Telecel, the second largest mobile operator in Zimbabwe by subscriber base, has accused state owned (and smallest) mobile operator, NetOne, of refusing to share tower infrastructure. Telecel Zimbabwe CEO, Mr. Aimable Mpore made the accusation in a response to questions about Telecel’s shareholding structure from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology.
“We have worked well with TelOne and Econet in sharing towers. NetOne has dismantled our equipment just because the facilities belong to them,” Mpore is quoted in the Herald. “For site-sharing to happen there has to be enforcement and that cannot be done by operators. As Telecel, we welcome the sharing, but it’s not the view of other players.”
Zimbabwe’s telecoms regulation provides for Passive Infrastructure sharing. Infrastructure sharing is generally considered industry best practice and is becoming the norm world over. The main advantage of sharing is that it presents a new source of revenue for large players, while creating an opportunity for faster rollout of services on lower capex and opex for small players and new entrants. Sharing also ensures that telecoms infrastructure investment in the country is directed to underserved areas.
In some situations however, realizing that heavy investment in infrastructure makes the industry unattractive to new players and extremely difficult for small players to expand, existing operators with a large footprint use infrastructure as a competitive advantage.
While Zimbabwe’s law provides for infrastructure sharing, enforcement by the telecoms regulator has been viewed to be slow, resulting in a playing field heavily skewed in favour of existing large operators, and smaller footprint operators (and new entrants) bearing the brunt.
NetOne, TelOne and Econet own most of the telecoms infrastructure in the country owing to a long history of operation in the case of TelOne & NetOne, and heavy investment in infrastructure in the case of Econet.
Concerns of limited sharing of infrastructure have come up number of times on the issue fibre backbone installation in the country. Numerous operators (TelOne, Econet, Africom, PowerTel and others) have been reported to be digging their own fibre cable trenches (or laying overhead fibre) along Zimbabwe’s highways to connect to high speed international fibre cables at Zim’s national borders.
According to the ITU, physical ducts, masts/poles (in the case of PowerTel), and rights of way are key passive network elements necessary for the roll-out of national fibre networks. Allowing access to these passive network elements allows for cost-savings and a more rapid deployment of national fibre network infrastructure and services.
Similar anti-competition concerns have been expressed on the issue of ‘Interconnection’, where new Internet Access Provider license holders wishing to provide VoIP services are failing to secure interconnection agreements with existing mobile and fixed line operators. There have been concerns in the market that Telecommunications Operators Association of Zimbabwe members (incumbent telecoms providers) are dragging their feet on interconnecting new entrants, and the regulator is not doing enough to enforce the rules.
UPDATE: Telecel has just sent us a release with details of Telecel response to issues raised by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology. We’re posted it here. It contains Telecel’s position on the many issues affecting it’s operations in the country.