. But then again, we may be speaking too soon here. Let’s wait and see.
There’s also the big problem of availability and reliability. If the current performance of Econet’s mobile network is anything to go by, I’m not sure I can rely on Econet to keep my mailbox always available when I need it. You know, the way Gmail is always just there.
And there’s the obvious changing pains issue for users already on a mail system like Gmail. You’d need to have a really great mail system to convince anybody to move to it as their primary email address.
We’d love to know your thoughts on this. Please share in the comments below. And if anyone out there has access to the inside of an Econet mailbox, we (and all the readers here) would really be thankful for a sneak peek screenshot!