2014 in review: Highlights in Zimbabwean internet services

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More needs to be done on the Webhosting front

More needs to be done on the Web-hosting front

2014 has been a fairly exciting year in the ISP arena, with some interesting developments from the different providers. We decided to look at some of the highlights in Zimbabwean internet services over the past 12 months.

Mobile Broadband

The year will probably be remembered for the introduction of OTT services. These were specifically the bundles that allow subscribers to access certain services like WhatsApp, Opera Mini and Facebook on a time based service rather than the normal usage basis.

As awesome as this was though it brought into question the issue of net neutrality and the uneven focus being directed to certain web services all under the cloak of unbeatable bundle offers.

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Other than that the developments in this arena have been somewhat disappointing.

Despite the fact that 99% of Zimbabwe’s internet users are mobile, the players have obstinately refused to distinguish between local and international bandwidth and in a way shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to web-hosting.

Econet Zero was a refreshing innovation that allows you to access 50 “educational” websites. The actual number of useful websites is probably around 15.

Forgive my ignorance but I don’t consider sporcle.com and luminosity.com among others to be educational and I seriously doubt anyone who visits the Yale website needs Econet Zero. And for the love of me I couldn’t figure out how to use this wonderful service tried as I did.

Powertel to my knowledge, the last mobile broadband service provider that used a calender based system decided to join The Empire in a switcheroo that saw them adopt the usage billing system for reasons best known to themselves.

Fibre

By far the best development in 2014 was fibre. Most visible were the infrastructure efforts from Liquid. Thanks to the fibre rollout ISPs like Telco and ZOL have completely revolutionized the telecoms industry in a way that few thought possible.

For a mere $89/month (ZOL’s cheapest package, and the cheapest on the market) consumers can have fibre installed in their homes. With unlimited packages starting from $149 (what’s it with ZOL and dollars: $59, $99,$129….?) for an up to 20 Mbps package the world of streaming is beckoning.

At $330 you can connect to the internet at a frightening speed of 100 Mbps. The sad thing was that a lot of high density suburbs were neglected, something that looks set to change soon now that Liquid is already setting infrastructure in areas like Warren Park.

ADSL

Its TelOne all the way. Same old story. We pray that they unbundle this service and allow more players in but I feel like a San praying for rain in the middle of the Kalahari: its probably never going to happen and when it does its, a short uncontrolled deluge that is as disappointing as it is useless.

VSAT

It was back in 2009 when my then remote employer tasked me with finding a VSAT quotation from local ISPs to instead of the illegal one that we were considering. To my surprise and dismay a lot of the people manning the inquiry desks at most of these places did not even know what VSAT was.

We are about to conclude 2014, everyone knows what VSAT is a very sad joke. A very expensive joke. What else do you call $169/ 1GB of data? Remote companies are better off buying Cheap Android phones from China and utilizing Opera Mini bundles.

While the equipment’s price has fallen way below the $10 000 quotation I received back then bandwidth is still very expensive and you should expect to part with +$1000/month with most ISPs. There is hope however, TelOne introduced their relatively cheaper Ka Band service with prices starting at $51.

It seems however our wily government has tied the feet of its competitors and challenged them to a race by levying the competition. Zarnet (government affiliate) also has a VSAT pricing structure that would suggest that they are not subject to these fees either.

It would only be fair for these fees to be waived since they are counter-intuitive considering VSAT is usually installed in remote and underdeveloped areas something which the good government should be encouraging but then these are the wise folks that have decreed we use sackfuls of coins to make purchases next year.

The only recourse was for the players to appeal to the government’s sense of fairness and unshackle their feet. Currently the players are in limbo.

Unless you live in Binga or some other remote village stay away from VSAT, at least for a while. I keep wondering why ISPs do not install VSAT backbones at Growth Points and use Wimax as a last mile solution this would be a win win for them and consumers.

VoIP

Inter-connectivity issues seem to have been resolved for most players. The game is simple: free on-network calls (which unless you are members of a cult means zilch since your friends and contacts are probably on another network) and a 12 cents/ minute tariff for off-net calls.

If you have a Broadband internet connection you are more likely to reach more people freely using Skype than any one local VoIP provider.

Webhosting

The fact that most Zimbabweans access the internet via their mobile phones yet the service providers do not distinguish between local and international data has harmed local hosting which is usually expensive when compared to international hosts due to various factors such as power cuts. The speed factor alone is not enough to persuade most people to host locally. Not charging local data will go a long way in boosting the local ICT industry.

Other

Equipment remains prohibitively expensive, while some ISPs occasional offer free equipment this is usually in the form of promotions with the usual Ts and Cs. ISPs would do well to allow consumers the option to lease equipment at reasonable prices after all their cost represents sunk costs to them.

Some wise men decided to levy taxes on airtime in order to balance the government’s account so that they can spend more and revive the economy. They stifled demand so that they could increase demand. Think of it as slapping your healthy cheek so that it looks the same and even with the swollen one.

Predictions

Next year will be a year of coins we will need sackfuls of them to pay our internet bills. The general anticipation is that broadband prices will be lowered thanks to POTRAZ intervention Perhaps one of these MNOs will see reason and offer free WhatsApp, and cheaper Facebook bundles?

Image Credit: Onlime



One Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    PRICING PRICING PRICING!!! Bandwidth is still expensive very expensive. As far as home products are concerned most ISP’s have mainly focused on providing a service in harare low density areas and when you travel out of harare its a night mare to get decent internet access.

    There is still alot of work to be done by the ISP’s

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