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Shouldn’t TelOne migrate its major voice clients to VoIP?

Once upon a time, the copper phone was the only means of telephony before cell phones came into Zimbabwe. People would queue up to a public telephone booth and slot in coins to make a call. Communication has since changed and technology has gone beyond just voice but mobile internet as well.

As a result, copper cabling equipment that was heavily invested in by the then Post and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) became virtually defunct. At the same time, the exposed lines became good business for copper thieves who would steal the cables and melt them into various implements for sale. In most suburban areas, the ghost of PTC still remains in severed cables hanging from rusty telephone poles and broken exchange boxes at street corners.

The latest POTRAZ report indicates that the number of fixed lines has remained at a constant 329,000. TelOne, under whose custody the lines are, has not been maintaining or improving the infrastructure for a while now.

This is with good reason. It has been concentrating on developing a more lucrative carrying capacity through fibre backbone across the nation and last mile distribution through WiFi. After all 97% of internet connections are via mobile devices.

Voice communication is continually dying and TelOne, having collected $100 million from pre-dollarisation debtors, chose not to invested in this old technology. Simply put, money isn’t being poured into primary voice technologies. It’s why most of us were surprised when NetOne reintroduced the call box (Chatter box).

Rather than try and exploit the current copper that at some point Econet salivated for, investments may be better used developing FTTH and municipal and metro-WiFi solutions.

However, as much as fibre technology is the focal point in telecoms investments, one might argue that there is still capacity that can be utilised if copper is invested in. Copper lines are popular as a fibre to the node (FTTN) termination point and for last mile distribution in the developed countries.

The numbers on ADSL use, however, show that uptake is low enough for a TelOne front officer to remember customers by name. Applying for TelOne when you no longer have a landline is really a bit of a hustle.

The constant number of fixed lines which is most probably accounted for by corporates and government departments could also indicate that VoIP is not improving. I see a possible opportunity here that could be exploited.

If TelOne owns and delivers internet to the government, why doesn’t it migrate the government lines to VoIP and kill the landlines altogether? Not only will this reduce government communication bill (and we all know how most of these bills are incurred), but it will also improve the use of the internet within those same departments.

There will remain a few residential customers who can still be connected via cellular networks direct to their home. After all TelOne does have a Mobile Operator licence.

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5 thoughts on “Shouldn’t TelOne migrate its major voice clients to VoIP?

  1. VoIP equipement costs a fortune relative to POTS equipment, compare a normal handset to a VoIP one. As TelOne already owns the existing network, local calls (landline to landline) are essentially no cost to them. As most government lines are contributes much to the civil service phone bill.

    ADSL speeds decrease pretty rapidly over distance. Those not lucky enough to be near an exchange will suffer a significant drop in call quality. Also VoIP is reliant on electricity supply while POTS is self-efficient (although some higher end terminals include a back-up battery, that increase the cost and introduces maintenance). Can you imagine a prison not being able to call ZRP during a break out because ZESA is down? Or a hospital not able to order more blood?

    I’m struggling to see any advantage.

  2. In a real world, its not possible considering how much profit Telone just posted!

    Adding to what Brian just commented above, just check the price of products you and the cost of installation plus everyday mantainance on it.

    For such project you need:

    1. Call Manager, it can voip pb like Asterisk or of the shelf enterprise solutions like Cisco call manager or Mitel etc.

    Just look at the skill required at a national level. Thats a mamoth task. Who is going to manage such a project?

    2. Switches which are PoE(power over ethernet). These are used to power the actuall void handset.

    Considering that most voip handsets are not fibre capable, you then limited to the distance of copper from the switch to the handset. How are you going to design that.

    3. Cabling requirements. Most of these poe switch are designed with copper in mind, that means if you even use fibre, at some point you will have to return it to copper.

    Besides, voip is not yet good at handling 999 emergence calls. For a nation which is struggling to put food on the table, this is a luxury which we can visit at some point to come in future.

    Right now its cheaper and more efficient to restore all there copper links and build a national infrastructure that way.

    I have yet to hear a country which has rolled out voip at national level.

    1. Points 2 & 3 can be avoided by provisioning regular phones through an analogue gateway. That said, I’m not really seeing the upside of VOIP: you still need a physical medium to carry the signal, whether it’s voice or IP. Copper is excellent for both and it’s a sunk cost.

      1. True, you can definately do that, some voip pbx make it easy some dont.

        But you will then loose a lot of features which makes voip phones attractive, unless if you just want a phone that rings

  3. Nice article.

    Landlines are here to stay. They offer best voice quality, and reliable service, as compared to VoIP. The obvious problem is the lack of mobility and the lack of mobile devices such as smart phones. VoIP telephone sets cannot solve the problem. It makes sense to maintain the landline service, while using smart phones as terminal devices for mobility. Take a look at the recent interesting offering from SwissVoice- Voice Bridge ( and ZiPCOM’s Smart HomeX ( You can have both the wonderful worlds of landline reliability and smart phone mobility.

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