“Competition makes us faster; Collaboration makes us better.” Anonymous
To compete or to collaborate? To say these are mutually exclusive would be quite inaccurate. However, it’s important to note that most times when we choose one, the other suffers.
I chose to look at this dilemma with a special focus on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) because we care so much about them, especially here in Zimbabwe – whether or not consciously, the bottom line is we do.
Why do I say so? Well, besides the obvious calls (bet even without the POTRAZ reports confirming it, you know that we now use mobile phones to make calls more than we use landlines) and SMSes, we use our mobile phones a lot.
We use them to satisfy our social needs through social media platforms; to do business through OTT services; and of course to access our money through mobile banking and mmoney services. And guess what? In all this, it is the MNOs that somewhat regulate how much of these services we use through pricing, availability or otherwise.
So now, since we are affected so much by MNOs, we need to figure out what’s best for them (lowkey: us the consumers). What would cut down their costs and make their services better between collaboration and competition?
Currently, the status quo suggests competition more than collaboration. Let’s look a bit more into the collaboration opportunities that MNOs have.
Interoperability by dictionary definition is the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information. In this case, it would mean Econet, NetOne and Telecel having systems that allow for them to exchange information. What kind of information?
Let’s use airtime for example. If the MNOs are interoperable, I should be able to buy Telecel airtime and use it on my NetOne line. Or, share my NetOne airtime with an Econet subscriber friend. Sounds too good to be true huh? If open access network models are implemented, then it’s all a possibility.
Honestly, you might not see how useful this is until you’re stuck somewhere and desperately need airtime but can only find recharge cards for every other network but yours. Although now mobile money tries to solve that, there are still some loopholes. For example, it’s still not possible to buy say NetOne airtime on EcoCash without the need of a 3rd party and 3rd parties often need internet access.
Also, it would be good to not have to carry an extra SIM card and/or handset when going to an area which has sporadic network access for your main line. In fact, carrying extra handsets etc is a better problem than not carrying any at all and discovering you actually needed to. See, sometimes you won’t know how bad the network is for your operator until you get there and it’s too late.
What would be nice is for you to be able to connect to a different network without having to change your SIM card and interoperability enables that. Think of international roaming and scale it down to national level.
2. Number Portability
Mobile Number Potability (MNP) by definition is a service that allows a cellphone or smartphone customer to change telecom carrier and keep the same phone number. The closest Zimbabwe has been to this is by number matching; an example is if you’re an Econet subscriber and want to buy a NetOne line, you can request your numbers to be matched i.e. 0777 555 444 can be matched on an 0719 line to a 0719 555 444.
However, actual mobile number porting would render that instead of your number suffix changing to an 0719, it remains an 0777. You will then be required to buy NetOne airtime for the line but ultimately, your number remains an Econet number.
The point of this is to allow subscribers to change service providers whenever they see fit without worrying about their contacts losing their original number. I know of a good number of people who are unhappy with their mobile network service provider but cannot dare to switch to another because it would grossly affect their business since their contacts might then fail to get in touch with them.
Some could argue that you can just send out notifications to all your contacts informing them that you have switched lines but that only assumes you already have everyone who would want to contact now and/or in future’s contact.
Mobile number porting will ensure that users can switch to where the best deals are at anytime without restrain.
3. Infrastructure Sharing
Well, this has been talked about one too many times here on Techzim.
Infrastructure sharing is quite broad depending on the level of sharing to be done. You can check out the levels and/or types here.
Anyway, the main idea here is to have Econet, NetOne and Telecel share resourses such as base stations and other expensive infrastructure hence sharing the costs of acquiring or managing them. The hold up has been on how best to ensure that the parastatal companies i.e. NetOne and Telecel pay up for the services once Econet agrees to the infrastructure sharing idea.
Econet has invested large sums of money on their equipment so far and need assurance that sharing will not turn out to be their biggest mistake. According to the reports from POTRAZ and minister Supa Mandiwanzira (ICT and Cyber Security Ministry), NetOne and Telecel are struggling as far as making profits is concerned. So what guarantee can Econet have that these players will not just default paying for the shared infrastructure?
Otherwise if these MNOs share their infrastructure, service charges are projected to lower quite significantly which is what we’ve been yearning for since.
4. Share Mobile Money Agents
So instead of having mobile money agents being exclusive to a specific mobile money platform, why not have them offer services across all mobile money platforms? This means that both you the EcoCash user and your Telecash user friend can be served by the same agent.
The more we use plastic money because of the cash crisis, the less mobile money agents make because look, lack of cash means less to no cash-ins and cash-outs and that’s what makes up a bulk of what agents do – and remember, they work on commission.
Of course there’s registration etc but that’s not something a customer can repetitively do hence it’s not something to take home. ZESA sales maybe? Still, that can be done without the aid of an agent.
So what is the next best thing? Instead of them waiting for Telecash customers only, they can also make money from all the other mobile money platforms which can help bump up their commission a bit.
Also, for the ordinary person it means less hassles finding an agent for any mobile money related service that might require an agent.
So in as much as all the above are leaned towards collaboration they open up opportunities for competition, just in a different way than usual. For example on number portability, instead of competition to only exist at recruitment level, it will also be extended to the retention level. Of course, at the moment there is somewhat competition by MNOs to retain subscribers but it’s not that stiff because MNOs can always leverage on the reluctance of subscribers to switch from operator to operator due to the inconveniences that comes with that.
However, had number porting been enabled, MNOs would be putting much more effort in trying to get their customers to stay with them by competing on prices, customer service etc.
Therefore, in your opinion would collaboration work in the Zimbabwean context or not yet? Will it make business sense for the MNOs? Or maybe things should just stay as they are?