Zimbabwe’s Mobile Boom: How the Country Achieved a 97% Penetration Rate

How NetOne and digital transformation initiatives boosted the country’s mobile market

by Motoni Olodun

Zimbabwe has seen remarkable growth in its mobile phone market, reaching a penetration rate of 97.5% in the third quarter of 2023, according to the latest report by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).

The report, which covers the period from July to September 2023, shows that the number of active mobile subscriptions increased by six percent to 14.8 million, up from 14 million in the previous quarter.

This means that almost every Zimbabwean now owns a mobile phone, making the country one of the most connected in Africa. The continent’s average mobile penetration rate was 84% in 2023, according to the GSMA, the global association of mobile operators.

The main driver of Zimbabwe’s mobile boom was the expansion of NetOne, the state-owned mobile operator, which saw its subscriber base grow by 17.4% to 4.2 million, gaining a 2.6% market share.

NetOne’s growth was attributed to its aggressive marketing campaigns, affordable tariffs, and improved network coverage, especially in rural areas where it has a competitive edge over its rivals.

NetOne’s chief executive officer, Lazarus Muchenje, said the company was committed to providing quality and affordable services to its customers, as well as investing in new technologies such as 5G and mobile money.

“We are delighted with the results of the third quarter, which reflect our efforts to deliver value to our customers and shareholders. We are also excited about the future, as we continue to innovate and expand our offerings to meet the evolving needs of the market,” he said.

NetOne’s performance contrasted with that of Econet, the market leader, which only recorded a marginal growth of 2.2% in its subscriptions, reaching 10.3 million. Econet’s market share declined by 2.6% to 69.8%, as it faced stiff competition from NetOne and Telecel, the third mobile operator.

Telecel, which is partly owned by the government, also saw its subscriptions decrease by 1.4% to 303,364, losing a 0.2% market share. Telecel has been struggling with financial and operational challenges, as well as regulatory issues, which have affected its service delivery and customer retention.

Despite the decline in its market share, Econet remained dominant in the mobile internet and data segment, with a 78.3% share, followed by NetOne with 21.3% and Telecel with 0.4%.

The report also shows that the total mobile voice traffic increased by 30% to 3.29 billion minutes, while the mobile internet and data traffic increased by 6.2% to 44.67 petabytes.

The growth in mobile voice and data usage was partly driven by the eroded voice tariff, which fluctuated around US$0.01 for on-net calls, as well as the promotions and bundles offered by the operators.

The report also reveals that the mobile operators generated a total revenue of ZWL850.8 billion, up by 95.3% from the previous quarter, while their operating costs increased by 99.3% to ZWL430 billion.

The mobile sector also contributed to the development of the postal and courier industry, which saw its volumes increase by 6.8% to 573,291 items, and its revenue increase by 53.3% to ZWL30.7 billion.

The POTRAZ report reflects the resilience and potential of Zimbabwe’s mobile market, which has overcome various challenges such as the economic crisis, power shortages, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mobile market is also expected to benefit from ongoing digital transformation initiatives, such as the National Broadband Plan, the Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan, and the e-government program, which aims to enhance the access and affordability of ICT services in the country.

Zimbabwe’s mobile boom is also in line with the global trend of increasing mobile adoption and usage, as more people rely on their phones for communication, entertainment, education, health, and financial services.

According to the GSMA, there were 5.2 billion unique mobile subscribers worldwide in 2023, representing 67% of the global population. The number of mobile subscribers is projected to reach 5.8 billion by 2025, with Africa being the fastest-growing region.

Zimbabwe is well-positioned to take advantage of this opportunity, as it strives to become a digitally empowered society and a knowledge-based economy.

Source: The Herald


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