The Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has been accused of failing to tame the illegal trading of mobile phone lines despite banning the activity. Underhand trading of lines at inflated prices is common in Zimbabwe with the newspapers full of adverts offering "brand new" lines for all three networks on a daily basis.

Zimbabwe's three mobile phone service providers Econet Wireless, Telecel and Net*One have failed to meet demand for mobile lines. The authority banned the sale of lines on the black market last year. "That was the end of it because no clampdown of any sort has been made neither have there been any arrests made of those who sell lines on the black market," said an official from one of the network operators.

Announcing the ban then, Potraz Director-General Cuthbert Chidoori said the illegal activity had reached alarming levels, adding that the situation was hampering smooth service delivery by licensed cellular providers. He said in some instances the illegal dealings involved syndicates that were difficult to break.

Commenting on the illegal trade, Econet spokesperson Dakarai Matanga said his company does not have direct control over pre-paid lines once they have been sold to customers. This is despite the fact that the lines would have been sold through a strictly monitored distribution system.

"It is a fact that due to the current shortage of pre-paid lines on the market, a parallel market has emerged where customers decide to sell their lines at prices way above the recommended retail prices," said Matanga. He said they had taken it upon themselves to at least minimise and eventually eliminate the challenge through network expansion.

"This expansion is expected to result in the release of more lines on the market. However, it must be borne in mind that due to the current economic challenges facing the country, it is not yet possible for the company to completely meet the demand for cellular lines, both pre-paid and contract," he said.

Meanwhile, other operators were also carrying out their own expansion projects to meet demand.

NetOne announced last week that it had embarked on a network upgrading exercise that would see at least 60 000 additional lines being released by the end of this month. The firm last year clamp downed on illegal dealing by blocking all lines suspected to have been sold on the informal market.

As at February this year, Econet had 457,228 subscribers while Net*One's subscriber base currently stands at around 500,000. Telecel has a subscriber base of around 39,000.

The Herald