Econet CEO Douglas Mboweni, said today Econet will commission its fibre-optic cable system in the major cities by March this year. ‘Major cities’ here probably refers to Harare and maybe Bulawayo. He made the revelation in an update of the network upgrade work that has been going on since the start of 2009. He confirmed that the upgrade work is nearing completion and a bundle of services should start rolling out in the next few weeks.
Explaining why it took more than a year to complete the work he said:
The process of raising money, ordering equipment, and bringing in contractors to build and install equipment takes time. In our case, we were not only expanding capacity but also replacing obsolete equipment that had not been replaced in 10 years. It was like starting from scratch.
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Econet set out to build a new core system for the network last year to prepare it for modern data services that have rolled out since August 2009 when 3G, EDGE, and GPRS internet services were launched. According to Mboweni Econet is now “sitting on a prepaid system capacity of 5.1 million” subscriber, some evidence to the “more than double all our competitors combined” line we’ve been hearing the past couple of months. Current subscribers have just reached the 3 million mark.
Econet last year enlisted the services of ZTE and Ericsson in a $200 million network expansion deal that led to the construction of a couple of hundred new base stations all over the country. Of the 400 they built, about 200 will be going live by the end of next month.
The fibre-optic cable will provide intermediate links between base stations and these higher capacity backhaul links are expected to eliminate congestion, the one thing that has dogged the operator for a while now. The boosted network capacity will also allow Econet to resume activation of more subscribers to 3G data services. Adding more subscribers to internet services was suspended just a month after launch last year following capacity issues and rumours about unsustainable flat rate billing. Mboweni added that 3G services will spread to all parts of the country and will be fully operational in time for the FIFA World Cup showcase in June.