In January POTRAZ said they were angling to build at least 250 base stations this year using the Universal Service Fund.Speaking at the recent commissioning of one of these base stations at Phumula village in Tsholotso, the Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services, Kazembe Kazembe said the government has built 367 base stations so far.
Now depending on what Minister Kazembe means, either the government has exceeded its target by 117 base stations or it means they have built 367 base stations using the fund to date. However you look at it this is astounding progress considering they only managed to build a meagre 15 base stations for the whole of 2017.
It’s also not clear how many of these base stations are now fully operational. Given how government officials like to showcase these events it would mean a lot of ceremonies which would not have gone unnoticed. So maybe a good number of these are not yet switched on. In any case it is pleasing to note this level of progress.
The virtues of infrastructure sharing
Minister Kazembe went on to extol the benefits of infrastructure sharing:
It is our fervent hope that through such initiatives our operators learn and continue to appreciate the tenants and benefits of infrastructure sharing. Apart from providing wider consumer choice and an enhanced service competition which in turn promotes creativity and innovation, infrastructure sharing significantly brings down both capital expenditure and operating expenditure.
He is right. Given how we are all scrounging for Forex which is now as rare as pangolins it would make perfect sense for Mobile Network Operators to team up to build base stations and share infrastructure. A lot of base stations are underutilised and its a complete waste of resources for all three to operators to each build base stations in areas with low populations.
Infrastructure sharing however is something the largest operator, which now so happens to be the only private operator, probably sees little value in. They have invested a lot of money in infrastructure and it would be unfair if other players simply hitched a free hike. There should be a framework that makes sharing fair and feasible.
Without sharing some sections of the country are not viable
According to POTRAZ Director General Gift Machengete about 15% of Zimbabwe’s population lives in areas without network coverage. Network coverage is an issue most of us last faced a decade ago. I have noticed however, during my travels that there are still populated areas out there without network coverage.
This is because the populations in these areas are too low and poor ( they spend very little on calls/airtime) therefore the areas are deemed by operators to unfeasible. With infrastructure sharing it again means one base stations instead of 3 or more thus increasing the viability of these areas. Bringing scores of people onto the connectivity train.