The time has finally arrived – the early days of 5G in Zimbabwe have started. For a while now it has been a sort of scramble or race for being the first to roll out 5G in Zimbabwe. I am referring to Econet and NetOne. On the 20th of September, NetOne launched the NMBB3 Expansion Project. NMBB3 stands for National Mobile BroadBand Phase 3. This expansion project was said to culminate in 300 new base stations being set up. It was also indicated they would be installed with 5G technology, as a partnership between NetOne and Huawei. However, it turns out Econet has beaten NetOne to it.

Econet Pioneers 5G Connectivity In Zimbabwe

Today, on the 24th of February 2022, Econet became the first mobile network operator (MNO) in Zimbabwe to set up a 5G base station in Avondale, Harare. This is the culmination of their partnership with Ericsson and ZTE. Here is an excerpt of some of what the Econet CEO, Dr Douglas Mboweni said during the launch:

The 5G technology will transform the way we all live and work, offering customers significantly greater network capacity, ultra-low latency and super-fast broadband speeds that open vast possibilities for our individual, business, and enterprise customers. The technology allows several devices to be connected at the same time, allowing for new automation possibilities, seamless communication and interconnectivity between multiple smart devices, commonly known as the internet of things (IoT).”

What Is 5G Though?

For the benefit of those who might not know, 5G stands for the fifth generation. You probably have heard mention of 3G or 4G, right? This means the higher the number value, the faster the network speed. In simple terms, 5G is the latest wireless cellular technology network type in Zimbabwe. It is the fastest and most responsive with a latency of 1 millisecond or less. This means its response time is typically 1 millisecond or even less. Other countries have already surpassed 5G e.g. China, Norway, and Korea, amongst others.

Some Noteworthy Discussions

Why The Rush When Other Areas Still Lag?

This was and is the most recurring comment from people all across Zimbabwe. I can give an example of where I stay, for starters; there is no 4G coverage for Econet (and even NetOne). This means the best we have is 3G which is not even consistent. I know of some areas that do not even have that 3G in Zimbabwe. Logically, it does not make sense to hop to 5G yet other areas still lag. It is counterintuitive and has made most people think that it is all about making a brand statement. Otherwise, the most prudent thing to do would be to start by making sure there is 4G coverage everywhere. The other focus would be to also ensure the network is consistent. That is why it seems as if not that many people are particularly excited about this development. First things first, rather than moving to areas that are not relevant to most parts of Zimbabwe right now.

5G Rollout Is Expensive – Is It Sustainable Then?

Before 5G we have always heard Econet complaining about foreign currency shortages and other economic hurdles. They even attribute network challenges in part to that. Yet now they are bent on rolling out 5G which is way more costly to set up and run. Will this not only end up in customers being hit with incessant bundle price hikes? Even during the launch, it was mentioned that 5G is costly to roll out and there will be a need for the RBZ to help with regards to access to foreign currency. So, how come there is still an insistence of 5G when it is costly? These are the type of questions that get Zimbabweans thinking about whether or not they are getting fair value from these MNOs.

Other Limitations And Reservations

There are other issues worth mentioning that make any 5G rollout now, questionable. For example, how many people in Zimbabwe have smartphones with capacities up to 5G? The vast majority of Zimbabweans do not have such phones. That in some sense could show that rolling out 5G now is too soon. It goes back again to the first thing’s first element. Then another issue that I will not detail much about is the harmful effects of 5G. There have been lots of discussions around this subject and mainstream media tends to debunk concerns raised as conspiracy theories. However, there may be valid concerns about the harmful effects of 5G on the body.

Anyways, Econet indicated they intend to set up more 5G base stations in Zimbabwe throughout 2022. It will also be interesting to see how NetOne will catch up. What are your thoughts about these developments?