You’ll be able to use your Zim phone number in foreign countries without breaking the bank soon

Leonard Sengere Avatar

You may have heard the news, the governments of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana will remove mobile roaming charges for their citizens starting in August.

We asked the Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) how true this was and they confirmed that they are working towards that goal but it might not be ironed out by August as is being reported.

So, now that we know it is happening, what is roaming and why should we care?

Roaming

In simple English, roaming is when you use your phone and SIM card in an area not covered by your mobile network operator. For example, going to Zambia with your Econet line and using it as if you were in Zimbabwe.

Econet does not have base stations in Zambia and so you shouldn’t be able to get any service there. There are areas within Zimbabwe where Econet is supposed to have service, but you can sometimes struggle to get it. So how can one get service on their Econet line in Zambia?

What happens is Econet gets into an arrangement with a mobile network operator in Zambia. Under this arrangement, your Econet line connects to that Zambian MNO’s infrastructure. You get to use your line as you normally would but you would be riding on a foreign MNO’s infrastructure.

Of course, Econet would have to pay for this. As would the Zambian MNO should one of their users roam in Zimbabwe.

For some reason, roaming charges are exorbitant. Of course, you would expect roaming charges to be higher than normal charges as there is a foreign MNO to be paid. However, roaming charges are still too high to comprehend.

High roaming costs

A couple of months ago we looked at how much it would cost to roam using a South African MTN line in Zimbabwe. We found out that:

When it comes to voice calls, it is much more expensive to use an MTN line in Zimbabwe. Using Econet as an example, it costs R7.50 (US$0.41) a minute to make a call. If you had an Econet line that same minute would cost ZW$94.41 (US$0.08). So, roaming doesn’t make sense when it comes to voice calls.

The same applies to data. The data rate per MB is R10 (US$0.55) for Econet and NetOne and R0.99 (US$0.05) for Telecel. That translates to a GB costing $563.20 (Econet and NetOne). That is a lot. You’re better off paying US$6.86 for a GB to Econet.

To get around this, most people just buy a SIM card at the airport or any other entry point into the country they are visiting. It’s cheaper that way although inconvenient.

Usually, you have to get a new phone line when you go to another country, even if you’re only there for a few days. This is especially inconvenient for wholesalers who make one-day trips. It’s a waste of time and money to register for a new SIM card if you’re only going to use it for a few hours.

As you use that foreign SIM card, every text you send has to be preceded by “This is Sheila, using this number temporarily…” or something like that. It’s annoying having to do that.

Scrapping of roaming charges

With roaming charges scrapped, you would be able to waltz into any friendly country and use your main SIM card, meaning no need to introduce yourself to your contacts. That’s on top of you paying what you normally pay to use your line in Zimbabwe.

DW interviewed a Malawian business lady who said,

This is good news to any citizen from these countries. As a business lady, I travel a lot to these countries to procure different goods for my stationery and textile retail shops in my home country Malawi.

I have been subjected to interrupted phone conversations with my family members each time I travel because of the high costs that mobile phone companies charge on mere phone and voice calls, including roaming service.

My only request is that it spreads across Africa if communication on the continent is to improve as it affects many business operators.

If all goes to plan, you will be able to do this in Botswana, Zambia and Malawi. It’s a shame that South Africa is not a part of it. We interact with SA more than any other country.

The fact that the arrangement to scrap roaming charges is happening at the government level and not the carrier level suggests roaming costs are partly high because of duties and taxes etc. Seeing as more Zimbabweans visit SA than the other way around, it might explain why SA is not on the table yet.

Impact beyond the individual

The reason these four govts are pursuing this scrapping of roaming charges is to create a single digital market. A single digital market across country borders is seen as “crucial for regional integration and could potentially reduce costs for consumers.”

The four countries in question are small. We have often talked about how Vodacom in South Africa has about 45 million customers. That’s about 3 times the total number of people in Zimbabwe. So, there is no way the likes of Econet and NetOne can compete.

However, if Zimbabwe bands up with those other small countries, we become a bigger force to reckon with. I am looking forward to seeing how this ‘single digital market’ business shakes up. I hope it creates some synergy

Also read:

Unfortunately, you can’t escape Zim’s high data prices by roaming on South African lines

Starlink introduces Global Roaming which means you can technically use it in Zimbabwe now

13 comments

  1. D.K.

    It has not yet made sense to me. My thinking has been that a local MNO has a roaming partner in another country and they cross charge each other for roaming calls. Then there is the local situation where one cannot access the network in an area where his MNO’s base station does not exist, but base stations for other MNOs are in existence. Should they just have national and inter regional roaming so that one can use any MNO’s base station that is nearby? As they say, charity begins at home!

    1. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

      Locals will now have MTN lines and enjoy network anywhere there’s a base station. 🤔

    2. Hokage

      So to be clear , I can buy a line in Zambia and I can buy data with that line , using Zambian prices , without any charge 😳😳😳

      1. Isaac

        Yeah, something like that. Let’s wait for the service to roll first.

    3. Vusi

      I’m sceptical about agreements at gvt level without knowing how involved the MNOs are in the process. It needs to make sense for them otherwise it won’t work. If I’m right that may explain South Africa’s absence, ICASA works closely with MNOs.

  2. Marcella Nota

    Please give it a try. I look forward to the good outcome of it.

  3. Fr. Wilbroad Chitalu Musonda AKA Pontiff

    Great initiate that could help to thin the digital divide between rural and urban areas.

  4. Shower Head

    Random shower thought (well, technically a bucket thought): could telecel have leveraged roaming deals and base station capacity leasing to 3rd parties and competitors to keep the lights on? I suppose they would have done it if they could have done it.

  5. Villa

    Whaooo!!!

    1. Cde

      That system will bring econet services that are known to be always on the expensive side, to order. Also I am sure the telecoms regulators of the individual countries would agree on minimum and Maximum charges per service, since I can use a line from Malawi to access any mobile service from any of the 4 counties.

      I wish this can extend to Mobile money services because then Ecomet will have a huge advantage due to it’s well developed Ecocash mobile money services, but then, mobile money services are not regulated by Telecoms regulators such as Potraz in Zimbabwe but by Financial regulators such as RBZ in Zimbabwe

  6. Villa

    Thats Progress for a change.

  7. Theresa

    Before we think of celebrating, how much difference is this going to make to your bill. I was of the thinking the MNOs were the cause of exorbitant roaming charges and if that’s true there is virtually no difference governments can make to roaming charges

  8. Arthur

    What about Mozambique

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