THE government’s telecommunications regulatory authority, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), has urged telecoms operators to share infrastructure and connect to the digital world about two million citizens who reside in areas where network coverage is either poor or non-existent.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
A number of remote areas suffer poor network connectivity, with villagers in some areas being forced to seek higher altitude for purposes of achieving connectivity. Resultantly, affected villagers have, by default, turned to telecommunication networks of other countries for desired services.
Potraz director-general Gift Machengete said only through infrastructure sharing can all communities be connected to the digital world while also saying doing so was a viable business model for local mobile network operators.
“This facility, in my view, is clear demonstration that when it comes to providing service to the remaining two million people in territorial Zimbabwe, a large majority of whom leave in remote, rural and low population and low income areas: Infrastructure sharing is the way to go,” Machengete said during the commissioning on a shared communications tower in Maitengwe, Plumtree, Matabeleland South on Monday.
Maitengwe villagers relied on Botswana mobile telecommunication networks owing to lack of a local telecommunications tower.
Potraz sunk nearly $400 000 from the Universal Services Fund (USF) to construct the shared communications tower at Maitengwe. Telecoms operators on their part were responsible for active site elements, chief among which was the supply, installation and commissioning of base station equipment.
The USF is a pool of funds contributed by all Potraz licensed operators — mobile operators, Internet Access Providers and the fixed line operator — whose purpose includes funding the development of telecoms infrastructure in the country.
Operators are required to contribute 2% of their annual gross turnover to the fund that was launched in 2009.
“Under such tough deployment and operating conditions, infrastructure sharing is the time-proven win-win solution. Operators win through Capex and Opex sharing efficiencies, consumers through greater choice and affordable access, while as regulators achieve the all-important goals of universality of service and inclusive growth,” Machengete added.
In 2016 the government gazetted regulations which made it compulsory for mobile telecommunication operators to share infrastructure, a move which cut costs by as much as 60%, but which analysts said would only benefited poorly resourced networks.
The uptake of infrastructure sharing by telecommunication firms faced stiff resistance at inception.
In separate interviews, Maitengwe villagers called on government to go a step further and provide local radio and television transmission services. The villagers only have access to Botswana TV and radio stations.
“These are some of the things that make the majority of people here feel they are not part of Zimbabwe, because surely it does not make sense that three decades after independence we still have no access to local radio and TV,” village head Norman Tshuma said.