5G has been underwhelming and globally, telcos have to reinvent to combat stagnating revenues

Leonard Sengere Avatar
China 5G base stations 1 million 2020 Uncapped LTE

I was reading around and came across an interesting report by TM Forum titled – Telco revenue growth: time for operators to place new bets. It is quite an interesting read and we shall talk about some of the nuggets nestled within.

If the title is unclear to you, it’s about what the future holds for telcos like Econet, NetOne and Telecel. How has revenue grown globally (spoiler: stunted) and what are telcos trying to do to rectify that?

In Zimbabwe, where the operating environment is challenging, we know that in for a while now, especially in the last five or so years, operating cost growth has been outpacing revenue growth. Here are a couple of recent headlines:

As it happens, this is not a uniquely Zimbabwean problem. Telcos across the world have been struggling to grow their revenue.

We do know that telcos are reaching saturation when it comes to internet access provision. Sadly, this is also the case in Africa where a significant number of people still aren’t connected. That is because most of those people cannot afford either the devices or the subscriptions.

Underwhelming 5G

The report talks about how 5G was supposed to bring about new use-cases and drive a new demand surge and revenues to boot. However, 5G has been underwhelming so far. The report says telcos and their partners:

had been pinning their hopes on 5G to deliver growth both in connectivity revenues and new services and value propositions. But it has so far failed to deliver, with the exception of 5G fixed wireless access services…

…its failure to make an impact so far has taken the wind out of the sails of the telecoms industry. CSPs have become circumspect about being too bullish about the potential of new services and market segments.

In other words, telcos are toning down their wild hopes that 5G will fundamentally change how we use the internet.

This makes sense to me, most of the cited benefits of 5G technology do not present any meaningful improvement to the day-to-day uses of ordinary people who already have access to fast LTE.

In Zimbabwe, we have Econet still testing out their 5G network and I think if they had seen a fundamental change in internet use and a surge in demand in the areas they have deployed so far, the rollout of 5G would have been fast-tracked by now.

The need for telcos to reinvent

As I mentioned above, this is a global problem.

Diminishing revenues, a growing consumer demand for digital services, and shifting customer expectations and growing investment requirements have meant that traditional telcos can no longer afford to be merely connectivity providers and the dawn of a new era for telcos has been forced to emerge.

Tell me that doesn’t sound like what we talk about in Zimbabwe. The growing investment requirement problem is serious, especially when tech like 5G doesn’t immediately lead to growth in demand and revenues.

This discussion is being had, even at the Mobile World Congress 2024 (MWS24). The advise these experts give is that telcos need to reinvent themselves to survive. They need to diversify and explore new and novel avenues.

I think Zimbabwean telcos have been doing this for years to some extent. They all now dabble in fintech, Econet is currently failing at ride-hailing but is still huffing and puffing in insurance, still has some agritech ambitions but would rather forget about Pay-TV (RIP Kwese) and various other stuff with varying degrees of success.

That’s more of what telcos need to do to survive because they “cannot afford to be merely connectivity providers.” Which makes one wonder if that’s why Econet decided to reabsorb the fintech company they had spun off into a separate entity.

The discussion at MWS24 is on how the sector has undoubtedly played a crucial role in enabling global connectivity, but now faces stagnant growth and fierce competition from players in other tech spheres.

To thrive, telcos must evolve into comprehensive technology solution providers, offering customers curated applications and services that cater to their specific needs.

Identifying those needs is apparently a challenge in Zimbabwe where most solutions, if we’re being honest, are just copy-pasted from other markets.

Globally, platform development, cybersecurity solutions, and data privacy management – are areas where customer demand is rapidly growing. The likes of Liquid Intelligent Technologies have been on a cybersecurity mission for the past few years and are obviously motivated by this trend.

Why telcos are struggling right now

The following quote clearly captures what we all witnessed,

During the recent period in which the telco industry flourished, it missed the chance to capitalize on its position and become more relevant through additional customer commitment and entirely dominate the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) ecosystem.

This failure was not on account of effort – on the contrary, the industry became well-versed in ‘bundle deals’ to attract and retain the consumer.

However, spiraling capex costs, … regulations and Over-The-Top services [like WhatsApp] combined to strain telecom revenue and a steep decline in the willingness to pay for services caused margins to come under greater pressure, ultimately leading many telcos to realise the solution lies beyond a siloed infrastructure focus but in the digital transition, ensuring connectivity is the bedrock of change and not the primary focus.

Hanzi ensuring connectivity allows for change but is not the primary focus. Profound. Easier said than done, but profound nonetheless.


Telcos (telecommunications companies) are now moving towards becoming techcos (technology companies) as they ensure connectivity is not their primary focus.

There are 3 main categories that telcos are falling into as they transition, as per the MWS,

  • Service Techcos focus on developing and delivering solutions (either horizontal or vertical) to end customers using the resources available from the network. Service Techcos are known for their agility in adopting emerging technologies, engaging both B2C and B2B customers in co-creation and leading the charge in delivering cutting-edge technology services.
  • Network Techcos focus on implementing and delivering cloud-based networks and API commercialisation platforms that enable developers to embed Network-as-a-Service into their digital solutions. Network Techcos prioritise scalability, efficiency and process automation to stay at the forefront of technological innovation, enhance service delivery, and maintain a competitive edge in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.
  • Dominant Techcos combine both service techco and network techco capabilities to set industry trends and innovate around cutting-edge solutions that help them solidify their market-leading position.

We shall see how our Zimbabwean telcos transition. It is going to be a fun but wild ride, I bet. Econet has already said it is transitioning from a Communications Services Provider to a Digital Services Provider. Or maybe the transition is already complete.

Their focus will be on “Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics and machine learning, among other areas of digital transformation”.

We shall see the tangible fruits of all this. Even as we wait to see how NetOne and Telecel will reinvent themselves.

Also read:


What’s your take?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Always Off Topic

    Econet push into big data, is worrying, that could mean they want to monetize our personal info. What are they doing with our data?Are there any laws that protect consumers? Who enforces these laws?

    1. Black Face

      Potrez is supposed to be protecting consumer and Tarrifs and Competion Commission are supposed to protect consumers but like all body’s,they are sleeping on the job.
      Nothing seems to be working in this country.

    2. Mizzle

      Who is going to pay for Econets data on you? Local companies are paying for ads in Facebook, Insta and Google who use your personal data to curate ads.

      I doubt Econet has more data that’s worthwhile. Besides how much airtime you buy per month, the Americans know who you are.

      1. Fo Shizzle

        Its like how China was ‘giving away’ facial recognition tech to governments all over Africa, only to turn around and use the data to improve their home based algorithms to police and surveil Africans with the same effectiveness they do Han and tribal minority Chinese. There is gold in that data for someone, whether its added granularity for the social network and marketing profiling or simple tracking of human or vehicular traffic patterns

  2. MAN

    Consumers are being hut hard the cost of living as everything has gone up.
    We are making choices everyday as individuals , whether to buy a loaf of bread or to recharge a phone and charging a phone is considered a second choice on the preference scale.
    The environment favoured those in business than individual consumers.

  3. Him

    Zim telcos have some predatory tendencies, I don’t know if it’s just me but buying 1 gig in Zim does not feel like u get one gig. If they were reliable network wise and actually gave customers value for their money,Zim telcos would face significant revenue growth. We also do want to stream things like Netflix and play games online but with the nightmare network we get who would spend more money on data they would struggle to use and end up failing to use. You buy an hourly bundle there is a high chance it will expire before you get to 100mb. Their credit facilities for mobile devices are insane

    1. Bajie

      True that my brother

    2. Bajie

      True that my brother very true

  4. Nitpik

    Their sevice is not the best to be honest if there was more competition these guys would be struggling. But they’ve built a mout and have regulators nude photos. In all honesty the environment encourages predatory behavior. It’s just easier to grab all the money you can and exploit the consumer. Until the situation is more conducive for planning and longer term investments we will continue to suffer and be hammered by substandard services and the most expensive internet in the region.

  5. Ramesh

    Instant rice mixes from the pickle jar perfectly in creating quick, flavourful meals that satisfy the palate. The convenience of instant rice mixes meets the bold and tangy essence of pickles, resulting in a harmonious blend of textures and tastes.
    Instant rice mixes offer a time-saving solution for those on the go, requiring minimal preparation and cooking time. The variety of Flavors available, from Savory to spiced options, caters to diverse culinary preferences. These mixes often incorporate dehydrated vegetables, herbs, and spices, providing a rich and complex flavour profile.
    URL : https://thepicklejar.online/instant-rice-mixes/

    1. Black Face

      Mr pickled mixed ricewe ain’t hungry yet

  6. Techaos

    Strong, performant 4G networks coupled with affordable data would do a better job of evolving how Zimbos use and purchase these services. Zim is behind on ‘cable cutting’. Zim cant sustain digital nomads to a degree that would significantly shift employment stats for thousands of internet literate graduates every year. Zim has failed in making big strides into e-commerce. Zim cant let a connected car drive itself around the country. Zim is lagging in basic telemedicine rollout and policy development.

    A Techcos Era would be cool, but fast, affordable 4G everywhere would make that easier and 5G would be a cherry on top. The foundation still needs to be there.

  7. HE.

    Verizon does streaming on their network. There a way to increase revenue, they can sell the content 5 ways or more. If it’s inhouse even better, your own servers no breakout to the public internet…..X

2023 © Techzim All rights reserved. Hosted By Cloud Unboxed