It’s not every day that we get to peek into NetOne’s financials. Even when we do, we don’t get the full picture as we do with Econet who are forced to publish their financial statements.
So, as we did with Telecel, let us look at where NetOne is. We will glean what we can from the recently released Potraz Q4 2022 ICT report.
We remember though that NetOne posted a 96% growth in profits in 2021 and that ARPU was $3.17 that year but they still ended up posting losses.
Here’s the TL;DR
NetOne lost 547,858 subscribers in 2022, most of them in Q4
Q4 revenues were at most US$32.4 million
Revenue per user was US$2.92 per month
Saw a massive drop in voice traffic market share in Q4
NetOne gets voice traffic of 14.9% from 33.1% of 2G, 34.8% of 3G infrastructure
Data traffic of 25.3% from 34.8% of 3G, 44.1% of LTE infrastructure
NetOne internal controls lacking, employees keep defrauding the mobile operator
NetOne is comfortably in second place, with Econet far out in front and Telecel as good as dead in third place. They are not in any danger of losing the second spot but they could find the gap to first place increase. NetOne lost 547,858 subscribers in 2022 after gaining 779,278 in 2021.
In Q4, NetOne saw its subscribers fall by 9.6% from Q3 levels. In fact, while they have not been bleeding like Telecel, they too have been losing subscribers. They had 4,470,592 subscribers in December 2021 and that steadily fell to 3,922,734 by December 2022, a 12% drop.
NetOne had an interesting 2022.
- Netone reverses price hikes after public outcry. How much should they charge?
- NetOne botched their system upgrade, some users’ data disappearing, others getting free data
- NetOne’s OneFusion bundles are unavailable
Early in the year, they angered their subscribers when they increased prices to ridiculous levels. They saw nothing wrong in charging US$800 for 80GB for example but were quickly shown the error in their ways when there was an outcry which forced them to revert to reasonable prices.
Then they botched a system upgrade mid-year, leading to customers’ airtime disappearing whilst some got free data. A few months later their flagship OneFusion bundles disappeared for a bit. However, these incidents did not seem to lead to any mass subscriber movement.
Most of the subscriber losses came in the fourth quarter and the only thing that jumps out to my mind as a possible reason is the intensified load shedding. With rolling 12 or 18-hour blackouts, NetOne could not run generators on a number of base stations, like the one in my neighbourhood. This meant poor service when there was no electricity, which was most of the day.
Those NetOne lines did not remain active during that period. It’s interesting to note that Econet saw an increase in subscribers of over 250,000 in that same Q4, despite many of you commenting that NetOne has been better for you in this era of the 18-hour blackouts. So, what really happened? I don’t know.
NetOne will need to stem this. They still command a respectable 27.4% of the total subscriber market share though.
NetOne saw a massive drop in voice traffic market share, hence a drop in voice revenue in Q4 2022. There was a slight increase in data traffic and perhaps revenues too, which could not have offset the drop in voice revenue.
The three mobile operators pulled in ZW$119.5 billion in Q4 2022. An educated guess puts voice revenue at ZW$53.8 billion (45%) and data at ZW$47.8 billion (40%).
- NetOne’s share of voice traffic in Q4 was 14.9%, down from 24% in Q3.
- NetOne’s share of data and internet traffic in Q4 was 25.3%, up from 23.2% in Q3.
That means NetOne pulled in approximately ZW$8 billion in voice revenue and ZW$19.1 billion in data revenues. Those two contributed a combined ZW$27.1bn.
Data and voice revenue account for at least 85% of all revenues and so NetOne’s total revenues for the quarter should be no more than ZW$32 billion or US$34.4 million using the prevailing black market rate in December.
This would suggest that NetOne’s average revenue per user in the quarter was around US$8.77. Or in English, they are pulling in $2.92 from each customer every month, slightly down from the $3.17 they pulled in in 2021. Contrast that with the paltry 50 cents Telecel is pulling in.
We should note that even with that, NetOne still likely posted losses. In 2021 we saw how their profits rose 96% but exchange losses still meant the mobile operator posted losses.
Here is NetOne’s share of base stations:
- 2G – 33.1%
- 3G – 34.8%
- LTE – 44.1%
- 5G – 0%
As it is with Telecel, though not as bad, we find that NetOne’s share of the infrastructure is much higher than its share of traffic.
Econet is only now opening up 5G to the masses so let us ignore 5G for now. However, NetOne might do well to not fall too far behind on this next-generation mobile telephony tech.
NetOne has 44.1% of LTE base stations and 34.8% of 3G ones and yet commands 25.3% of data and internet traffic. This means they have fewer people per base station than Econet.
The situation is worse when it comes to voice. NetOne commands only 14.9% of the voice traffic from all the infrastructure they possess.
This can lead to a better experience for customers and we do get feedback that in many (most?) areas, the internet experience is better on NetOne.
What’s good for the customer is not always good for the business. It costs more to serve one customer for NetOne than it is for Econet.
NetOne is 100% government-owned and that comes with undue influence from politicians. So, while the mobile operator has not had shareholder squabbles like Telecel (majority government-owned), it has had leadership problems.
It is reasonable to wonder just how sound NetOne’s internal controls are because it seems every few months or so you hear about some NetOne employee fleecing the company.
Mid-2022 we got wind of a cashier who ran an airtime voucher scam and defrauded the company of ZW$150 million (hundreds of thousands in USD) and bought luxury vehicles.
Okay, even Econet fell foul of the airtime voucher scam and saw nine employees fleece them of ZW$20 million early last year. It happens to the best of us, apparently.
NetOne still takes the cake though because just yesterday, the 13th of April 2023, we found out that they suspended some top executives for running a bulk airtime scam.
As reported by Business Times, the suspended executives include the chief operating officer, chief commercial officer, regional manager for Harare and regional manager for the Southern region, among many others.
These executives were collecting USD from third-party airtime resellers and then allowing those third parties to pay for that airtime using ZW$. Contravening the National Payment Systems Act. We shall find out in due time just how much these executives made from the scam.
Now, as you might know, internal controls only work up to a point. When employees collude to bypass those controls, they could very well get away with it. If the people who are supposed to safeguard the organisation’s assets from pilferage are themselves thieving, you are in trouble.
So, NetOne now has to fill some of those top executive positions and that could go either way. They could replace the outgoing scammers with hard-working, committed individuals or they could find that the job market is but a desert. Imagine so many top executives going through induction at the same time. It’s not ideal.
What does 2023 have in store?
NetOne had an uphill battle before they even found out that top executives were stealing from the company. The massive drop in subscribers in Q4 needs to be addressed quickly. Why did 400,000 people stop using their NetOne lines in Q4 2023?
I for one have not recharged my NetOne line in over a year because in my neighbourhood when there is no electricity, data services are nowhere to be seen. Could the load-shedding that intensified in Q4 2022 be to blame for that massive subscriber drop? Why didn’t Econet see a similar drop then?
What about the leadership problems? How is NetOne going to recover from the loss of so many top and middle managers at the same time? That is if they are even let go, maybe the suspensions won’t lead to dismissals.
Do let us know what you think about all this in the comments section below.