Econet launches new solar handset in Burundi

Econet, a subsidiary of South Africa-based Econet Wireless International, has attracted 80,000 users since April and aims to have 100,000 signed up by the end of this year.

The African nation of 8 million people grew its subscriber base by 78 percent to 480,000 users in 2008. Its telecom regulator estimates customers could reach 700,000 by 2012.

Econet’s general manager, Darlington Mandivenga, told a news conference that the new handset, which will retail for $39, would prove invaluable for many users in a country that suffers from frequent power shortages.

"If you look at the target market or the level of demand that is there, without doing any further marketing it is about 800,000 people who will benefit from this innovation," he said.

He did not give a timeframe for his projection.

Econet had invested $40 million in its Burundi operations, he said, compared with $20 million by the end of last year.

Current power demand in the landlocked country stands at 45 MW versus installed capacity of 32 MW. The deficit can hit 25 MW during peak hours, according to the country’s energy ministry. 

The other mobile firms working in Burundi are the market leader U-com, owned by Egypt’s Orascom, state-owned ONAMOB, Africell, which is partly held by VTL holdings of Dubai, and Nepal’s Lacell SU.

Another company, HITS Telecom, which is a joint venture between Ugandan and United Arab Emirates businessmen, has a licence but is yet to start operations. Reuters