They say you never really know a person until you have seen them deal with a slow internet connection. I’ve discovered myself in the past two months or so, turns out I might have anger issues.
In my defence, how many times can one interact with the No Internet Connection Dino and be expected to maintain sanity.
There is no scenario in which 0.5Kbps speeds are acceptable over LTE and yet here we are. This experience has been on Econet and Netone’s networks but I imagine Telecel would have been no better.
The 2% market share of internet and data traffic they command makes them irrelevant in this discussion anyway.
I can smell the disbelief in some of you. I say check your priviledge dear Hararian. This is reality for the rest of Zimbabwe, including Kadoma where I am located.
Harare or the Stone Age
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is a tale of two cities, Harare (and maybe Bulawayo and a few other cities to a lesser extent) and the rest of the also-rans, the second-class citizens.
Almost all products and services come to Harare first and that’s okay. It makes business sense. A large population in a relatively small geographical area.
However, for the services that do trickle down this side we expect to get a similar experience to our Harare counterparts. Alas, that is not the case.
As I grumble about dial-up speeds, my colleagues in Harare are streaming HD videos and videoconferencing simultaneously, just to flex.
If a Hararian faced similar terrible service, they have options, how lucky. If you consider that not all of Harare is covered by Zol Fibroniks, imagine what it’s like in the smaller towns. Unless you are in the CBD, Zol is not an option.
Telone has better coverage but is so unreliable it’s only an option for casual low-stakes browsing. Mobile broadband is often the only reasonably priced option.
Remote Working and Data Demand Spike
It wasn’t always this bad. We used to have a comparable experience up until about two months ago. With each extension to the lockdowns, more businesses adopted remote working.
The mobile internet and data traffic increased by 228.25% from Q1 2020 to Q1 2021.
As the nation’s data needs increased, the mobile network operators found they did not have the capacity to serve them.
In the quarter ending 30 May 2021, Econet reported a 77% increase in data traffic. That is a significant increase but they were able to meet the demand judging by the experience we had then. They did acknowledge that the demand had put a strain on their network.
Apparently, the demand continued on an upward trend, past their capacity and a diabolical plan was hatched – throttle the smaller towns. 8am – 10pm is reserved for the all-important capital city dwellers.
Before you cry ‘conspiracy’ consider that it is reasonable to assume the increase in demand per user was higher in Harare. So how can Hararians still enjoy proper LTE speeds?
Maybe there already were more users per base station in smaller towns. Any increase in usage leading to tortoise speeds quicker here. If that’s the case we were doomed from the start, throttled before we even flew.
In any case, the telcos were not ready for the spike in demand. These are the same telcos who were complaining of the low demand just months before the spike. Said Econet Chairman James Myers,
“Zimbabwe’s internet penetration rate remains low as approximately 22% of the devices on our network trying to access data services are ‘feature’ phones with low data handling capacity…… We are working closely with the Government to review the duty regime for mobile devices to enhance the rapid adoption of digital services across the economy.”
84% 3G Coverage, Widest Network Coverage and so on mean nothing to me now. Those are buzzwords meant to impress shareholders. The statistics say I am covered and yet I cannot load a simple website.
This challenge requires millions to rectify and to be fair there has been considerable investment in infrastructure lately. The US$89m which government allocated to this cause won’t be enough but we’ll take it. It is more important than it should have been.
The telcos have limited access to the foreign currency they need and high inflation means rising operating costs. The government’s purse is more important than ever.
In the meantime, we small town folk have to be content with our second-class citizen status.
Will we fall farther behind Harare seeing as we cannot work remotely like they can? Will this lead to some completely ignoring lockdown regulations? Probably, to both.