Zimbabwean MVNO Viva! wants to take on the dominant mobile operator on price and service innovation

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As we noted in Issue 747, the MVNO wave in Africa seems finally to be moving as regulators open up this space as a way of providing innovation and competition. Zimbabwe looks set to create an MVNO opening and a new operator called Viva Mobile Network is keen to be one of the first on the start line. Russell Southwood spoke to its CEO and founder Dzidzai Chidumba.

Chidumba used to work on Post Paid and VAS with Vodacom in South Africa and one of its billing sub-contractors Artec Isis. On coming home to Zimbabwe, he noticed that a lot of services he was helping provide in South Africa were missing:”I started Viva Mobile Network to offer a game changing new service provider, spearheading a mobile freedom movement. VIVA! aims to deliver unprecedented value and convenience to the mobile market, by offering innovative prepaid data plans. I hope that VIVA! ensures that no Zimbabwean is left off the digital grid”.

Chidumba sees the lack of services as coming from the dominance of the market – particularly the mobile market – by one big operator, Econet. Only this week that dominance was increased by the Government announcement (see Telecoms News below) that it was shutting Telecel:”Having only one big operator has driven up prices and there’s no incentive for innovation.”

“There is no thought that goes into carrier service offers; there seems to be attitude of, ‘you must be glad you can have these services, so why are you complaining?’. It’s really hard to be really sophisticated.”

Viva! is looking to offer innovative data packages that will give users the least expensive way of accessing the Internet:”Combining the offers with social media, we’re looking to get into the youth market.”

“We want our customers and clients to be always connected. I can’t get into specifics but if they are using a particular site, we can tailor an offer for them. We will have lower price data than anyone else and we’ll be adding Value Added Services on top of the basic data price. There’s a big market out there and we’ll be using tiered based pricing.” It will be targeting the young, tech savvy customers and certain categories of businesses.

So if the market is big, how big is big?:”We reckon that there is in the region of 2.5 million subscribers and we aim to get at least 20% of that. We what to offer people freedom of choice and give customers what they want and what they need.”

He is understandably cagey about which operator platform Viva! will operate from but it’s not hard to identify one possible candidate. With the closing down of Telecel, it leaves the smallest operator in the market, the state-owned NetOne but there may be other options:”We’re in conversation with an operator and we’re being helped by an MVNO consultant.”

So has he raised the investment needed?:”The investment is not as much as for starting an MNO. The regulator has also said that the licence fees will not be as much as for an MNO.”

The regulatory position is a work in progress but moving in the right direction:”We don’t have a category of licence yet but there’s a consultation paper and by the end of the year we should have an MVNO definition and a licence category.” The timetable is to launch 12 months from now.

The GSMA published its report on the gender gap in mobile ownership and use in Barcelona, which shows that women are much less likely to make use of services other than voice with the exception of social media like Facebook. Chidumba is also making this a central part of the company’s values:”We want to try and get more women involved in technology and we want to be equitable in our staffing with equal opportunities for everyone.”

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Digital Content Africa: Balancing Act’s web TV channel Smart Monkey TV has launched a new e-letter called Digital Content Africa. On a fortnightly basis, it will cover online film, music, publishing and services and applications. We have already produced 32 issues and these can be viewed on this link:

Essential reading for those in mobile VAS to anyone just interested in what African and relevant international content they can now get online. If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to info@balancingact-africa.com with Digital Content Africa in the title line. Some examples of past issues below:
Mobile reading platform Worldreader wants to double its African reach by partnering with Opera and Mozilla and offer read and hear audio books

Ghana's Digital Advertising Industry begins to take off – Big international brands take online and mobile seriously

African radio changes wavelength – The rising wave of digital streaming offers new opportunities

Tanzania’s Ubongo broadcasts edutainment to 7-12 year olds using an interactive multimedia strategy with TV, mobile and internet


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded and that the deal is rotten…Operators not opening mobile channel for Africa’s digital content makers

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Elizabeth Hensick Wood on Worldreader's large mobile reading community in Africa

Murali Shanmugavelan, MApp-IT on an Android app to collect evaluation data for projects in Africa

Sune Mushendwa, Mkito on adding an SMS music service to its downloads and its growth since launching

Syed Karim, Outernet on a satellite media distribution service to reach people in unconnected areas

Arun Nagar on Mziiki, a music and video streaming service for African content

John Dada on the challenges of using broadband for development in a northern Nigerian town

Eban Oliver, Skyroomlive on livestreaming top African music acts in concert to the world

Nyasha Mutsekwa, Aflix on selling Hollywood movies for US$2.99 in 31 African countries