This year Zimbabwe's Econet Wireless will focus on developing new value added services to capitalise on the network infrastructure it has invested in over the years, according to chief executive officer, Douglas Mboweni.
Econet is Zimbabwe's biggest telecommunications company with 9 million mobile subscribers and 3 million registered mobile money users. It says it has invested about $1 billion into its Zimbabwean network over the past few years, with experts saying the Strive Masiyiwa founded telco is able to leverage on international financiers and lenders.
This week, Econet unveiled a dial-a-doctor service through its Econet Health division. The service enables subscribers to get medical information on their mobile phones from qualified doctors for 70 cents a minute.
Now, says Mboweni, the company is gearing to venture into more overlay and value-added services, explaining that these would ride on the infrastructure already in place throughout the country.
There is "an array of services and products that we are unleashing in the market," he said. "Sitting in the background of this capability is a robust infrastructure that we have constructed. We have been putting infrastructure on the ground to make sure that we lay a platform upon which new services and products can be facilitated."
He explained that his company would focus on speedy rolling out of LTE internet connectivity for its subscribers this year. Econet launched LTE internet in Zimbabwe in 2013, but this was restricted mainly to Victoria Falls, the host venue for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly.
"This year ... starting with the roll-off that we did in Vic Falls, LTE is now a reality, meaning faster speeds of access," he said.
Subscribers on Econet Wireless' network were "demanding faster and faster speeds" as there are even more applications being developed which are "hungry in terms of data and speeds".
"Going in the future, things will be faster and this means easier access and convenience for our customers," he said.
Feeling the disruption
Econet, together with other mobile companies, are feeling the disruptive impact of newer and emerging technologies and cheaper communication alternatives. These have eaten into the telcos' revenue generating base.
"Mobile companies need to be innovative to survive and stay afloat; communication alternatives have seen rapid take-up and adoption and this is disrupting the revenue inflows of mobile companies," said Johannes Kwangwari, an economic analyst.
Zimbabwean telcos have also been ordered to cut voice call tariffs by as much as 35%. Experts say this will result in lower revenues and impact on investments.
However, for mobile companies such as Econet, the response to the tariff cut could be more value-added and overlay services which will take care of subscribers "growing appetite for data" platforms. Data and platforms such as EcoCash already account for around 10% of the revenue generation by Econet.
The other mobile companies in Zimbabwe, Telecel Zimbabwe and state run NetOne, are also ambitiously widening their service portfolios to include mobile insurance, improved data capabilities and other services riding on their network infrastructure.