NetOne poised to take over mobile sector

A few years ago, there was a monopoly in the telecoms sector and it was very naïve for anyone to even think that the then Postal and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) will one day become an underdog in the game they dominated.

Today, they are the least subscribed operator simply because we are now in a mobile dispensation where the same values of being fixed are no longer celebrated.

But today, TelOne is doing so much to retain the market share and relevance in the mobile and IP based era.

History will soon be repeated as the forces of technological change will reshape the market in Zimbabwe where complacency, poor customer service and ego has taken toll among the current industry players ignoring the pertinent issues like the need to embrace the Intenet Protocol (IP) based era.

This presents a rare opportunity which the state owned mobile operator is already silently embracing, though on ground it seems nothing is happening. NetOne is actually going to make a surprise move to shake up the market once and for all as soon as they officially roll out their ambitious 4G project.

The telecommunications sector, which is the second largest tax paying sector in Zimbabwe, has seen a drastic decline in revenue mainly because of reduced voice tariffs and the proliferation of internet based communication platforms like Whatsapp, Skype and many more Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications.

This sends a harsh message to the future of telecommunication and whether we embrace the facts or not, the future has moved from voice based calls to IP based services and a quick culture shift would make an operator relevant.

Ironically, NetOne came last to the party by introducing social media bundles; while they initially openly said that these over the top services are nothing but disruptive technology which is chewing in their revenue without any infrastructure investment or significant returns to the operator.

Here are some few facts why NetOne is poised to take over the mobile industry if they properly lay their game plan and launch their surprise check mate move in an industry fiercely contested, though subscribers have remained loyal to their traditional numbers.

The NetOne Loan

The Zimbabwean Government signed a concessional loan agreement with China Exim Bank worth $218,9 million for NetOne’s network expansion under the company’s Phase II Project.

The loan agreement carries an interest rate of 2 percent per annum and is payable over a period of 20 years. The expansion will see NetOne accommodating four million users while the company spent about $20 million on capital expenditure which included setting up 50 base stations after they contracted Nokia and Huawei to undertake the project. Once the project is completed, NetOne will have capacity to accommodate 12 million users. This has become their launch pad to activate their biggest project ever, thanks to the facility as NetOne just got empowered to become the first operator to roll out nationwide LTE.

NetOne has most important asset

To many it seemed as a folly move when NetOne bought the “obsolete frequency” which is currently being used by ZBC for a whopping $200 million. This is their greatest asset to the future which no other player has or will ever have.

For LTE or 4G base stations to work properly, you need a lower frequency since 4G base stations are different from 3G in distance transmissions. In the current frequency a 3G base station can cover over 4km without poor signal issues but one would need many, and very expensive 4G base stations in the same area which will amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, hence we still do not have any national 4G coverage in Zimbabwe.

With the 700 MHz frequency, NetOne can afford to space few of these expensive base stations, meaning they have made serious investments by buying this frequency and they can either use it to their major advantage during infrastructure sharing bargains.

Data Casting Licence

With NetOne being the only operator with a data casting license so far, they will be able to utilise the 700 MHz spectrum, with a lot of free space and this will increase the MNO’s opportunities. They will be able to usher out all these IP based services in a better spectrum to achieve world class speed and quality.

Widest coverage

This is one tag they had for years but quickly lost it years back when they became complacent, but what NetOne bought is the 700MHz, which is to be applied in the 4th generation so that it increases the propagation distance by as much as two to three hence lesser base stations are needed.

This opens a business scenario of accessibility and affordability, providing more coverage with few base stations to achieve a greater footprint, this means NetOne now needs to reduce their base stations since the 700 MHz travel further, thus in other words an immense investment in as far as their network coverage is concerned.

Their Dollar Per day Tariff

Nothing beats this promotion, they have managed to maintain it for years and it has become synonymous with NetOne. This promotion has allowed millions to make unlimited calls of local calls per day on charges next to nothing, while the same dollar gives you so much value across network.

Number portability

This is going to be their real big problem which I understand they have been trying to address. In Zimbabwe most people would do everything to keep their mobile number even when they are being offered the worst service, losing your number is not an option and NetOne should not hope that people will dump their old lines but rather should accept that people can have all lines and theirs should stand out in the competition.

I loved their mock up number portability exercise where they are asking subscribers to get the exact number they have to match their new NetOne, a move which needs to be aggressively approached, but we wonder why POTRAZ has not put up such a technology in Zimbabwe to allow subscribers to freely roam.

New Staff incoming

This is their major make or break move. NetOne is almost done with appointing the executives to take over the business and no matter how brilliant the ideas and technology they have, they need proper human capital to move this huge project.

It seems they have already done their best by scouting for the best locally seeing a number of executives moving from Telecel and Econet already migrating to NetOne, which is a noble move if they are to attract quality. However, they need to do more to select the right people which have the qualities to turn around the project and if they drop boardroom squabbles and focus on real talent, NetOne can get the best of expertise and their future will be much brighter.

Handsets availability

LTE or 4G is world class fast internet speeds over our conventional handsets, and only LTE capable handsets will reach the 4G speeds. While NetOne has been running tenders for their terminal devices, they need to strike deals with mobile manufactures to move large quantities over smaller premiums if the LTE dream is to reach masses

Backhauling fibre

NetOne is not an ISP and does not have one; it is not enough to have signals moving faster over the air without the back-hauling internet service provider which can wholesale reliable, fast bandwidth to them at a cheaper price, something they need to seriously relook.

Current LTE Presence

For the past two months, I was privileged to have been testing the new LTE based SIM cards lines where NetOne is already leading in LTE or 4G national coverage which is heavily felt in Harare and Bulawayo CBD, covering over 50 percent already, a major draw card to their advantage with 60 LTE base stations already erected nationwide, 19 are active in Harare and 11 in Bulawayo. Their speeds are ultra-fast for click and go, but with their current expensive data tariffs my joy expired when the free preloaded data depleted.

  • The writer is the editor for TechnoMag, Zimbabwe’s Premiere Technology Magazine, More In depth from