Where are we now with LTE in Zimbabwe?

Posted by

4G/LTE always gets people in telecoms excited, and for good reason. Faster connections and efficient networks are everything. Even though it has been singled out globally as the mobile tech advancement that should come front and centre in a mobile world that will be all about better mobile internet, the uptake of 4G on the local front is still very premature.

While the increase of telecoms subscribers that we have been experiencing in the past half decade might have slowed, the investment in infrastructure is still a big focus for Zimbabwe’s mobile network operators. At least that was a clear indication from the latest POTRAZ Quarterly Report.

According to the communications industry regulator, base station construction activity in the third quarter of 2014 resulted in 75 new 2G base stations, 40 new 3G base stations and 2 new LTE base stations. Zimbabwe registered 3,284  2G base stations and 1,300 3G base stations.

Econet owns the largest spread of infrastructure across 2G, 3G bases stations and in the third quarter it owned all 19 LTE base stations in Zimbabwe.

It’s worth noting that NetOne introduced LTE in the city of Bulawayo in the last part of the year. The infrastructure sharing model hasn’t been put into practice so its safe to assume this was NetOne’s own investment which wasn’t captured in this report.


The focus though is still clearly on 2G and 3G connections which has always been justified by the need for primary mobile connections and improving basic coverage, something that every mobile network is trying to address.

Interestingly though 4G/LTE wasn’t as huge focus for all three networks (2 new base stations isn’t focus enough). This is influenced by factors like the huge cost of investment in this infrastructure versus the return from the limited usage.

In the same quarter there were only 601 LTE internet subscriptions and underlying all of this is the fact that 4G tech is only compatible with high end devices that haven’t made a huge impact on the market. So for now this is limited to certain access clusters.

Cities that have this partial cover are Harare (at 5 specific spots and in the Msasa area where Econet is head quartered), Bulawayo(Econet lists 5 spots, NetOne hasn’t given out info on its coverage) and Victoria Falls (5 spots that were selected during the UNWTO Summit back in 2013).

All of this hasn’t been focused on mobile though. Econet, with the widest presence of 4G, is offering the service through 4G/LTE dongles as an option for desktop and laptop access. NetOne however did come out offering it for mobile devices.

Should we forget about LTE entirely in Zimbabwe for now? 

Just recently we learnt that after a lot of politicking and bureaucratic back and forth NetOne was finally granted the first allotment of a $200 million loan extension that was guaranteed by the Chinese government.

The loan facility is meant to kick-start a network expansion drive for the State owned mobile network. In addition to giving NetOne an improvement of existing infrastructure, part of this will be the extension of NetOne’s LTE service.

With funds secured for this exercise (the huge cost of LTE is always an issue) this could be the huge leap NetOne will take to expand local LTE infrastructure. Together with Econet Wireless that has started advertising its LTE service again (it could be an expansion drive in the horizon) and has after all been working on LTE to some extent, it will happen, although not as fast as we would expect.

Telecel hasn’t joined the LTE discussion yet. the logical guess is that this will only happen after the company handles its housekeeping in the areas of ownership and licencing. Any investments in infrastructure can only follow this.

The slow investment into 4G/LTE says a lot about when we can expect it in our neighbourhoods For now it looks like uptake is going to be slow, until there is bigger market for the use of the service.

Since internet in Zimbabwe is largely mobile this will depend on factors like smartphone uptake and 4G access from lower priced devices. Perhaps the shared infrastructure proposals will spur its rollout but that still seems like a long shot.


  1. Anthony Somerset says:

    Econet just needs to open Up LTE for cell phone devices like current Apple and Android devices that support LTE – then they would have a massive increase in uptake i’m certain!

    I for one don’t see the point in having a seperate LTE activated dongle for internet on my laptop on the go when i can just wirelessly tether my iphone and use its 3g – it saves me managing 2 subscriptions (and the cost of that)

    1. fourwallsinaroom says:

      Anthony are you not able to move your sim from the dongle to the phone to access LTE?

      1. Anthony Somerset says:

        probably if i got a dongle but apparently theres troubles enabling voice on those lines – i never got a dongle as i can’t justify buying a redundant piece of kit when my phone tethers perfectly fine

        1. fourwallsinaroom says:

          Is it possible that voice has not been enabled on the LTE platform? It would be nice if someone could test this theory. Alternatively why can they not enable GSM/GPRS/UMTS and LTE on the same sim. Surely it must be the same as the pilot for 3G. Ultimately one would then only activate LTE for Data/VOIP on the 086x space and for Voice use UMTS and GSM.

          VoLTE, an acronym for Voice over LTE, which is based on the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) network, with specific profiles for control and media planes of voice service on LTE defined by GSMA in PRD IR.92.[1] This approach results in the voice service (control and media planes) being delivered as data flows within the LTE data bearer. This means that there is no dependency on (or ultimately, requirement for) the legacy circuit-switched voice network to be maintained. VoLTE has up to three times more voice and data capacity than 3G UMTS and up to six times more than 2G GSM. Furthermore, it frees up bandwidth because VoLTE’s packets headers are smaller than those of unoptimized VoIP/LTE

      2. Peter says:

        Its certainly easy to just use the sim card one has on a LTE compatible handset than buying another dongle. Econet be forward thinking. You may think most people do not have LTE compatible handsets , but you will realize that when you open up to mobile devices LTE uptake will be high.

  2. Observer says:

    So If Mascom in Botswana has a countrywide 3G network at 21Mbps, at a fraction of the broadband costs charged here then why cant we have an Econet 3G network that does the same at a reasonable price?

    1. fourwallsinaroom says:

      Where are you unable to get 3G via econet in zimbabwe?

      1. Observer says:

        Kumusha kwangu hakuna please look at the coverage map and tell me if the 3G is beyond the major roads and towns: https://www.econet.co.zw/broadband/coverage-map. By the way red spots are where there is 3G!!

        1. fourwallsinaroom says:

          Interesting to note. Just curious how much time do you spend in the sticks that see you requiring 3G coverage. And i guess roll out is on going. Once upon a time 3G was only in harare 😉

          1. Observer says:

            Are you from Econet?

          1. fourwallsinaroom says:

            No I do not work for Econet. And if you follow my comments you will find that even though I use a myriad of services from Econet, my favorite company in the comm’s space at the moment is iWay and thats no secret. They delivered internet where everyone else failed or was not willing to step up to the plate! I use Econet simply because of numbers be it Ecocash, 3g base stations, legacy ecoweb wimax packages or over the top services. If I had a choice, I would use net*one competive rates but I need ecocash, bundles etc.

    2. Anonymous says:


      1. Changa says:

        Huh HSPA+ what?

        1. Mikael says:

          HSPA+ provides an evolution of High Speed Packet Access and provides data rates up to 168 Megabits per second (Mbit/s) to the mobile device (downlink) and 22 Mbit/s from the mobile device (uplink).

  3. Satanism or my mistake says:

    I have just seen a video on youtube showing a number of symbols believed to be associated with satanism. Is the thunder “S” symbols being held on the above 4GLTE image the same symbols or my mistake?

    1. Anonymous 2 says:

      … Seriously? Well, from what I can see, whats depicted in the image is a lightning bolt. Within this context, it is used to visually communicate the ‘lightning fast’ speeds of LTE. Can a lightning bolt be used to symbolise satanism? Well, there is nothing to stop you from doing so, in fact, the internet is full of people who do just that. In this particular case, the lightning bolts are of the wrong orientation (z instead of s but for some that might be a billion times worse!). I never watched your documentary but for me it comes down to what econet’s communicative intent was and what holds meaning in my life so in my opinion, it’s just lightning.

      Argh, I put too much effort into this

    2. Ashley Young says:

      I guess everytime someone charges their android phone, satan smiles hehehehe. Unopenga chete iwewe!

    3. Garikai Dzoma says:

      Seriously dude???!!!!

    4. ADM says:


  4. Anonymous says:

    Satanism!!! my foot!! Keep your crazy ridiculous religious opinions in your head this is IT stuff

    1. Satanism or my mistake says:

      AS THIS IS IT STUFF i guess these images for subliminal messages https://www.google.co.zw/search?q=subliminal+messages&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=709&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=A4jEVPeLGIH6UorbgtgL&ved=0CDEQsAQ are my crazy ridiculous religious opinions.

  5. Gary, KweKwe says:

    Thank goodness for my Telone Adsl which works like a dream 24/7… I will say this again and have for a year and a half now, Econet broadband must be one of the worst in Africa. It works ok in Harare, but as soon as you leave the Mother City you can say goodbye and hello to a sub-standard service, which gets ignored. Your Internet connection either hangs, switches from hspa to 2g, then back and after around 10 attempts, you might be able to open a page or open an email in gmail and reply on your Smartphone.

    Thank you Telone. You have come a long way.

  6. mwana wevhu says:

    To quote the great CCCO Stanley Henning of Econet, his claim is that “we(Zimbabwe) do have mobile devices that are LTE capable” so they focused on dongle accees to their LTE network. Firstly, the Samsung galaxy S5, HTC One, iPhone 5 among other devices all had LTE capability when he was being interviewed. check this out, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKiHz0sXySU . If Econet was not all for VOIP when arrived how much more when VOLTE comes in on the network they built, so i would understand if Econet drags their feet on this piece of tech.
    The second quote is “I dont see voice in 4G anytime soon”, that is from the leading telecoms company in the country. Where does that leave VOLTE as it is here, and one can call on Facebook, Viber, Skype, Facetime hence calling on data networs is not going away anytime soon.
    HSPA+ where? what? really?
    But then again there are so many flavour’s of LTE out there, Econet, Telecel might be waiting to get the right one once and invest in it for like the next three to five years or something.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Satanism chiii??? Zibenziii!!!

    1. IT Guru says:

      I cannot see the subliminal message on the FEDEX logo https://www.google.co.zw/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1280&bih=709&q=fedex&oq=Fed&gs_l=img.1.1.0l10.2240.6431.0.9824.…0…1ac.1.61.img..0.3.2148.lZZ1PZjuKDM THEREFORE it does not exist.

  8. painrude says:

    I think Zimbos are more than ready for 4G. I use an HTC one SV entry level device 4G capable… Jus a matter of introducing it and TAADDDAAA

  9. Charan says:

    This is so much of debate on LTE network investment, LTE phones uptake, etc. Why all these — a ubiquitous WiFi network can deliver more. Several times the speeds than an LTE network can deliver. Several times lower investment for the service provider and every phone has WiFi.
    Anyone interested to be a WiFi infrastructure service provider ?

  10. Foddy says:

    Zimbabwe is more than ready for 4G LTE, the smartphones which are LTE capable are not that expensive. I use a Homtom HT17 China smartphone which I got online for $100 everything included Zimra, Post Office etc. Not everything made in China is rubbish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.