The smooth convenience of using mobile money for transfers and payments is exceptional. The idea of being able to send money to anyone that has a mobile phone and them being able to pick it up immediately in any part of the country is something that a few years ago wasn’t imaginable. Anyone with a mobile phone! This exceptional convenience is what EcoCash has come to represent and something that the company has used to justify high margins on the service especially at the beginning.
That ‘anyone with a mobile phone’ experience was broken last week. Econet, on the evening of 2 August Econet broadcast the following SMS to its subscribers:
We regret that you will not be able to send money to Telecel mobile numbers using EcoCash as Telecel is not a valid Telecoms license holder.
Without much warning (maybe a couple of hours) EcoCash became incomplete. Users of the mobile money service have no access to more than 2.5 million sim cards on Zimbabwe’s second largest mobile network. Well, depending on just how much mobile money traffic this really is, it may actually not be that big a deal to Econet and the subscribers, but it’s not a transaction volume issue. Relaying money or keeping it on behalf of customers is all about trust. Reliability for a service to be reasonably predictable is important. With termination of interconnection last week users of EcoCash have been reminded that any day, without much warning, a drastic move can be made by the company affecting how freely they can move their money.
It doesn’t help Econet that the telecoms regulator, POTRAZ, and the responsible government ministry, have been awfully silent on the matter since the seemingly small throttling PR game that started all this. The problem (for Econet that is) is that the regulator being silent while Telecel continues to operate ‘normally’, interconnecting with all other telecoms providers in Zimbabwe, to the public becomes an issue of Econet that’s just being a big bully fighting unfairly and sacrificing the experience of mobile users in the process. To the casual observer it is Econet that’s making itself regulator, deciding who to interconnect with and how much service to provide to its subscribers.
Of course it’s more complicated than that and POTRAZ’s silence on its own is a sign of how difficult to resolve the situation is. Econet is just acting legally, demonstrating something that, if it followed the rules it lays down itself, the regulator should have done way back. But then being legally correct doesn’t mean the public will understand your position. They can still hate you bitterly and vow to vote with their feet as soon as they are able. How tragic!
Econet didn’t choose to break EcoCash interoperability this way. Or they did choose, just not directly. A case of picking up one end of the stick. Remember when the interconnection disconnection happened almost two weeks ago, it’s just voice that was affected. SMS, the service needed to transmit transaction messages to recipients that not on the Econet network, was working fine. In fact, technically it’s likely Telecel that just stopped receiving Econet’s SMS traffic.
It’s certainly going to affect how people view the EcoCash experience. Once there is this ‘you can send to these type of recipients but not those’, the service is broken. It’s too much to burden users with such complications. It just makes them anxious about the smooth interoperability of the service onwards. But maybe the convenience, albeit compromised, trumps all this. We doubt it!
Lastly, now that the elections are done, we hope that the politicians and business people at Telecel move decisively on sharing the company and getting licensed.