Econet, Netone ill-prepared for data demand, small towns suffer

Leonard Sengere Avatar
Base stations in Zimbabwe

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.”

Investment Required

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.


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  1. Imi vanhu musadaro

    Sadly, the moment you leave Harare, it dawns on you how much service providers neglect other locations. Everything is slow, the Internet service setup, the Internet, the support, then you just get used to it.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Adapt or die, I guess.

  2. Anonymous

    I have been wondering why am now getting 250kb/s on Econet downloads down from about 1-2mb/s

    1. Leonard Sengere

      It’s a mess. Sucks that you really don’t have other feasible options.

  3. DK

    Its a disaster. Even areas like Chitungwiza are suffering. This country need to be decentralized!!

    1. Non existent entity

      Chitungwiza is nothing to the country. You can’t decentralise anything in a poor corrupt country. That’s impossible also considering the fact that other areas have poor people. You don’t establish Rainbow Towers Hotel in Chitungwiza because the folk there can’t afford it. You do something that will profit you. In this situation people have to use their brains and understand instead of thinking like primary school students claiming things they don’t know.

      1. Leonard Sengere

        I really hope we don’t have more than 10 people in this country who think like this.

        1. Leonard Sengere

          Chitungwiza is everything to this country. Just like every other settlement. You can argue about decentralisation and what it would mean, I give you that. But to say Chitungwiza is nothing to the country is uncalled for.

  4. Non existent entity

    They get more profit from Harare, Leonard. You wouldn’t understand that because you are not an economist. We work based on profit not on sympathy. The ISPs can’t afford to be putting better network in places were they get little profit. Harare is the powerhouse of Zimbabwe. Without Harare Zimbabwe is nothing. The only KFC in Zim is in Harare. They did that cause that was the only way to profit

    1. Leonard Sengere

      I know it’s the bottom line that influences such decisions. However consider the user who has paid $6240 to buy 50gb of data and cannot utilise even a quarter of that before expiry because of the throttling. Is that not fraud? I imagine selling services which you actively act to not deliver is immoral / illegal. If it makes no business sense then they should shut it down not this daylight robbery.

      As I mentioned in the article, we need the government to intervene where purely commercial decisions will leave other Zimbabweans behind.

      Funny how Econet talks about not leaving any Zimbabwean behind then leaves 85% of us in the dust.

    2. Mabhena

      Kkkkk “the only KFC in Zimbabwe is in Harare”. Have you ever been outside Harare my good sir?

      1. Mabhena

        Isn’t it sad that you very likely have a water well in your backyard and yet still believe that ‘this is the best this Zimbabwe has to offer – yippee’. Some of us enjoy excellent and reliable service on the opposite side of the country. I think people should try to research the quality of service providers in their area before committing to one

        1. Leonard Sengere

          I agree that one should research before committing. The issue in this case is that the service in most urban settlements was acceptable. Then because of lockdown driven growth in demand for data services, the acceptable service was adversely affected. Only small towns were affected thus.

  5. Tae_Trinity_N

    Telecel Zimbabwe is less congested, works better for me with 3G i get downloaded speeds up to 400Kb/s and 4G reaches up to 6,50Mb/s. Network speeds really depends with your area mostly, talking from experience.

    1. Ano

      In which area is that where Telecel 4g is working?

    2. Ano

      Which area is that where Telecel 4g works?

      1. Tae_Trinity_N

        Good Day Kindly kindly note for one to get a 4G Signal you’ll have to get your SIM card activated for the 4G Service get in touch with Telecel Team on WhatsApp 0732150150 or alternatively call customer service on 150

        Telecel 4G/LTE Ready Sites

        1. C.B.D
        3.Parts of Hillside
        4.Parts of Newton
        5.Parts of ZITF
        6.Parts of Bellevue
        7.Parts of Montrose
        12.Parts of Sizinda
        13.Parts of Pumula South
        14.Parts of Barbourfiels
        15.Entumbane (C)
        16.Number 1,2,3,4,5 & 6
        17.Parts of Empopoma
        18.Parts of Reo
        19.Parts of Old Lobengula

        More areas to be covered in due course

        7.St Martins
        8.Parts of Hatfield
        9.Parts of Cranborne
        16.Parts of Mt Pleasant
        19.Warren Park
        20.Parts of Belvedere
        21.Parts of Westlea
        22.Kuwadzana 4

        More areas to be covered in due course
        Note service is also available in Gweru CBD and Beightbridge

        1. Anonymous

          This ain’t true at all. My sim is 4g ready but still am on Telecel 3g

          1. Tae_Trinity_N

            Call Telecel customer service on 150 or App them on 0732150150 for 4G Activation, it has to be activated by Telecel for you to access the 4G signal

    3. Leonard Sengere

      If you’re in a small town where other telcos are throttling this is actually sad news for Telecel. It means they have so little market share that even the growth in demand from remote working has not increased demand past capacity like the others.

  6. Anonymous

    The only KFC in Zim is in Harare! No, do your research thoroughly we have it in BYO and it’s been many years.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Some don’t see the country, just Harare. They think the world revolves around Harare and should stay that way. Such arrogant assumptions give them away.

      1. Ano

        Kkkkk ahhh some people so

  7. The Nerd

    A world in which a few control the economy while the rest live from paycheck to paycheck.

  8. Anonymous

    The “only KFC” is in Harare?…. heh?!, have you even been out of Harare?, there’s one in Bulawayo and Vic Falls for a long time now. Probably in another place i don’t know about

  9. Ghostwriter

    ‘You don’t understand because you are not an economist’ lamest joke I have heard so far this kind of thinking is detrimental to change we need to see decentralization of services is the only way forward in this country u cannot have one economic centre for a whole country and hope to grow that’s just bollocks

    1. Upperman

      I think there is need to balance economics and marketing, and also consider business ethics, making subscribers buy data that they cannot use because of the service providers inefficiency has no justification.
      Let them fix their system so that if I wanna purchase 50gb of data whilst I am in an area affected by those speeds then must deny me access, rather selling what I will not use, that’s day robbery

  10. Upperman

    I think there is need to balance economics and marketing, and also consider business ethics, making subscribers buy data that they cannot use because of the service providers inefficiency has no justification.
    Let them fix their system so that if I wanna purchase 50gb of data whilst I am in an area affected by those speeds then must deny me access, rather than selling what I will not use, that’s day robbery

  11. Upperman

    Where is that where telecel network is performing miracles of such high speed internet

    1. Anonymous

      Am really curious to see the so called place(s) where Telecel is performing wonders like started. I have never had a 4g Telecel signal in BYO not even at their offices.

  12. Reel drama

    Entertainment for children is now just a click of a remote button, made possible by the OTT platform like

  13. Victoreloaded

    Nothing works in Zim

  14. Ranga

    I could relate to every word of your article. It made more sense when you mentioned that you stay in Kadoma. I stay in Kadoma too, mobile data works between 12 midnight & 4am. After that, you are back to writing letters and using Zimpost to communicate. TelOne ADSL is also crap. Virtually down or slow most of the time. Infuriating & unacceptable state of data in this day and time. Guess we seem to have made the same discovery of the same challenge: anger issues.


    If you know you know

  15. 2 Boy jr

    #register to vote. Chamisa chete chete

    1. ZUPCO

      Chete Chete

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