For many market analysts, the rise of mobile telecommunication companies in the early part of the last decade signalled a knell for fixed telecommunication companies.

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telone

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And justifiably so…. the statistics reflecting the expedient growth of mobile telecoms are astounding.

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The rise of the three mobile network operators (Econet, Telecel and NetOne) reduced TelOne’s monopoly over voice telephony to under 5 percent of market share within the first few years.

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But it’s a truism that the value of an asset is indifferent to the manner of its use. Zimbabwe’s State-owned fixed telecommunication firm, TelOne, perfectly exemplifies this.

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TelOne has risen from the metaphoric ashes to become a significant competitor among the country’s leading internet service providers (ISPs). This has entailed a huge transformation of identity from being a fixed voice telephone service provider.

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The company currently services over 300 000 voice subscribers through home copper connections. But TelOne has shown much more dynamism than simply capitalising on its historical copper cabling advantages.

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TelOne managing director Mrs Chipo Mtasa told this writer that although its key strength presently is connectivity through the copper networks, the new shift was towards fibre:

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“Our thinking is that all the areas that do not have our copper infrastructure will be provided with fibre network. So we are not going to duplicate our copper with fibre, but we are going to enhance our network using fibre because fibre is the in-thing today,” she said.

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TelOne recently introduced a Fibre to the Home (FTTH) service, which it expects to be completed by year-end.

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Fiber to the home (FTTH), or “fiber to the premises” (FTTP), is the installation and use of optical fiber from a central point directly to individual buildings such as residences, apartment buildings and businesses to provide unprecedented high-speed Internet access.

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Through the FTTH project, TelOne has set a target of 20 000 household fibre connections through the Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON).

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This fibre project extends to areas namely Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Kariba, Masvingo and Gwanda. And management has said it plans to extend the project to outlying parts of the country such as border towns.

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It’s certainly an ambitious project, but not an altogether impossible one.

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In retrospect though, the potential and the assets for TelOne to become an internet giant were long in place, even before the idea of ‘internet companies’ became concrete.

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To the extent that TelOne has traditionally offered fixed voice telephony, the company has – in essence – fibre infrastructure to make any ISP turn green with envy.

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It currently has the second largest fibre network in Zimbabwe (estimated to be around 2541 kilometres just behind Liquid Telecom’s 2 900 km), which makes its Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) offering the most competitive on the market.

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With an ADSL subscriber base of 38 640 TelOne has the largest fixed internet service subscriber base. The company’s extensive fibre infrastructure could also result in its FTTH service being very competitive as well.

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TelOne owns a wide range of telecommunications equipment, varying from various exchanges located in strategic areas, optical fibre networks, radio network systems plus a wide range of high-tech networks including a satellite base station located in Mazowe area.

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The important question is here is why it took so long for its management to realise this latent potential.

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It also offers internet services via satellite connections (VSAT). And of late, the company launched its own network of WiFi hot spots around the capital city. The appropriately named ‘Metro City WiFi’, which basically extend TelOne’s tentacles into mobile broadband….and competitively at that.

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In terms of the Metro City Wi-Fi, TelOne can easily lay claims to being the cheapest internet provider with its $1 for 100 megabytes, which fares comparably well compared to the MNOs’ $1 for 10 megabytes range.

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The Metro Wi-Fi is also posing a serious threat to internet services that are provided via modems and dongles, which are relatively costly.

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All these novel initiatives by TelOne fall squarely into the parastatal’s broader plan to become a leading Internet-First operator, a factor management is keen to highlight.

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“We are going to put a lot of investing in the marketing, obviously the budget is tied back not just to the Metro Wi-Fi but it is looking at the expansive rebrand that we have done as a holistic approach by TelOne. The new face and dynamism of TelOne has to be shown through extensive marketing,” said Mrs Mtasa.