Zimbabwe: Teledensity Rate Takes Dip

Telecoms

Zimbabwe’s tele-density rate took a dip after the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe recently cut off unregistered lines. Statistics from Potraz show the country's overall teledensity fell from 67.5 percent to 49.7 percent after the disconnections.

The largest mobile phone provider, Econet Wireless, lost 1.4 million subscribers while the State-run NetOne lost 300,000. During the same period, Telecel Zimbabwe's subscriber base fell by 692,000 as a result of subscribers failing to register their lines.

According to the latest Potraz figures, the number of mobile users dropped by 17.8 percent between February and April.

This means that the number of Zimbabweans with access to a telephone has decreased from 8,4 million to six million during the past two months after the disconnection of subscribers who missed the February 28 deadline to register their lines. Potraz indicated that around two million mobile phone users have been disconnected for failing to register their SIM cards by this year's February deadline.

Registration was required under an international mandate for all phone users to be identified to prevent the use of mobile phones by terrorists and criminals, a protocol followed by many telecommunications authorities throughout the world.

But observers contend the dip in the teledensity rate is temporary and will at least be restored in view of the ongoing registration drive being undertaken by the three mobile networks. Last August Potraz ordered mobile operators to register all mobile users to "combat criminal activities" and abuse of mobile communications.

Earlier statistics from Potraz showed Zimbabwe's teledensity rate standing in excess of 60 percent, up from a mere 9 percent in 2009. This was largely attributable to expansion drives by the mobile service providers.

A recent study by analyst IHS Global Insight in a number of countries that have introduced compulsory SIM card registration,, has shown marked declines in teledensity rates in these countries as well.

"The introduction of mandatory registration of SIM cards in at least 10 countries has resulted in a dramatic slowdown in subscriber growth and will see the disconnection of millions of unregistered subscribers," noted IHS Global Insight.

According to IHS Global Insight, the requirement has led to declines in mobile subscriber rates in a number of African countries, including South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Algeria. Potraz introduced mandatory SIM card registration in June last year, initially setting a deadline of August 3.

But at the end of August, official figures showed that only 3.8 million subscribers had registered, out of about 6.5 million mobile phone users in the country.

Official figures during the same period showed that Zimbabwe had 6,848,000 telephone subscribers, out of an estimated population of 13 million across both fixed and mobile telecommunication service providers. The figures are broken down as follows: Econet 4,1 million subscribers; Telecel 1,3 million; NetOne 1.1 million and TelOne 378,000.

However, the figures for mobile telephone subscribers may well have exceeded last year's figures due to the low cost and availability of mobile SIM cards. At the end of August, however, only 3.8 million subscribers had registered their SIM cards out of about 6.5 million mobile phone users in the country.

The negative effects of mandatory SIM card registration are particularly serious for African countries that traditionally had weak landline telephony penetration levels, and had benefited from the comparatively cheaper and more accessible mobile telephony services.

According to the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology's strategic plan 2010 to 2014, the Government has a target to increase national teledensity by 10 percent each year.