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COVID-19’s influence on mobile internet and data usage in 2020

Mobile internet usage in Zimbabwe in 2020 saw a massive uptick and this was mainly due to the lockdown measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. As you are all well aware schools took a hiatus and many companies had to operate remotely. This had a massive effect on internet usage because many companies, aside from having employees work from home, began to offer a number of digital platforms for their customers.

The informal sector also had to adapt to the change and this was achieved in large part by pushing products and services on relatively affordable platforms like WhatsApp.

E-learning was another major factor for the increase in mobile internet traffic over the year. This is not to say that everyone was covered, there were students who could afford to purchase data to attend online classes. But a greater proportion was limited to WhatsApp based platforms or went without any support during the duration of the lockdown.

To give a clearer picture of events in 2020 let’s take a look at the numbers over the year. Like with the review of Mobile Money in 2020 we will be starting from the fourth quarter of 2019 to give a broader picture.

Mobile internet and data usage in Zimbabwe 2020

Q4 2019Q1 2020Q2 2020Q3 2020
Data usage in Terabytes (TB)6 4796 66110 40714 878
Variance from Quarter to Quarter+2.8%+52.6%+43%

The upward trend of mobile internet usage was particularly stark from Q1 to Q2 2020. This was, of course, because during that time the lockdown restrictions were introduced and were at their strictest. What is however telling is where that data was being used:

In and out of bundle data in 2020

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have a number of platform restricted data bundle offers. These bundles are for the popular instant messager WhatsApp as well as social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The data recorded by POTRAZ shows that Zimbabweans opted for the in bundle option more than out of bundle.

Unfortunately for this section, POTRAZ doesn’t have the figures for in and out of bundle data usage in its Q4 2019 sector performance report

Q1 2020Q2 2020Q3 2020
In-bundle data usage91.8%94.1%95.1
Out of Bundle data usage8.2%5.9%4.9%

Mobile internet market share shifts in 2020

Q4 201970.2%23.7%6.1%
Q1 202067.0%28.5%4.5%
Q2 202060.8%38.1%1.1%
Q3 202069.7%29.1%1.2%

NetOne’s gains in mobile data traffic market share up to Q2 2020 could be attributed to the MNOs increasing subscriber base during that period.

In terms of packages, NetOne’s hourly and night bundle continue to be a popular offering judging by the chatter they garner. On the other hand, the MNOs Mi-Fi Bundles have come under a little bit of fire because they don’t offer anything below 25 Gig. Whereas Econet equivalent (Private Wi-Fi Bundles) start from 8 Gig but they don’t go as high as NetOne’s 80 Gig.

NetOne’s Q3 contraction is a little surprising. The company added 100k new subscribers in Q3 but that hasn’t quite translated to their primary offerings. It will be interesting to see what Q4 2020 and 2021 will look like for all of Zimbabwe’s mobile network operators and for data usage in general.

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