ALMOST 10 million Zimbabweans are expected to own and use mobile phones by December, up from 8,5 million recorded last year, as the country's technological revolution forges ahead.
Finance minister, Tendai Biti, said mobile voice penetration was expected to grow to 79% by year-end. In his mid-term fiscal policy review, Biti noted that despite the investments being made by government and the private sector in the country's Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure, Zimbabwe still faced challenges in data and voice areas, evidenced by congestion and slow connectivity.
"The internet penetration rate though still below international levels of 26,6% but above the regional average of 11%, continues to steadily improve and is estimated to reach 19% by end of 2012 from 13% in 2011," he said.
Although the Harare-Mutare and Harare-Bulawayo fibre-optic transmission backbone, linking the country to the undersea cable in the Indian Ocean is now complete, internet access for the low-end populace remains relatively constrained as prohibitive prices and high unemployment serve as major access barriers.
The lack of infrastructure sharing among service providers is also serving as a major challenge, as high costs are passed on to consumers. The country's transmission backbone, which is still under construction, is an important component of telecommunications network that interlinks a widespread network of voice exchanges and data nodes for the purpose of efficiently routing such traffic.
TelOne is presently extending infrastructure to cover Bulawayo-Beitbridge and Bulawayo-Victoria Falls. Other players who have been laying cable for local and inter-city connectivity include Telco Internet, Broadlands, Econet, Aquiva Wireless, Africom, Telecel, NetOne, and Broadacom, among others.
Fibre-optic technology involves the use of thin glass strands to enable communication by use of light travelling inside the tiny glass tube at higher bandwidths or data rates than other forms of communication.
This has made it possible to connect landlocked Zimbabwe to Asia, Europe and the Americas via Beira and Cape Town interconnections, using undersea cables.
This technology has also enabled various telecommunication companies to interconnect their base stations to their switches, thereby offering genuine 3G (third generation) technology.
Comm IT systems manager, Robert Ndlovu, said the use of internet to carry voice, technically referred to as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony, was forcing traditional telecommunications companies all over the world to remodel and reshape their business strategies.
"While this kind of technology will not eliminate mobile wireless revenues, it is a fact that it is already eating into them," said Ndlovu.
A recent southern African research study conducted by Frost and Sullivan, notes that major network operators, internet service providers and internet access providers, were now entering strategic collaborations in order to undertake and invest in terrestrial network expansion and connect to the undersea cable network.
The study, which covers South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia, noted that the region was expected to show strong growth in the next three to five years, through increasing network coverage and offering innovative data services.
However, the firm said the growth of the broadband market was likely to be inhibited by regulatory inefficiencies while low disposable incomes would restrain demand for data services.