MVNOs: We could have new mobile operators in Zim soon to rival Econet et al

Leonard Sengere Avatar

POTRAZ announced that they are finalising the licensing of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in Zimbabwe. As you might know, the only licences we have here are for IAPs, mobile telecoms and fixed telecoms, broadly speaking of course. This move is meant to bring in additional competition in the sector and also customer-centric service provision.

How does licensing MVNOs lead to more competition? To answer that we need to understand what MVNOs are. Simply put, an MVNO is a cell phone service provider that does not own its infrastructure. They purchase wholesale service packages from MNOs (NetOne, Econet and Telecel in our case) and then resell the packages to the public. That sounds like infrastructure sharing because it kind of is.

So an MVNO buys data, voice and sms in bulk from the mobile network operators (MNOs) and then packages that to end users. MVNOs usually have limits placed on them, for example the data speeds offered being lower than those offered by the MNO. This allows them to be cheaper than the MNOs. The choice then becomes, 250mb for $1 at 1mbps from an MNO or 400mb for $1 at 250kbps from an MVNO for example.

The mobile operators would be interested in selling to a mobile virtual network operator if they have excess capacity thereby earning revenue from capacity that otherwise would have been underutilised. However this would appeal more to MNOs in a saturated market, of which Zimbabwe is not. The massive investments that MNOs have made would be prejudiced by these MVNOs.

There is a strong argument for why we should not be licencing MVNOs in Zimbabwe. That all becomes moot though as indications are that POTRAZ is going to force all MNOs to share their infrastructure. Companies like Econet can minimise the effects of MVNOs on their bottom line by getting into the game themselves. T-Mobile in the U.S has their own MVNO for example.

There are successful MVNOs around the world, Virgin Mobile being the best example. The markets in which they operate are different than the Zimbabwean market though. That MVNOs provide better customer service and bring innovation cannot be disputed. That’s how they survive. That should also push the MNOs to innovate themselves.

The director general of POTRAZ said that there is not enough spectrum to licence another MNO, so MTN is not coming anytime soon. MVNOs however are coming and should shake up the industry. Companies like Viva Mobile could finally rock this industry with the confidence of a licenced operator or at least provide options for us like FNB Connect did in South Africa.

Do you think mobile virtual network operators will succeed in Zimbabwe? Should MNOs be forced to engage MVNOs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.



  1. Charles Muzonzini

    Do you think mobile virtual network operators will succeed in Zimbabwe?

    – YES

    Should MNOs be forced to engage MVNOs?

    – YES

    1. vasanthkumar

      Globally MVNO business has been successful in a country where even if 100% Mobile penetrations, with a Unique Products offerings, MVNO can be a successful business models .

  2. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    At the end of the day, a MVNO can never rival the MNO that is leasing it services. If the MVNO is making revenue, the MNO is also making revenue. A simple food chain. MVNO’s aren’t infrastructure sharing, because you sign a deal with a specific MNO to sub-lease/sell their services. The MNOs then do infrastructure sharing amongst themselves, MVNOs have no say in how upstream MNO infrastructure is shared. In fact, if legislation abandons infrastructure sharing, the MVNO is not affected.

    1. Tyrion Stark

      I think in a way it is infrastructure sharing. If the infrastructure that an MNO owns is not being used to capacity and an MVNO comes in and used it that could be termed sharing. It is a capacity utilisation technique. Technically when they say infrastructure sharing that is not what is meant though. Proper infrastructure sharing could actually squeeze out MVNOs as there won’t be excess capacity to then sell to them. That’s what I think.

      1. tafadzwa

        MVNO does neishe services most popular are lyca mobile giff gaff check those to get a full understanding

      2. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

        “Technically when they say infrastructure sharing that is not what is meant though.” Well, you’ve answered yourself. Otherwise, next we’ll be be saying that infrastructure sharing has already happening since you and I as subscribers are already sharing base stations e.t.c.

  3. Taku

    Whose infrastructure are they going to use?

    1. vasanthkumar

      MVNO will have their own Own number ranges if local regulations allows and they can have their own /outsources – MVNE platform/MNP/Legal/Customer care/Roaming and focus mainly towards Sales and Marketing , from MNO side get the wholesale for voice/sms/data and use their Networks (BTS-Spectrum- Partial MSC-Provisioning MVNOs Number ranges)

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