When I was in Victoria Falls on Tuesday, I heard the Ghanaian Deputy Minister of Communications speak. He didn’t speak much, he was not really in the programme but I guess it was a respectful gesture to give him the podium since he was there (the only such senior member of government except the Zimbabwean Deputy Minister of ICT who was Guest of Honour).
I was happy they altered the programme to give the Ghanaian Deputy Minister a few minutes to speak. He is an entertaining speaker and quite articulate. He spoke for only 6 minutes. In the second minute he seemed as if he was wrapping up and said the following:
On a lighter note, Mr Chairman the roaming charges here have not been too friendly and every international call I have received on my phone has registered as a local number. Mr Chairman, this shows that there is significant amount of sim boxing. Somebody is terminating international traffic into your country, bypassing your gateway and it means that you are going to lose revenues. We’ll have some learnings to share in order to leverage on the opportunities of positive alternative calling mechanisms. We need to fix the phenomenon and negativity around sim boxing and ultimately try and make one network which is affordable seamless roaming for Africa a dream come true. Mr Chairman, if we want to remember Kwame Nkrumah one of the ways will be to make seamless roaming work for Africa. And this I believe will certainly not be an experience of climbing a tree and expecting to catch fish at the top.
Looks like the Honourable Ghanaian Minister should have just waited one more day before making his pronunciation. A day after he described the day Africa achieves affordable seamless roaming a dream come true, Econet launches Econet Plus. This is an app that allows Zimbabweans to use their local Econet numbers from anywhere in the world at the same Zimbabwean rates.
If you are like me and you are loyal to your mobile number (I have had the same number for 12 some years), you are happy about this product. One of the first things we do when we cross borders is to buy a new sim (or retrieve the sim we bought on an earlier trip) and shove that one into our mobile in the place of our beloved Zim number. Only the mega rich do differently, the first thing they do is switch on roaming. The second thing we do (rich and non) is to call home and let them know ndasvika zvakanaka (we arrived safely).
I guess from now on Econet subscribers will only have one first step: call home and say ndasvika zvakanaka. There is no sim switching or roaming activation. Econet Plus allows you to make the essential call straight away. It will be confusing to the loved one on the other end initially: how come they are receiving a call from your local number when they escorted you to Road Port themselves?
For me the most important application of this product to my life will be when making business calls back home when I am travelling. Self important Zimbabweans have a tendency not to answer calls from numbers they don’t recognise. The application will ensure my self important acquaintances (all men have some) will be satisfied that the person calling is familiar. Perhaps it’s not self importance but zvikwereti nehutsotsi (fear of receiving call from a creditor or perhaps someone they would have conned). Anyway, I digress; Econet Plus will let your people back home know they are receiving a call from ‘a friendly.’
Besides identification of the call by whoever you are calling the most important advantage is of course cost. On cost it does not obviously come close to the WhatsApp call but the problem with the WhatsApp call is that the recipient of your call must first have a non mbudzi phone then they must have the right bundle that supports the WhatsApp call. The fact is the person you cannot call via WhatsApp when you’re in Zimbabwe will not suddenly be able receive WhatsApp calls just because you have crossed the Limpopo, the Atlantic or the Indian Ocean.
Cost is not to be just compared to roaming fees, no! Switching sim cards to call home means you get charged high international tariffs. Until the eloquent Ghanaian Minister’s dream comes to fruition, international calls on our or to our continent will continue to be steep. I do hope we will get to a point where these ridiculous fees will be done away with. Econet Plus could be one of the innovations that the dear minister called “positive alternative calling mechanism.”
But wait, this new app from Econet uses VOIP and hence requires you to have data right? You will still be charged for the data consumed to place the call right? Well, not really.
Let me retrace. Yes Econet Plus uses VOIP meaning the call you make on it is transmitted via the internet. However if you are in South Africa, Malawi or Zambia you may not be charged for the data. If you are on a Cell C connection in South Africa, Airtel in Zambia or Airtel in Malawi you will place the call without being charged for data.