The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Fibre Optic: 2012 Newsmaker

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The year 2012 had lots of significant technological advancements and ground-breaking news. The most significant developments on the ground were fibre implementation and its national impact.

These are the achievements which we celebrate as we are rapidly bridging the technological divide.

The newsmaker for the year was the fibre optic projects spearheaded by both the Government and the private sector which saw the most critical fibre connections completing and one major one from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls being initiated, currently well geared for completion.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti stated that since 2009 the interventions listed below have been the core focus for the Government in relation to ICT. These are fibre optic backbone infrastructure, mobile tele-density, broadcasting transmission infrastructure, ICT for education and e-government applications.

Presenting the Budget, Minister Biti said US$26 million had been spent on the fibre-optic cable system in the country. Among the chief targets was to expedite the completion of the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls fibre-optic link ahead of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly to be held in the resort town from August 24-29 this year.

Government completed the installation of a fibre optic cable project linking the country to Mozambique at a cost of US$6,3 million to ensure fast and reliable Internet connectivity.

In March 2012 the Harare-Bulawayo link was still in progress with Engineer Sam Kundishora quoted as saying: "Progress is there but it is slow because our Government has other priorities besides this project so the funds are limited."

The fibre project had been stalled for long just half across the country in Gweru yet the trenches were already reaching Bulawayo. This was then complemented by TelOne's fibre optic links rollout which completed the Harare-Bulawayo route in May 2012 under Phase 2.

Earlier on, an ICT delegation from Zimbabwe was in Ghana for the fibre-optic connectivity talks. Following the meeting, Zimbabwe's TelOne and Telecom Namibia were named to directly interconnect Zimbabwe and Namibia. The move will link between Victoria Falls and Katima Mulilo.

ICT Minister Nelson Chamisa also added that another cable linking Beitbridge to an undersea optic cable in South Africa is expected to be completed at a cost of US$15 million.

A ground-breaking achievement was also made by Liquid Telecom, a subsidiary of Econet Wireless, tasked with the responsibility of fibre connectivity across our small cities and towns to our neighbouring Southern African countries.

To date Liquid Telecom has laid cables in excess of 4 500km in Zimbabwe and excess of 8 500km of fibre optic cable regionally connecting Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho and South Africa connecting via the SEACOM, SAT 3 and the West African Cable System. Approximately US$170 million has been set aside to support this project.

In Zambia it is reported the largest fibre project was implemented by a company called CEC Liquid Telecom, in which Liquid Telecom and Copperbelt Energy Corporation have 50 percent interest each.

PowerTel also extended its fibre into Botswana to interconnect with BTC of Botswana with another link from Harare to Mutare and into Mozambique through to the undersea fibre linking Zimbabwe to the rest of the world and it boasts Zimbabwe to the Global Internet Village through optic fibre to the submarine cable systems straight into Global Internet Exchange.

With all these cables and trenching going on, the Zimbabwe Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority adopted new laws targeting mobile operators in the country. Econet, NetOne and Telecel will have to share the telecommunications infrastructure and technology before renewing their licences.

Of course, there are great pros and cons to such moves yet all the same it had to be done. Zimbabwe also stands to benefit through South Africa from France Telecom, which reveals the new US$700 million fibre optic undersea cable, a 17 000km long fibre optic submarine cable system stretching from France to South Africa and planned to connect more than 20 countries.

In June last year, President Mugabe launched the country's Second Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, 10 years after the first one was unveiled, which aims to make technology integral to Zimbabwe's development.

The ministry quickly set its mission as that of promoting national scientific and technological self-reliance. To achieve this long-term objective, the ministry crafted a number of policies; among them the Biotechnology Policy of 2005. This also set the tone to the ICT ministry which kick-started consultations of its ICT policy in June starting with Marondera spreading to all other provinces. By November the information was then finally corroborated and validated at an event held in Harare.

ICT Minister Nelson Chamisa, who attended the meeting, said the policy drafted in 2005 was now outdated given the technological developments that have taken place since then.

He said the new ICT policy was crucial, as it would buttress the country's achievements in ICTs. The document was then presented to NECF before finally going to Cabinet for approval as the new ICT policy.

In other national developments succeeding the fibre optic rolling, Telecel and Econet took leads in slashing data charges with NetOne catching up too leading to all other Internet Service Providers pitting into serious promotions for both their hardware and Internet charges. This has made data services affordable although a lot can still be done and expected after infrastructure and hardware installations.

Voice charges are still high but may plunge soon with the inception of VoIP. After such tremendous achievements, in October the International Telecommunications Union ranked Zimbabwe the second most dynamic ICT country in the world. This was measured by standards called ICT Development Index, of which the ITU uses to determine the ICT readiness, the level of use of ICTs, and the impact of the efficient use of ICTs in a country.

Zimbabwe recorded an IDI percentage change of 19 percent from last year with an IDI rank at 115, which ranked it second to Ghana slightly leading with a (23 percent) growth rate ranking at 117.

Among the top 10, the only other African country to appear in the list was Kenya with an IDI change of 12 percent.

According to the ITU 2011 report Zimbabwe has been ranked among the 10 fastest growing nations in ICT markets and is ranked 118 shifting from the initial 124 the same year out of 155 countries globally with over 80 percent voice penetration and 65 percent made up of mobile penetration ranking the country among the highest in Africa after countries like South Africa and Botswana.

The writer is the founding editor of TechnoMag, a Technology Magazine. More on our new website http://technomag.co.zw or join us on Facebook page http://facebook.com/technomagzw; LIKE our page for FREE airtime giveaways; Twitter @technomagzw. Email: ictarticles[at]aim.com ictarticles[at]tech.co.zw

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