Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Digital Inclusion

Low smartphone penetration limits Zim's digital adoption – Econet

Article Image
Econet Wireless says that smartphone penetration in Zimbabwe is still at a low 52%, compared to about 90% for South Africa and 80% for Kenya, and the lack of smartphones in the market "remains a limitation for the adoption of digital services" in the southern African nation.

This according to the Harare-headquartered company's 2020 annual report.

"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 board chairman James Myers in the report.

"The increasing digitalisation of the economy necessitates an increase in 4G/LTE infrastructure. Increased access to data services is necessary to support, among other critical imperatives, online education, health and business digitalisation initiatives.

"We are working closely with the Government to review the duty regime for mobile devices to enhance the rapid adoption of digital services across the economy," he added.

Myers also quoted the latest Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) report, for the second quarter of 2020, showing that active Internet and data subscriptions declined by 2.4% to reach 56.7%.

The top three device manufacturers in the country were Samsung, Huawei and Apple, with Samsung having by far the biggest market share at 52.1% of the total devices.

Source: Econet 2020 annual report
Source: Econet 2020 annual report

The company said that Matabeleland, Harare South and Mashonaland Central and West had the highest number of customers with smartphones in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, 53% of smartphone users were aged 18 to 40, and 45% were 41 to 75 years old.

Source: Econet 2020 annual report
Source: Econet 2020 annual report

The annual report covers operations of Econet Wireless for the financial year ended February 29, 2020, but it was only published by the company on February 12, 2021.

Total revenue grew by 31% for the year, in inflation-adjusted terms, to ZWL$6.77 billion (US$18.7 million) driven by a 12% increase in voice minutes as well as a 5% growth in data traffic.

The company remains the biggest operator in Zimbabwe with its customer base increasing by 13% to 12.9 million and a market share of 69%, according to the regulator. It has about 8 million data active customers and during the year the volume of voice minutes was about 4.1 billion while 22.6 billion megabytes of data was used.

The company said that it services around 60% of all the mobile customers in the country and it provides 70% of all the mobile data capacity that is used in the country.

4G aspirations

"To date, we have a 3G population coverage of about 70% for data services across the country, and, inclusive of our 4G coverage, we now have 90% of the population covered by data-capable base stations, although based on the internet penetration rate, only 59% of the population have access to internet services," Myers said.

He said that 4G/LTE provides upload and download speeds that are up to ten times faster than 3G.

"As we increase our 4G coverage, complemented by the increase in data capable devices, we are able to provide faster upload and download speeds so that our customers can enjoy high speed applications.

"Our efforts have been hampered, in the last financial year, by the lack of foreign currency to increase our capacity and coverage to desired levels," he added.

Overall, Econet's 2G coverage in Zimbabwe reaches about 93.4% of the population, with almost 75% rural coverage. 3G's coverage has now reached almost 84% but 4G remains low, with just under 35% of the population covered by 4G services.

Source: Econet 2020 annual report
Source: Econet 2020 annual report

Power problems

Myers said that during the year the service quality and network availability "were significantly impacted" by power disruptions in Zimbabwe.

"Our network, during the peak of load shedding required over 3 million litres of diesel to operate optimally. This is a cost inefficient way to power the network as 1 kW of diesel power is 3-times more expensive than 1 kW of solar power, limiting the number of base stations that could be operated in this manner," he explained.

"These service disruptions also affected mobile money services across the country as the disruptions are common to all networks. Our operational costs increased as we had to constantly service the generators and also run an extensive fleet of fuel refilling tankers to ensure that network availability remained at an acceptable standard."

He said the company's strategy to implement a clean energy network driven by solar power is critical, as it recognizes the power deficit that the country may continue to experience into the foreseeable future.

Related posts:

*Top image source: Econet.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Hot startup of the month: South Africa's Zoie Health

This month's hot startup is South African digital women's health clinic Zoie Health – a digital app that focuses on family planning, fertility and maternity care.


Orange Côte d'Ivoire launches 5G lab in Abidjan

Pan-African telecoms operator, Orange, has launched a 5G lab in Côte d'Ivoire in anticipation of its 5G network rollout in 2023.

More Innovation hub

Partner perspectives

5G is lighting up the future of North Africa
By Chris Meng, VP of Huawei Northern Africa Carrier Business Department

The moving target that is telecoms fraud
By Clémentine Fournier, Regional VP Sales, Africa, BICS

How mobile operators in Africa can address signalling threats and secure the network
By Katia Gonzalez, Head of Fraud and Security at BICS

All Partner Perspectives

Africa Tech Perspectives


Women in Tech: Spotlight on inclusivity with Digital Council Africa's Juanita Clark

Digital Council Africa founder and CEO, Juanita Clark, talks to Connecting Africa as part of our Women's Month series about her career and what needs to be done to make the tech industry intentionally inclusive.


Women in Tech: Spotlight on legal tech with Life.file's Sinal Govender

Life.file co-founder, Sinal Govender, talks to Connecting Africa as part of our Women's Month series about her career and how we can encourage more young girls to enter the legal tech field.


Digital inclusion as a catalyst for economic empowerment: Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu

Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu talks to Connecting Africa about how digital payment solutions and mobile money are transforming the lives of small business owners, women and marginalized groups in East Africa.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Latest video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: July 2022

By Omdia Analysts

Kenya and Zambia move towards 5G with new spectrum allocations while Tunisie Telecom plans to shut down its 3G network - that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: June 2022

By Omdia Analysts

5G was the major news trend across Africa in June, as Orange became the first operator to launch 5G in Réunion and operators in Senegal accelerated their 5G plans despite spectrum delays.

More Guest Perspectives

Upcoming events

Africa Tech Festival
November 7-11, 2022
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Archived webinars

Africa Green ICT: Lighting Up a Sustainable Continent

The ICT industry is the leading industry in the commitment to carbon neutrality, whose focus has shifted from setting ambitious targets to taking initiatives. The push for zero-carbon and for green energy development, it isn't just about CSR – it's also good for sustainable business.

The path to sustainable development requires green energy. Governments are looking at potential policy approaches to make green energy more widely available and affordable. Without sustainable energy, there will be no digital transformation and no chance of making Africa more economically competitive in the post-pandemic era.

Africa Green ICT Webinar 2022 will bring together ICT industry leaders and senior industrial analysts to provide insight, best practices and key learnings on how to achieve zero-carbon targets and practice green development in Africa.

More Webinars

Sponsored video

More videos

Flash poll

All polls

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up