Sunday, February 03, 2008

Mobile phone traffic congesting airways

From IWPR:

Mobile phones, introduced a decade ago, have also been affected. As the main means of communication following the collapse of other systems, the cellular network is now under such strain that doing business by phone can be a maddening experience.

The government-owned TelOne, which runs the landline network, has virtually collapsed and cannot repair existing lines, let alone install new ones. The telephone wires are continually vandalised by unemployed youths, who steal the metal to sell on to unscrupulous dealers.

In the absence of working landlines, Zimbabweans have switched en masse to mobile technology. Because the government controls the amount networks are allowed to charge per minute, the rates have been kept phenomenally low and many poorer members of society can now just about afford mobiles.

As a result, Zimbabweans have become one of the most talkative nations in the world, with usage levels that defy the logic of rising poverty levels in both rural and urban areas....

Overuse of the networks has become a major headache for businesses. An industry expert who did not want to be named said the congestion problem had arisen because of the government’s price cap, imposed despite evidence from all over the world that such policies do not work.

“The real cause of network congestion is not lack of capacity per se,” said the expert. “What we have is overuse of the networks because the rates charged are simply too low....
Added to this were the frequent power cuts that increase the burden on the transmission stations still in operation, he said....

Econet is the largest operator with nearly a million subscribers on contracts or using its popular two prepaid card brands, Libertie and Buddie. It is followed by the state-controlled NetOne with some 350,000 subscribers and then Telecel International with about 200,000.

The companies do not have the foreign currency they need to import equipment to expand their coverage or to print new SIM cards. The only foreign currency widely available comes from the illegal black market where one US dollar now sells for five million ZWD...

The congestion is exacerbated by the presence of millions of Zimbabweans abroad, either in South Africa and other regional states or in places like Britain and Australia. According to independent estimates, the diaspora accounts for between a quarter and a third of Zimbabwe’s total population of close to 12 million.

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