Should we give Econet, NetOne and Telecel a pass for shoddy service? Maybe

Leonard Sengere Avatar

Customers are wont to complain even when their complaints are not justified. Businesses are aware of this and customer care personnel are taught, ‘the customer is king, so just smile and take in their abuse.’ Customer service people will tell you stories for days about all that. 

That may be but sometimes the customer is justified in his complaining. So, the customer service person has to take the vitriol on behalf of the whole company.

Then there is the more common scenario. The customer is justified in complaining but the company only let them down owing to forces outside their control. 

This scenario leads to frustrated businesses bemoaning that their customers are never willing to listen to their genuine reasons for dropping the ball. The customer on his part views those ‘genuine reasons’ as mere excuses and loathes the company even more for making them.

Is this what is going on with Zimbabwean mobile network operators (MNOs) and their customers?

Poor service

We can all agree that mobile network service providers have not been covering themselves in glory for the past few years. At almost any given time, there is someone in Zimbabwe complaining about poor service. This cannot be disputed.

Personally, I have felt this. I cannot count how many times I have been dropped down to EDGE (turtle speeds) whilst trying to work online. All this despite being in an area that’s supposed to offer 4G. Even in 5G areas too.

Like most Zimbabweans, I have been forced to carry SIM cards from all 3 mobile network operators. Okay, I’m down to 2 cards, but you get the point. There was a time when some operators offered better service than others but it doesn’t feel like it anymore.

Scour through social media and you will see complaints from Econet, NetOne and Telecel subscribers alike. Econet has the most subscribers and gets the most complaints, it feels like, which makes sense. One user says ‘Econet is useless, I’m moving to NetOne’ and NetOne subscribers tell them, ‘oh, you don’t want to do that.’

The latest in the network disruption saga was Econet having to apologise for their data services being down countrywide for hours. 

The reasons (excuses?) for shoddy service 

Forex shortages

The reality is that operators need foreign currency to pay for bandwidth, new equipment and spares, software etc.

We all know that there has been a shortage of forex in Zimbabwe for years and operators have not been getting the forex they need. Unfortunately, as strategic as their sector is, it has been hard for the government to prioritise them over bread-and-butter issues.

This means it is not an excuse. Operators are not able to keep up with their routine maintenance schedules. They are also not able to expand as they would want. Said Econet on the issue,

Overall, the local telecommunications industry has been struggling to meet the capacity and coverage demands of consumers as investment is long overdue. Capacity enhancements and routine maintenance has remained severely constrained by the lack of access to foreign currency to service our foreign network suppliers.

To what extent is this forex shortage responsible for the shoddy service we are seeing? That’s the part we don’t know. Operators could be exaggerating its impact and we cannot know with any certainty.

Power cuts

I cannot remember a time when power cuts were not an everyday reality in this country. Unfortunately, there will be no service without electricity.

For the base station (booster) in your neighbourhood to serve you in those dark times, the MNO has to resort to alternative sources of energy. It’s mostly diesel generators they turn to although solar is starting to become popular.

According to Econet, the move to solar would have happened quicker if it weren’t for those pesky forex shortages we touched on above. We have to remember that it costs money to invest in solar systems and this is one cost that MNOs in most other countries don’t have to contend with.

Running generators through the 16-hour power cuts we were experiencing is too expensive. It looks like these MNOs choose to power on generators in especially busy areas. If your neighbourhood doesn’t win this lottery, when there is no Zesa-power, there will be poor service.

I remember a candid NetOne customer care lady telling me, ‘if there’s no Zesa there will be no data services.’ The Econet employees have been trained not to admit this but in my neighbourhood, it really is ‘no Zesa, no data’ with them too.

Low tariffs

The MNOs complain that not only are they making their revenue in ZW$, but they are also making less than they should be making. 

If we leave emotion out of it we can see where they are coming from. Their regulator, Potraz, does not allow them to raise their prices willy-nilly. Potraz has to approve any price increase.

Now, Potraz does not seem to consider the prevailing inflation rate when deciding on what percentage increase to authorise. Not once in 2022 did Potraz allow a tariff hike that at the very least matched inflation. This means the MNOs’ revenues are falling in real terms the more this goes on. 

The first tariff hike of 2023 has come and Potraz has allowed operators to increase their tariffs by 50%. No surprise that they have jumped on this, announcing tariff hikes with immediate effect. Potraz has also promised another 50% hike in April.

Econet says “Zimbabwe’s current telecom tariffs remain below regional benchmarks, hence the underinvestment in the sector.” 

South African tariffs

Looking at the tariff schedule on their website, we see that the Econet-to-Econet call is the most expensive at ZW$ 62.94 per minute. That’s US$0.07 cents per minute using a rate of 1:960.

Looking at the flat rates that South African MNOs charge, we find that Vodacom’s Anytime per second is R1.25 per minute (US$ 0.07), MTN’s Pay per second tariff is R0.99 per minute (US$ 0.06) and Cell-C’s default plan charges R1.50 per minute (US$ 0.08).

I don’t think we can agree with Econet’s assertion that Zimbabwe’s current telecom tariffs remain below regional benchmarks. 

There seems to be a difference when it comes to data tariffs though. Econet’s out-of-bundle rate is ZW$ 9.96 (US$ 0.01) per MB whilst Vodacom and MTN charge R0.49 (US$ 0.03). Cell-C charges even more. That’s the South Africans being able to charge 3 times as much per MB.

So, the low tariffs point is not quite the excuse it feels like. There is some truth to it. The only problem is that Zimbabweans have been seeing their disposable incomes fall too. 

This means that from the perspective of users, prices have been going up and yet service quality has been deteriorating. Just look at Econet’s latest price hike coming in soon after a day of interrupted data services. It’s unfortunate for them but it ends up feeling like we’re being shortchanged as customers.

Anyway, those are my two cents on the matter. What do you think about all this? Do let us know in the comments below.

Also read:

Why is internet so expensive in Zimbabwe?

Liquid was facing an internet outage earlier this morning. Why was it just slow and not completely off?

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33 comments

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  1. Isaac

    😅 posted on 21 February… Fair enough 😄

    1. Isaac

      I’m even failing to buy the hsd bundles, it’s just deducting my airtime – imagine. Apa today’s the only day we have zesa, have to update my systems 😩

      Last year it was NetOne, this year’s Econet. The timing is wild too

      1. Leonard Sengere

        That sucks. We need all the stars to align just to be able to use the internet. Econet systems, Zesa schedule, Holiday etc It’s rare to get all of them lined up.

    2. Leonard Sengere

      🤣🤣 Coincidence.

  2. Core95

    Lets use the past 2 weeks as a timeline to judge whether these MNOs have genuine reasons or its just shoddy service finally catching up.
    Econet was experiencing network challenges every other 3 to 4 days yet Netone, their closest rival ,didn’t. Could have been a technical issue but some people lost business/time because of such glitches which were reoccurring. Considering how big they are it should have been rectified once and for all.
    On the issue of forex that’s one area i feel businesses are sometimes using as a scapegoat. How are the USD airtime vouchers being used to rack up the needed USD for operating their business? Yes its one complicated issue that only them can explain but once a customer buys your service they expect some interrupted service delivery.
    On power cuts i do feel they are justified to offer sub standard service and we can’t really argue with that, unless if the scenario was different.

    All reasons aside if there is one area Econet is short-changing their customer base is on bandwidth in areas outside of major towns/cities. Netone has 4G connection in areas you would least suspect. Econet is giving 3g which has low speeds but 2g is what most have settled with. For a big company like them this is one area they are leaving behind.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      You’re right, it does appear that although there is a forex shortage, MNOs are exaggerating its impact. The stats say more and more transactions are being done in USD in the economy and one expects that the MNOs are making more from USD sales too but alas, the excuse remains.
      The issue of Econet subscribers in different areas getting different service is an old one and it’s frustrating that it continues.
      In all this, knowing that people hardly have electricity and even when they do, they often get terrible service, shouldn’t MNOs increase the validity periods of their bundles?

  3. Dominic

    It’s the tax regime in Zimbabwe. So mnos r justified gvt takes half or mo in taxes

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Yep, we cannot ignore the tax issue. These telcos are cash cows for the govt and this hinders their progress.

  4. D.K.

    The day I will be able to plan my journey and effect it successfully using public transport and its timetable, the day we will get clear, colourless, odourless and tasteless water in all the country’s taps is the day we will get undisputable service from these MNOs. The whole country is a living organism, a collection of systems which should be working in unison. Just getting the country to work as a country should will get all the systems fall into place. When other countries run their MNOs with electricity from the company that is specifically there to produce electricity, how are our MNOs supposed to compete with such when they also have to produce their own electricity as well? Just give the giant MNO permission to produce and transmit electricity to all its company sites and base stations, and, maybe to its customers, and you will wonder why we have been running primitively with the most modern equipment in the world. Those who are charged with the country’s infrastructure should just do what they are there to do, those who supervise do so and remove or redeploy those who are tired or old or demotivated to get the country’s systems going.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      I agree. We have to remember that these MNOs are not operating in a vacuum. They are in a very challenging environment where the companies they depend on for some goods and services are not delivering. It all adds up. We may not like it but if one sector suffers, the whole economy suffers.

    2. Anonymous

      Just give the giant MNO permission to produce and transmit electricity to all its company sites and base stations, and, maybe to its customers, and you will wonder why we have been running primitively with the most modern equipment in the world. …🤔🤔🤔😌yes I totally agree with you

  5. Internet inclusion

    Editor, i believe you have not done much research in this area. What is killing the sector is the regulator POTRAZ, we can advance further if the regulators can step away. The cost of bandwidth has been dropping over the years. 1Gbps wholesale from South Africa costs about 50 USD. In Zimbabwe, 1Mbps dedicated costs 300 USD, that’s more than 6000 times the wholesale price. The price of 1Gbps in Romania is 8usd, Latvia its 14 USD, I don’t have a big enough calculator to calculate the price of 1Gbps in Zimbabwe. Thats where the frustration is coming from, customer are paying a 1000 times more than other countries and not get the service. Operators are always crying about operating costs, Starlink operational costs is 100 times more than all our MNOs put together but they are able to provide 250Mbps at 43 USD unlimited. On Starlink, the regulator should allow them operate to operate. We have very good programmers in this country, MNOs should look at using local developers some who are doing work for top ICT companies in USA, Europe, and Asia. MNos also should take time to listen to their customer instead of shoving solutions in the mouths. If Telone would rollout their LTE service it would much cheaper than maintening their aging copper infrasture. If we could have more flexibility with our MNOs on customized solutions.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Vodacom in South Africa has more customers than there are people in Zimbabwe. That’s an advantage Zim MNOs do not have. However, even with our 16 million people, we still need more competition, they are going to need to share this smaller pie. Bring on Starlink, we cry.

  6. I take it personally sometimes

    Look, I do try to be understanding, but sometimes its hard when i have 25gb rotting untouched in my phone 1 whole freakin week after I got it!!! I made sacrifices to pay that but it can feel like they are just chillin there in their HQ laughing at what a sucker I am

    1. Leonard Sengere

      That’s where I feel like they can do better. They should understand the situation on the ground. We are getting poor speeds and most times we do not have electricity. They should adjust the validity periods of their bundles to take into account the prevailing conditions. They can’t look at our bundles expiring and think this is normal.

    2. Gosten

      We are being f**d for brig docile.
      MNOs are taking advantage of the chaos at potraz because the minister responsible is dunderhead too.

  7. Glaurung The Dragon

    It’s hard to understand when you pay for data in USD and barely be able to download a 10kb file. Our bundles are also ridiculously priced, even in USD, for such a shoddy and pathetic service

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Sounds like if they want us to understand why they are performing poorly, they first have to understand just exactly what they are doing to us.

  8. Anonymous

    I think if econet price their services in usd like it used during the gnu we won’t have problems. Coz now through using the fraudulent exchange rate we r being bracked out we can’t but data

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Their USD bundles are gaining popularity. If you dial *143# and pick the Smart USD Bundles option you will see for yourself what’s on offer.

  9. Anonymous

    You do realize that allowing companies to account for inflation in their prices makes inflation go even higher. Also, South Africa is not the bar of excellence. Ever heard of the data must fall protests there, which in my opinion I think zim needs it’s own. People really don’t know that most companies don’t sell data but sell speed. You can get unlimited internet for 12$ a month. But not here, here MNO will even sell you individual text MSG’s.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      I know SA is not the bar but it’s the bigger economy in the region which also happens to house millions of Zimbabweans. Therefore comparisons to SA make sense. We had to look at that because Econet is talking about Zim tariffs being lower than the regional benchmarks.

  10. Jinx

    Fellaz, we got to learn Morse code and the use of carrier pigeons whilst we still have the time

    1. Leonard Sengere

      😂😂 I am afraid to laugh at this joke because it might be a prophecy.

  11. Mabhena

    The problem is monopolies. Too little competition leaves room for constant whining. Zimbabwean companies have to realize that if the operating environment was friendlier they would be more fierce competition & many of them would be run out of business. They should give people what they pay for. In fact the reason that companies like Econet got so big is because of the environment that they keep complaining about.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      💯. The same economic climate that they complain about is the one keeping competition at bay. But maybe they look at Potraz saying that they could not licence more MNOs because of limited spectrum resources. So, the current MNOs know that should the operating environment improve, they stand to enjoy super profits with a limited risk that the space would be opened up to new players.
      If the 3 MNOs were really competing for our business, that would be enough for 16 million people.

  12. Always off topic

    No sympathy from .bTHese guys are bleeding us dry , just wait until they announce their end of year results.. Instead of stepping up and admitting to the limitations of the service they can provide. They are just silent and constantly advertising their services like the is no problem at all. Now we should be sorry for them. No they are taking advantage of the situation and short changing customers on purpose. Especially Econet. Selling bundles when they know you will never use it up. Who is being shortchanged here? Leonard did your blessers Econet compell you to write this article?

    1. Leonard Sengere

      My blessers 🤣🤣? No, my friend. I agree completely with what you’re saying. We are getting shoddy service and the MNOs turn a blind eye to all that. It’s business as usual for them. In the article above I was pointing out some of the reasons that they have for offering terrible service. They are valid reasons for the most part and that’s probably why these MNOs don’t feel any guilt in shortchanging us in return. It’s a marriage where both parties feel like the other party does not empathise.

  13. Not Sure

    Please also include buying power of 1USD in Zimbabwe vs South Africa. It might appear the cost of data is cheaper in Zimbabwe but buying power of USD in Zimbabwe might be much less than South Africa.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      The currency issue is no small one. However, we cannot talk about USD buying power in Zimbabwe, these MNOs make enough in ZW$ to use that for local transactions where possible. The USD is for international transactions.

  14. marcus

    these guys always find someone to blame for their terrible service… the economy is bad but is that what causes data to disappear even if u kno very well that you couldn’t even load a whatsapp picture

    1. Leonard Sengere

      That’s true. They have a ready excuse. Although the economy does affect their service, they end up blaming it even for unmopped floors in their shops.

  15. Anonymous

    1. Suppliers own systems often fail and that has little to do with ‘shortages’ that they like to blame but more to do with competence and interest, i think. Take a look at the lackadaisical manner of the employees in general
    2. Lack of proper communication – a stupid generic message like we are having challenges and working on the problem is not good enough!
    3. You have top executives rolling in the dough and yet the companies have forex…blah blah blah shortages – this is not acceptable.
    4. how much have have they REALLY tried to improve matters instead of being continual cry babies?

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