When it comes to mobile network operators (MNOs) in Zimbabwe, there is Econet, NetOne, and Telecel, in that order. In more candid terms, Econet and NetOne are the most notable. For some time now, there have been growing concerns over poor services from these MNOs. The current MNOs seem so relaxed when it comes to public outcries. Just yesterday, I saw someone lamenting about how they lost a huge job opportunity because of a poor mobile network. Many people feel the lack of formidable competitors is to blame. That is why the coming in of a fourth player might be interesting.

Fourth Mobile Telecoms Operator Dolphin Telecoms Has Been Licensed

POTRAZ recently licensed Dolphin Telecoms as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). Essentially, Dolphin Telecoms has entered into a partnership with one of the existing MNOs in Zimbabwe. This is going to see Dolphin Telecoms availing a mobile virtual network – Zimbabwe’s first. Dolphin Telecoms has invested US$15 million into this new network. To shed more light on the development, Dolphin Telecoms’ Managing Director, Mr Nyasha Charumbira, had this to say:

We have already secured an agreement with one mobile network operator, and our model aims to create a new layer to efficiency in the virtualization space. Infrastructure sharing has been underutilized because of a failure to establish win-win models, but this is a problem we believe we have solved, as evidenced by the agreement we have secured”.

What Is A Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)?

A Mobile Virtual Network Operator is a telecoms company that does not set up any physical base stations of its own. This means they do not necessarily own infrastructure. Rather they lease it from existing MNOs to provide call, messaging, and data services, amongst others.

Dolphin Telecoms’ Value Proposition

Dolphin Telecoms highlighted that they also have plans to venture into financial services. Their thrust is to address or fill gaps in the existing products on the market. They have indicated that they seek to address the common pain points most mobile network subscribers complain of in Zimbabwe. Here is part of what they said:

This network builds on a robust existing infrastructure to answer a critical problem, which is at the service layer, and our ambition, which is driven by technology, is to launch with best in class user experience and customer services in Zimbabwe. We have tightened the software layer to ensure that the issues that people are frustrated with, regarding failure to top up, top-ups not being recognized, having to switch network settings for data to activate, and other common problems clogging customer service lines are resolved within the software later. You have some users with a phone for WhatsApp and another one for phone calls. What they are saying is that we want the ability to customize our usage in a very tight way. So our system will be ground-breaking in that regard and allow a single line to deliver the level of calling credit and data for particular services as required.

Is This A Game-Changer In The Zimbabwean Telecoms Industry?

Evidently, this is going to be a first but whether or not it is going to be a game-changer remains to be seen. Understand that an MVNO uses the network of the MNO it has partnered with. This means the quality of the MNO’s network reflects on the MVNO’s. In other words, an MVNO’s network cannot be bigger or better than its partner MNO.

Another thing to note is that MNOs normally allow MVNOs in order to sell excess bandwidth or capacity. Is it really the case in Zimbabwe that MNOs have excess bandwidth or capacity? Is it really the case that Zimbabwean MNOs have more bandwidth or capacity than customers? These are debatable aspects given the status quo of MNO performances in Zimbabwe.

A characteristic game-changing aspect, though is that MVNOs tend to be cheaper and offer a broader service range. However, in more ways than one, MVNOs are always at the mercy of the partner MNO. This makes it difficult to be sure whether or not this will be a game-changer.

The bottom is that the coming in of Dolphin Telecoms is an interesting development. Is it going to be a disruptor or a game-changer? That remains to be seen as time goes on. Dolphin Telecoms have a lot to do to take root and become notable. Things like marketing, distribution, pricing, and differentiation tend to be challenging for most MVNOs. Let us wait and see how it all unfolds.