Orascom's Telecel eyes subscriber boost

Zimbabwe’s telecommunications industry had been stunted by years of hyperinflation and foreign currency shortages until a power-sharing government formed by bitter rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in February adopted the use of multiple currencies.

Telecel Zimbabwe, 60 percent owned by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, is the smallest of the country’s three mobile phone operators by subscibers.

Exiled Zimbabwean businessman James Makamba, a former Telecel Chairman is believed to be holed up in Egypt.

It announced its expansion plans in a statement on Monday.

"As of the end of July, our subscriber base stood at 355,000," acting chairwoman Jane Mutasa said.

"We have plans to increase the subscriber base to 700,000 by end of October 2009 and to have installed capacity of 1.2 million by the end of this year," said Mutasa, adding that Telecel also plans to launch 3G services.

The other networks in the southern African country are run by number one operator Econet Zimbabwe and the government-owned NetOne.

If its subscribers reach 700,000, Telecel will become the country’s number two operator.

Telecommunications analysts say Zimbabwe has low telephony penetration, below 10 percent, with less than 2 million mobile phone subscribers and a state-owned fixed line phone operator that has failed to expand its network due to lack of funds. 

Econet recently pushed its subcriber base above 1 million and became the first network in the country to launch 3G services last week.

Pent-up demand for telecommunications services in Zimbabwe had seen the emergence of a thriving black market for mobile phone lines, which cost up to $100 a year ago but now cost an average of $15.