4 years ago, the local telecoms industry regulator, POTRAZ, did something that doesn’t happen too often; it issued a mobile network operator’s licence. This time it was to the State-owned fixed telecoms operator, TelOne.
Not much has been said about that licence, or any significant action taken about, until now. It turns out that TelOne now wants to make use of the licence by pursuing a partnership with another state-owned mobile operator, NetOne.
An article in the Herald quotes the CEO of TelOne, Chipo Mtasa, pointing out how this is the best way for TelOne to activate this licence because of its limited financial resources.
Beyond the intriguing possibility of a new mobile operator entering the market right now, there are a couple other things that make Mtasa’s statements all the more striking.
This collaborative brilliance that TelOne is seeking out with NetOne and other telecoms operators sounds a lot like the State-owned telecoms operators’ sharing model that the Minister of ICT Supa Mandiwanzira mentioned last week.
The fact that TelOne is highlighting this move in the midst of a 90-day ultimatum on infrastructure sharing points a lot to the possibilities that the State sees in a shared or converged approach to Telecoms.
It’s easy to see why TelOne, which has displayed an impressive turnaround and is setting the pace for other state-owned telecoms concerns as well as private providers, is probably the best player in the government’s portfolio take the lead in a State-owned telecoms Voltron.
Besides a reinvention of its business model to become an internet company more than a fixed telco, TelOne also has a significant investment in telecoms infrastructure, something that would likely provide some advantage as it figures out its place in the mobile telecoms hierarchy.
The question though, is whether or not TelOne, as the turnaround kid in telecoms, will be able to navigate the increasingly challenging mobile telecoms arena.
This whole idea might be coming on the back of an infrastructure debate, and the powers that be might be looking at the huge advantages that come from synergies around this, but the real competition is in the rollout of the right services and building customer loyalty. It’s no longer about fibre, base stations or pylons. Figuring this out will be TelOne’s biggest challenge as a new operator.
All this casts another cloud of State disapproval on NetOne. A management shake-up at NetOne has been on the cards for a while, and Mandiwanzira who’s also cracked the whip at the regulator POTRAZ, has been explicit about the need for results-oriented management, something that NetOne hasn’t been too good at.