Mobile Internet Revolution Takes Zimbabwe by Storm

Internet

Zimbabwe entered a new digital era last week Friday when the largest mobile phone network Econet Wireless launched its mobile broadband package available to their estimated 4.5 million subscribers.

Econet CEO Douglas Mboweni said this was the most ambitious project they had undertaken since 1998 when the company was launched adding the broadband would be pivotal in reconstructing the country's economy.

Reporting from Harare our correspondent Simon Muchemwa said three broadband packages were being offered; "On the Go" for customers on the move using internet capable handsets and laptops, the "@Home" package for home users surfing for leisure, school and light business and "@Work" for business users.

Muchemwa said customers were asked to send a blank text message to 145 and a confirmation would then be sent by Econet confirming if the line has been activated. Subscribers can then buy internet 'bundles' ranging from 1 to 1000 megabytes to allow them to connect to the internet. Each megabyte costs 50 US cents although many customers were given a free promotional 100 megabytes.

The project has cost Econet close to US$100 million and covers many of the major cities. Previous attempts at launching the service in September last year resulted in an over-subscription and Econet had to suspend offering the service to new customers until the necessary upgrade had been completed.

While the economic advantages are obvious, Muchemwa reports that activists are excited at the prospect of the technology helping to discourage rights abuses. 'Anyone with a camera or video phone can capture incidents of political violence and within minutes the whole world will be watching,' he said.

Cost however will remain the main stumbling block for the service to take root effectively. At 50 US cents per megabyte, many people will struggle to afford the luxury of sending and receiving large files. Early signs are promising though with Muchemwa saying in the first day of the launch hundreds of people in Harare could be seen glued to their phones and laptops surfing the internet.