The print Financial Gazette this week had a supplement with an announcement by PowerTel that the company is unveiling a voice network. It’s the voice network we first heard of more than a year ago when PowerTel said they were all set to launch and that interconnection agreements were complete. This week’s announcement confirms they over-promised both on the “set to launch” and the interconnection front.
The company revealed this week that not only have they not interconnected with the other voice networks in Zimbabwe, they don’t have a billing system yet. “Interconnection has been finalised with other networks and we just await delivery of a state of the [art] billing software to launch at a large scale and with interconnection” says the announcement. And because there’s no billing system, like the mobile broadband service, voice is being sold on a flat monthly all-you-can-eat basis.
It’s clear from the announcement that PowerTel is considering the tariffs the main selling point here. Unfortunately, even at US $9 a month for unlimited calls to other PowerTel numbers, it’s not that attractive for the average consumer.
A competing CDMA network, Africom, already offers unlimited on-net calls for $10 a month and it doesn’t seem they have managed to attract any mass migrations from the 3 GSM networks in Zimbabwe. Now consider that Africom has interconnection with just about all the voice networks locally, and international interconnection. $1 less, for the significantly reduced offering of no interconnection is unlikely to send any business PowerTel way. Unless of course, being a government department, they come up with the some creative schemes to sell to civil servants.
As strange as it is in a country where mobile users complain about the high cost of voice telecoms, the real issue here for Africom and PowerTel is CDMA vs GSM and not high tariffs vs low ones. This is why all three GSM operators have ignored the more-than-50% lower tariffs by the CDMA competitors. If CDMA providers would resolve the difference of technology issue it would really go a long way helping their case.
In the announcement this week PowerTel proposes that new subscribers bring dual SIM mobile phones that accept both CMDA and GSM sim cards. Makes sense yes, but which prospective customer is going to go out looking for such mobile phones downtown? How many shops are stocking these handsets? Why not just tell the customer to come and get the dual GSM/CDMA handsets at PowerTel (deposit free even) and pay them off over say 4 months along with the $9 monthly subscription? I know even I would consider such a deal.
Again PowerTel, the civil servants.