Powertel to connect 55 schools to the internet for free

Local internet provider Powertel has revealed plans to establish and connect 55 schools across Zimbabwe to its vast fibre network for free. The internet connections offer speeds of up to 1 Mbps and schools are being selected based on the proximity to Powertel’s infrastructure.

This is meant to compliment government efforts at expanding the use of technology by providing infrastructural support and bringing connectivity to every community while enhancing e-services in every sector of the economy, including education.

Powertel, an Internet Access Provider (IAP) which is wholly owned by the national power utility company ZESA Holdings, says it has already identified Phakamani, Kuwadzana, Mpopoma, Emerald Hill School for the Deaf, Emakhandeni, Mutare Girls High and Senga as pilot schools. It will try to strike a balance in terms of spread when choosing qualifying schools.

These efforts by Powertel come at a time when the government has been hammering the networks sharing agenda and trying to hasten operators to buy into it, a move that will make it easier to bring reach to the remote areas where it makes lesser business sense to deploy infrastructure.

At the same time, we are seeing, on the government contract front, a rejuvenation of the same efforts by POTRAZ activating the USF, while the terrestrial broadcasting that will come with digital migration is also set to bring connectivity to rural areas.


Something highlighted recently is how activities such as RoboFEST are seemingly exclusive because the schools cannot afford ICT services such as internet connectivity. Hopefully, efforts like Powertel’s free internet offering will create synergies with other initiatives to counter that divide.

Powertel joins the list of providers trying to enable e-learning for free after the Econet Zero project launched last year. While the Powertel offer of free connectivity is extended to each particular school for up to one year, there is hope that after this period, some appreciation of the power of the internet will have been gained in these schools.


  1. macd chip says:

    Gore rino tichadzidza zvakawanda!!

    1. What a waste of resources.

    2. Lack of vision or just pure lack of knowledge.

    3. The rush to impress our impulsive minister.

    First, why would you lay fibre to just enable 1Mbps of internet? They are going to employ people to put fibre, buy all the equipment, install everything all that to just put a pathetic 1Mbps?

    Second, Whats stoping them from starting at 1Gbps or in real world 10Gbps? Is because of lack of resources or our “journo” did not bother to find out? Did anybody ever thought about dark fibre?

    Third, ever since Mandiwanzira anounced to the world that he sacked that board, every organisation which falls under his control has been making noise.
    Latest Potraz with activation of USF! Whats all that for?

    Second, whats the vision in that? We know once you put up internet in schools, its bandwidth hungry as every kid will try to watch videos.
    Are they going to built a network they will realise 2yrs down line its not fit for purpose and have to redo everything again starting from scratch?
    What technical reasearch have been done to come up with 1Mbps of internet? Who approved such a design based on what?


    1. fourwallsinaroom says:

      MacD each company has its own operating principles. Some successful others not so much. In each case exceptions to the rule are made from time to time.
      That said
      1. When Liquid started with fiber their base package was a 64k/64k 1:1 cir with upto 1Mbps. Those links were used for the first wave of victoria falls customers with only the hotels and isp’s affording faster. The first step here is the fiber will now be present. In my books that opens up all sorts of doors. Whats to stop the parents from fund raising, the school from opening an internet cafe to pay for the internet in the future(think old mutual tech center in highfields)
      2. With 50 schools on fiber you can then create a specific private network that runs at full speed for collaboration, in the USA it is called internet2 in S.A I think its NREN.
      3. You want a 1Gbps link put into Kuwadzana, Mutare High etc. for what exactly? Show me one educational institution that is using more than an STM1. The likes of YoAfrica, iWay etc probably use an STM each. ZOL I can imagine is running 2xSTM’s probably with a provision for upto 4xSTM’s4.
      4. Powertel has a lit capacity of 1.7Gbps of ip transit… so lets see they give 1 school 1Gbps and leave 700Mbps for their already disgruntled customers?
      5. Dark fiber for what? I can see dark fiber working for a bank that needs backups to a disaster recovery site. But how is dark fiber going to work for say Kuwadzana? I think I have missed a key point on what you are alluding to. That said powertel fiber for VPN is on request service. 1Mbps, 10Mbps and 100Mbps all carry the same line rental you just put a request in writing.
      4. Once you put fiber in, either multimode or singlemode etc. The things that determines how fast you can move data are 1. Router -> 2. Media Converter ->3. Signal Loss -> Add/Drop Multiplexer ->4. Internet Interface at ISP. Therefore there will be little or no need to redesign the network. The only changes that get made may involve changing the media converter from a 10Mbps to a 100Mbps media converter or from 100Mbps to 1Gbps. Fiber transmissions are largely limited by the endpoint equipment not the fiber itself. So I do not think there is an issue here. Like I said the same fiber that carried 64k/64k for Liquid in vic falls carries 10Mbps/10Mbps for Kingdom…just soft provisioning done in the billing system.
      6. Free internet so kids can watch videos. Thats stupid in my opinion. If I was powertel first thing I would do is shape the daylight out of that link. Why, this is for education, research not for looking at the latest phone, watching the flash or arrow. This is not meant to enable another set of jack sparrows, but rather explore research etc. For instance maybe I have an internet of things starter kit and i need help with my code. or I am writing a paper on the kidneys and how they function. Educational bandwidth for free is not for me to go onto facebook, share videos on iharare etc. Do that on your own dime using your own money and dongle. You remind me of the guy that hammered a firm i worked for because they had a bad internet experience. Anyway eventually it got really bad so we teed up a meeting with his boss and my boss. Turns out the guy had torrents running 24/7 so his boss could barely load gApps etc. needless to say i never saw that IT guy again and the boss suddenly realized 5Mbps was overkill for his firm and promptly went to 512 with 5Mbps burst.

      Oh and by the way if you are in Harare go to Holiday Inn they running 512 with a 5Mbps burst package. Full hotel but never a dull moment because they give vouchers out ranging from 100 -1Gb. Because its monitored and you do not want to continuously go get a new voucher people are actually careful about what they pull down. The experience is pleasant for all involved.

      In a perfect world I would have liked to see the schools getting maybe 1STM to share which in theory would then allow for an upto 155Mbps connection, given that not all of them have generators, power 24/7 etc. In an even more perfect world FE interfaces for each school would have been great.

      1. macd chip says:

        Very valid argument l have to admit.

        One point l think you are missing is the capability of fibre being used to build the network. I assume on this one that Powertel is using CWDM which gives you 8 channels. This is the most common fibre network built by service providers.

        We recently finished building a 10G link from Europe to US and the client put almost exactly the same argument like yours. We initially designed it with dark fibre in mind but their tech Gurus short our design down.
        They went for the standard cwdm 10G. On every connection, you loose 30% bandwidth to tcp chatting. Thats leaves you with 7gigs and depending on spindles you have, you rarely go beyond 4gigs on 1 stream of data.

        Now the client is starting to notice why we wanted dark fibre because they want to backup 12PB across the pond, that is now our talking point for next contract renewal.

        If you go dark fibre dwdm is cheap to run and gives you more channels, up to 80 and is less susceptible to interference compared to other fibre.

        So if you are going to build a network infrastructure you want to future proof, which one would you pick?

        1. fourwallsinaroom says:

          This is what i love about techzim you learn something new everyday. I was under the assumption that powertel went the same route as liquid and had dwdm infrastructure in place. When Liquid built their network, DWDM was always in the back of their minds, and they even went as far as having three ducts. One live customer access duct, one live backbone and one back up. hence the red yellow blue ducts we saw initially. Someone in their network planning said hey lets think towards the future. So what started as Ring A the big outer ring in the cbd started at 10G but is now 40G. That said, I need to read up on CWDM and tcp chatter along with the overheads.
          There are also examples of how not to build a fiber network in zim. Aquiva and Africom come to mind. It would be interesting to see high level network maps for all operators and pop locations, redundancy etc.

          All that said, I do not think that Zim is at a stage where Powertel will be a force to reckon with. Liquid has got everything covered now and left little for powertel. I mean for instance if I get a solution from Liquid for voice. I get an open ended fiber to carry my voip traffic at $0.00mrr because they are making money on my calling minutes!
          for the record, i am still a staunch iWay supporter even though they are only an ISP because they are the only provider to give me what i pay for. When I said I want 1Mbps unshapped CIR i got that. Speed tests everyday prove that. Unlike the upto nonsense. Or shaped torrents during the day. To this day still running 5links (legacy econet wimax – 2.5c per megabyte, Zol Wimax, Tel*One, iWay and of course Africom which is soon to be disconnected). And well one thing I am yet to complete is my load balance setup. Tz answers sort of pointed me in the right direction but well thats another story.

          1. macd chip says:

            When you are reading about tcp chattering, if you are reading this with a mind to build high performance, look also into the limit of SATA interface.

            Sata interface does 6gbps, but if its being on done on a worstation, you get about 4gigs on a single stream.

            This test results l did on latest HP Z840 Workstation with 1TB Samsung SSD with 2 CPU and 32gigs ram, you are looking at $6,500 for just the PC.

            The other tech to keep track is NVM which connects directly into the PCIe slots.


    powertel should be serious.They are not serious what is 1mbs to a school with 100 computers thousands of ciildren with cellphones connecting to wifi.They should copy from zol if they want to stay in bussiness to a school that has subscribed its own internet should turn down such an offer that brings commuication breakdown

  3. fourwallsinaroom says:

    I think this is a step in the right direction. Last time I checked Liquid had done one technology center for CSR for on year in Highfields.
    Once this is in place, Powertel needs to figure out a way to get educational bandwidth from Seacom, then figure out how to get from Seacom to the border for free and then extend this to the schools. Most ISP’s I know will install for free but charge monthly for schools.
    People are upset about 1Mbps but let me do my maths… 1Mbps vs 0.00000Mbps. Hmmm I think 1Mbps is better.just saying
    anyway read this http://mybroadband.co.za/news/telecoms/1005-neotel-seacom-to-provide-ultra-cheap-bandwidth.html

  4. twoface says:

    This is just a promotion for students to learn porn otherwise the whole idea was good.

    1. macd chip says:

      Porn sites ar easier!!

      1. macd chip says:

        ..to block

  5. Allaz says:

    I thought this is what ZARNET was meant to be mainly focused on – according to their website and the info they give at exhibitions.

  6. Dorcas Jiri says:

    1Mbps is little. The question is simply how long will a task take to complete with only a 30min/1hr computer lesson period. How long can students have to wait just to have a human digestive system webpage load before losing patience and focus? How long can students stare at a frozen screen before their minds start to wander off? Powertel really needs to reassess its plan.

    1. fourwallsinaroom says:

      proxy server with large cache will allow seem less browsing. if the whole class is visiting http://www.britannica.com/ the proxy will download and keep a local cache so 1Mbps will technically be enough

    2. fourwallsinaroom says:

      A proxy cache can help limit the amount of traffic created by Web browsers. The basic idea is that when a user visits a Web site, the contents of the page are cached on a proxy server. The next time that person visits that Web page, the content does not have to be downloaded because it already exists in the cache. Using a proxy cache not only saves bandwidth, but it can give users the illusion that your Internet connection is much faster than it really is. – http://www.techrepublic.com

  7. Tendayi Manjengwa says:

    Woow. What a great vibrant marketing strategy. June vanhu varikufunga Uku. I guess it will be free for sometime and eventually the schools hooks on to Powertel. I like the idea but Powertel you need to expand network more. Well done though! Nigel.. tell us if all schools in all provinces are covered? This is a big thing that have been missing but it really needs follow up seriously to assess the progress. Potraz is also doing a noble thing of connecting schools with USF funds and its commendable.

    1. macd chip says:

      Do not forget get its still on paper! Zim a very good history of successful paper projects which never see the reality. Talk is cheap.
      Until they complete a single phase of the project, until then lm marking it as attention seeking.

  8. Hungwes says:

    “…..are being selected based on the proximity to Powertel’s infrastructure….” THATS THE MAGIC STATEMENT AND THE PROBLEM!

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