Four days ago, we posted the latest Zimbabwe mobile and fixed line subscriber statistics we got from the country’s telecoms regulator POTRAZ. The March 2012 stats show that Telecel, now apparently with 1.5 million subscribers, lost some 375,000 subscribers since the December 2011 quarter. We were (still are actually) curious how Telecel is losing subscribers when all its rivals are signing them up in the hundreds of thousands. Econet for example added some 714,000 subscribers in the same period. So we asked Telecel to help us explain the numbers and the answer we got is that the POTRAZ stats are just incorrect.
Here’s the statement we received from the company:
The number of active subscribers that Telecel communicated to POTRAZ that it had as at the end of March was 1,832,778. The number of active subscribers it had at the end of December was 1,520,068. There was, therefore, an increase in active subscribers of more than 300 000.
In short, Telecel is suggesting POTRAZ switched the numbers.
Like you right now, we were at loss of how POTRAZ predicted the March 2012 Telecel stats before they occurred and released them in December 2011. A source at Telecel tells us the mix up is likely a result of POTRAZ confusing the Home Location Register (HLR) subscribers for the Active subscribers. The difference between the two is that HLR subscribers are just subscribers that at one point bought a line and there got registered in the operator’s database, while the active subscribers are those that actually used the network in the past 90 days. Using can be anything from sending a text message, making a call, or even receiving a call or message.
This source also doubts the accuracy of the figures the other mobile operators supplied to POTRAZ. “The numbers just don’t add up,” they say. Again, they attribute the problem to confusing HLR and Active subscriber figures.
This being a Telecel source, their leaning and therefore explanation is not surprising at all but so far that’s the only explanation we have for the subscribers drop. Well, apart from reader comments to the Monday article suggesting the drop was caused by the withdrawal of some bonus data and voice promotions by Telecel in recent months. It’s not the first time we have received off the record complaints from mobile operators noting their worry with inconsistencies in published subscriber numbers.
We sought clarification from POTRAZ yesterday through an email and we have not received a response yet. The stats we got from POTRAZ have also been published in a story in today’s Herald, the state owned daily. Since The Herald doesn’t quote Techzim as the source for the information in the article, we’re assuming they also got the figures from POTRAZ. We also assumed all along that POTRAZ engages auditors to verify these numbers, especially since operators like to flaunt the subscriber milestones in marketing campaigns.