Zimbabwe: Low Smartphone Penetration Frustrates Econet's Digital Drive

3 November 2020

A relatively low smartphone penetration in Zimbabwe is slowing down the adoption of digital services in the market, the country's leading telecommunications company, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe Limited (Econet) has said.

The country's smartphone penetration stands at 52 percent compared to regional peers like Nigeria (80 percent), Kenya (80 percent) and South Africa (90 percent).

Presenting the Group's financial highlights, Econet Group chairman, James Myers said despite the country having a relatively low smartphone ownership, the predominantly low quality of smartphones still restricted huge data handling capacity.

"Smart phone penetration is at low 52%, compared to about 90% for South Africa, and remains a limitation for the adoption of digital services. Kenya's penetration rate of mobile Internet users is at about 80%. Zimbabwe's internet penetration rate remains low as approximately 22% of the devices on our network trying to access data services are "feature" phones with low data handling capacity," said Myers.

He said the company is working closely with the Government to review the duty regime for mobile devices to enhance the rapid adoption of digital services across the economy.

According to the latest Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe ("POTRAZ") report, for the second quarter of 2020, "... active internet and data subscriptions declined by 2.4% to reach 56.7% from 59.1% recorded in the previous quarter."

According to the GSMA- an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, governments and policymakers should implement policies to enhance access to connectivity and drive investment in more resilient digital infrastructure for the future.

This is crucial to reactivating the region's economy.

"We are optimistic that the Government, which also acknowledges the benefits of a digitised economy, will ensure that Zimbabweans are not left behind," said the Econet.

Econet and its tech-subsidiary, Cassava Smartech offer a wide variety of digital services in the local market ranging from education, health, farming and ride-hailing services among others which all need smartphone gadgets and affordable data.

But data affordability poses another albatross for consumers in the local market.

The economic environment has seen incomes eroded while price of services like data continue to go up as telecoms companies push for viability.

Currently, the Group is increasing its 4G/LTE infrastructure to cope with the digitalization in the economy.

The 4G network will ensure fast downloads of up to 10 times quicker than the 3G network but this demands latest smartphones from the consumers.

Most smartphone in the country are imported but despite having a few local assemblers like Gtel, the price remains far beyond the reach of many.

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