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95.2% of Zimbabweans still rely on phone calls, besting WhatsApp’s 38.3%


The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) in conjunction with the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), today presented the 2020 ICT Access by households and individuals. 

ZimStat collected the data from the 16th of November to the 10th of December 2020. The findings were gathered through a survey of 10,325 households, both rural and urban. Just above 9,000 homes responded.

Private use of mobile phones

In the survey, respondents were asked what they use their mobile phones for and there were a few surprises in the answers given. 

Almost everyone with mobile phones, 95.2%, still uses phones to make calls. That was not the major surprise.

The data was weighted to obtain population estimates so we can look at what those percentages translate into. 

There are 14.1 million individuals over 3 years old in the country.

Just over 9.6 million of those individuals reported that they had used mobile phones. Of that number, 9.1 million used their phones to make calls.

That is in contrast to the 38.3% who said they had used WhatsApp on their phones. At first glance it appears that WhatsApp is not as popular as we thought. However, we see that only 56% of the 9.6 million that had mobile phones had smartphones. So, only 5.4 million individuals had smartphones. Of which 3.7 million used WhatsApp.

This is where the surprise is. Only 69% of smartphone users reported that they had used WhatsApp. What are they using their smartphones for? In my personal experience, almost every smartphone user has WhatsApp installed and uses it monthly.

We find that 40.9% of the 10 million people who did not use the internet cited the high cost of internet access as the reason. So it may be that even with the WhatsApp bundles offered by all mobile network operators, the cost is still too high for users. Even for those who had smartphones. 

Somehow phone calls were not too expensive. Which I find odd. Most of those smartphone owners who did not use WhatsApp made phone calls. 

WhatsApp calls vs Regular network calls

It appears we prematurely announced the death of the phone call as WhatsApp became more popular. I remember when WhatsApp calls were launched and we assumed regular phone calls would begin their steady decline. That is not the case.

The challenge with WhatsApp calls is that both users have to have internet access. If one party has their mobile data switch turned off, a regular call will have to be made. 

The high cost of internet access means one cannot be sure that the person they want to call over WhatsApp has data. Also to remember is that network instability and some smartphones providing terrible experiences mean WhatsApp calls may not be an option. Therefore, instead of purchasing a WhatsApp bundle, some smartphone users will just use the airtime to make calls. 

Mobile network operators can smile all the way to the bank. They pretty much cover the whole country when it comes to phone calls. Their money maker lives on.

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5 thoughts on “95.2% of Zimbabweans still rely on phone calls, besting WhatsApp’s 38.3%

  1. Hmmm internet service providers doctored whatsp bundles designed in such a way that local calls without wifi access is a nightmare and even via wifi its 50/50 and you have be lucky.

    1. This feels like a public secret. WhatsApp calls don’t work as well on mobile data, especially using WhatsApp bundles. It really feels like that is by design.

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