Econet, it seems, has decided to go all the way in providing mobile services for subscribers. It has officially joined the cell phone mad rush, flighting adverts for mobile phones and accessories in the local papers.
Econet started out about a year ago with the ‘Buddie Lite’, a ZTE manufactured low end phone with basic telephony and SMS features. Later in the year it introduced another range of Econet branded mobile phones, moderately basic this time. Both ranges were bundled with the prepaid subscriber lines. With this new offering Econet has unbundled the package; it’s a just a mobile phone now, no line. They’re making a bold statement here to all mobile phone dealers; that they’re seriously interested in a piece of the pie. And that’s no small piece we’re talking here, it wouldn’t be worth their while if it was.
Last year alone, Econet added on more than two million subscribers, jumping from about one million subscribers to over three million at the close of the year. A country wide upgrade of base stations also saw the network’s capacity boosted to over five million subscribers. Telecel, another mobile operator accounted for a couple of hundred thousand more subscribers. Zimbabwe’s mobile penetration has since risen to about 24%, up from about 10% just 12 months ago. Econet probably figured: all those subscribers must need phones right?
Econet’s asking price of US $727 for a Nokia N97 is not too ridiculous by Zimbabwean standards; compares quite competitively with other local mobile phone dealers actually. At this pace, it’s not hard to foresee Econet starting to offer subsidized contract mobile phones before 2010 is up. Most genuine smart phones in Zimbabwe are priced around a thousand US dollars and this steep price tag is the one thing keeping smart phones beyond reach for many Zimbabweans.