The Zimbabwean government’s interest telecoms infrastructure is meant to provide a platform for the private sector to flourish through the rollout of value-added services and third party providers like Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs).
This statement was shared by the Minister of ICT, Supa Mandiwanzira at the recent Mobile Money and Digital Payments Conference.
In a clarification of the government’s focus on telecoms entities, Mandiwanzira also emphasised how the State had to be involved in the rollout of backbone infrastructure.
The government currently has telecoms investments in TelOne, NetOne, Powertel, Telecel (through a yet to be finalised purchase of 60% of the mobile operator) and Africom (through a stake held by State-owned enterprise NSSA).
Africom has already availed its infrastructure to Viva Telecom, the country’s first MVNO which is set to start operations in the next month.
There has been a massive drive by the government to spur infrastructure sharing. Last year the government compelled all telecoms operators in the country to come up with an infrastructure sharing framework.
Despite the reassurances offered it seems as if the private sector hasn’t warmed up to the idea of government being involved in any plays on infrastructure.
Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, a publicly listed entity which is the biggest telecoms company in Zimbabwe with the largest investment that includes the widest fibre network through its subsidiary Liquid Telecom has refused to participate in the proposed infrastructure sharing arrangement.
Here is what Supa Mandiwanzira had to say:
Government is already the biggest investor in fibre infrastructure in this country. If you combine what Powertel has, if you combine what TelOne has, and you combine some of the infrastructure that NetOne is sitting on, if you put that together in terms of fibre backbone, we are one of the biggest investors as government.
And we’d like to make these facilities available to the private sector so that the value added services sit on this infrastructure.
Right now we are working on a strategy, you know we have been accused of wanting to hog the telecommunications sector. People say we have NetOne, here we are we bought 60% of Telecel, so what’s next? So people have been asking this question “You are crowding out other people”
But we have said we must introduce MVNOs. You are familiar with these, Mobile Virtual Network Operators – where you don’t have to have base stations, you don’t have to have towers, you don’t have to have that kind of infrastructure.
You just go and ride on Telecel, or you just go and ride on Econet or ride on NetOne. You just compete in terms of service. Just make sure you are offering a good service, you are delivering that service, you are just using other people’s infrastructure.
That’s what we want to promote. Government must be involved in putting up the infrastructure, the backbone infrastructure and must allow private sector to flourish by using that infrastructure.
So we are putting that investment in, we have just secured US$98 million from the Exim Bank of China which is going to be used to deploy fibre through TelOne and of course, we are discussing more funding for NetOne to ensure that we broaden some of its services.