12 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Three Cheers to Econet, Telecel

I WISH to commend Telecel and Econet for slashing data charges recently although this is limited to internet services only.

It is important to note that the two mobile service providers heeded the persistent calls by their subscribers to reduce charges on voice and data services.

Econet and Telecel are also offering their data modems for US$45 while heavily slashing their data services to an all- time low of US0,25 cents per megabyte and US0,45 cents per mb respectively leaving the users spoilt for choice.

Econet Zimbabwe has been charging US$50 for their internet dongles plus only 25mb free of data per month at US$5,50 per 55mb bundle.

Both Econet and Telecel are now offering much cheaper services when the airtime is converted which is in sync with the regional pricing.

These charges, however, are not the same should you browse directly without converting your airtime to bundles.

According to a Telecel customer service officer, they are currently charging 10 cents per megabyte if one has only bought US$1 worth of airtime, while US$5 worth of airtime will offer a reduced fee of 5 cents per mb representing a 50 percent discount on higher denominational purchases.

Their 1,2 gigabyte is now pegged at US$42,50 translating to an all-time low of US 3 cents per mb across mobile phones and other portable devices.

Econet, though flighting adverts on the reductions, are yet to announce when these charges will take effect as the old charges are still applying.

According to their Econet bundle converting tool, it still costs 55 cents for 5mb and their 55mb is going for US$5,50, while their 1,2 gigabyte is pegged at a whopping US$90 which is exactly twice as much as Telecel is charging.

Ironically, both their websites are mum on such developments with Econet's broadband website still flashing the old prices on their home page although the new adverts managed to carry their website.

In this technological age we would expect their online portal to be updated but on the ground, websites are still static, selling very stale information which was posted

probably the day the website was initially configured.

A public relations executive with Telecel, Mr F. Chimanda. said Telecel is committed to meeting the people's demands and they are working flat out to offer the best

service to their clients.

On the same page, the Econet's corporate communications manager, Mr Ranga Mberi, said: "Econet has indeed reduced the charges on our home and work packages, our fixed broadband offer- ings.

"This is part of our continued efforts to ensure our customers continue to have the best value possible from our services."

Coming from a highly inflationary background and outrageous billing system, most companies are still reluctant or either dragging their feet to implement sober rates especially in our telecoms sector and as for voice calls, the battle is still far from over.

Regional charges from South Africa, Rwanda and the current African technology giant Kenya while low yet are still being revised downwards due to the introduction of cheap terrestrial fibre cable.

Some schools of thought have suggested that our prices will only be slashed after companies have paid off the fibre cable installation and trenching costs but I strongly disagree.

I have even heard of arguments about having many ISPs trenching their own fibre cable affecting the cost price but all this analysis and justification does not hold water.

Trenching your fibre is an investment not an expense, this will surely benefit every ISP installation in future.

In developed countries fibre connectivity is now very cheap because anyone can pull the closest fibre points already installed to their offices or homes hence it becomes much cheaper.

The idea of having a few Zimbabwean firms or one controlling the national fibre could be a technologically treasonous move.

Why should we risk chances of a national data blackout should there be any technical fault, fibre cable damage or even sabotage?

Redundancy is the heart of all data communication networks and we cannot afford to take such risks.

Although the prices for modems are slowly coming down, some users are complaining that Econet has locked its modems such that they only work on their network or with their sim cards forcing users to buy another modem when they want to use a different line.

This is different from the Telecel modems that allow interoperability across the platform.

Other international 3G, HSPDA and Edge modems do not lock lines to any network hence a user can simply switch his/her line to any network of choice.

Although most of the dongles can offer super speeds, our local providers are not yet supporting them.

Please note CDMA dongles do not support the voice and data network services.

NetOne, the other mobile operator in Zimbabwe, seems not to be shaking, a customer service officer with their branch network confirmed that they were charging 7 cents per mb, making them the most expensive data service provider.

Polls from Technomag reflected that NetOne speeds are still favourable in spite of the rate issue.

Speaking of speeds, all these players are transparent with their charges but issues of speed and uptime connectivity have been skirted by our local Internet Service Providers with some selling shared bandwidths and offering speeds they fully know they will never deliver.

Guests and technology analysts on Technomag's poll including Macdonald Chipunza, Tawanda Maphosa, Masimba Blessing, Joshua Mutara, Norman Gezha, Batsirai

Musumhi and Ignatius Chikuvadze predicted that when Econet pioneered the price reduction, the other players will follow its lead since it commands a larger subscriber base.

The writer is a computing specialist.

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