GOVERNMENT officials rebuked each other during an information communication technology (ICT) summit in Nyanga last week, with one ministry demanding explanation over delays in infrastructure sharing by telecoms firms, while another said it was “insane” not to understand the importance of the strategy.
BY KUDZAI KUWAZA
Infrastructure sharing was among key topics that came under discussion during the summit organised by the Computer Society of Zimbabwe (CSZ).
The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education pressed their counterparts in the ICT ministry to explain the delays.
“When this issue was first discussed, I did not get a single grey hair,” said Gilford Hapanyengwi, ICT director at the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education while making a presentation.
But principal director in the ICT ministry, Beaula Chirume said the government was seized with the issue.
She said there was a directive requiring new base stations to have shared capabilities.
Twined with this, said Chirume, the Telecommunications Regulation Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) had started erecting shared base stations across the country.
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“We are working on the issue,” Chirume said.
“We are seized with it as a ministry. Are we so insane not to appreciate the wastage of resources? It (infrastructure sharing) is already a policy directive. Potraz will be redeploying those base stations. We are saying that whoever is going to deploy their base stations must have shared capabilities, fullstop,” she said.
Resource sharing in the telecoms sector has been one of the hottest debated issues in Zimbabwe since the industry started expanding at a terrific pace after dollarisation in 2009.
The country’s three mobile telecoms outfits, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Econet Wireless and the State-run NetOne and Telecel were rolling out similar infrastructure along the same routes and to the same destinations.
Government then brought them to the table and encouraged them to explore the possibility of sharing resources.
Resource sharing carries with it a string of positive spin-offs. It limits environmental damage through trenching and frees up resources for the companies to expand at a high scale as funding can then be deployed to different markets at the same time.
Generally, telecoms firms seem to agree that infrastructure sharing will bolster their expansion capacities but there has been anxiety on the market that the players are not walking the talk.
Meanwhile, delegates at the summit explained how telecoms firms had benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic during a period most economic sectors were bleeding due to reduced business after government rolled out blanket lockdowns to avert a catastrophe.
Experts said this huge switch from physical interactions in addition to the strategy where people can work from home, had triggered a spike in demand for telecoms services.
A member of the South Africa Commission for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which advises President Cyril Ramaphosa, Nomsa Kana, said telecoms firms had emerged as the biggest winners.
“The biggest winners of the last eight months are the telecoms industry in South Africa,” she said.
“It had the most amazing revenues,” said Kana.
She said all sectors had been forced to digitise as a result of the pandemic, which had resulted in most people having to work from home.
She said telecoms data services had become “the new oil” across economies as people and corporates sought to connect virtually and drive their businesses.
Kana said the commission recommended that the South African government should establish an artificial intelligence institute.
Chirume told delegates that the country’s ICT sector had also benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ICT here in Zimbabwe has also experienced a windfall. The need for data has been on an exponential increase,” Chirume said.
CSZ Harare chapter chairman, William Nyakudya said the ICT sector should be prepared for an increase in demand for data as a second wave of COVID-19 could possibly precipitate another lockdown.
He confirmed that the pandemic had unlocked opportunities for the ICT sector.