In Zimbabwe, we have 3 main mobile network operators (MNOs). These are Econet, NetOne, and Telecel – in that order based on subscriber bases. This is not much when looking at having options to consider. For many Zimbabweans, the norm is to have both Econet and NetOne sim cards. Some also have a third sim card i.e. Telecel. I want to discuss the current performance of these MNOs, the main focus being on the top 2. This is a discussion we have had before but it keeps popping up.

The Recent NetOne Upgrade Nightmare

This subject has once more come to the fore due to the recent NetOne upgrade that went sideways. On the 30th of June 2022, NetOne announced they would be conducting a major system upgrade from 2300hrs to 0900hrs on the 1st of July. What followed after the upgrade was an absolute disaster. Countless NetOne subscribers discovered that airtime or bundle balances had been wiped clean. Suppose you have 10 GB of data today and the next day it is gone. That is what happened to many NetOne subscribers.

In some areas, the network was seriously acting up, especially the data network. You only had to go to NetOne’s social media platforms to see how dire the situation was. You would think by now that the issue would have been rectified but well, not yet. Some mysteriously lost airtime or bundles; it has never been restored. Some are complaining that currently they are still mysteriously losing airtime or bundles. Some serious damage was done during the so-called ‘major upgrade’.

Econet Is Experiencing Its Issues As Well

One of the topical issues amongst Econet subscribers has been the US dollar data bundles. I keep seeing subscribers complaining that those bundles are questionably depleted. Some say that even without connecting to the internet you can lose data. I have seen several complainants saying you can lose data overnight without doing anything on your phone. It has been so rampant that people have also wondered whether the data sold is the exact data they are getting. Then of course there are age-old issues of erratic network performance and availability.

What Exactly Is Happening Behind The Scenes?

It gets you wondering what is going on behind the scenes at these MNOs. What is it that is causing all this mayhem and poor service delivery? For some people, they might not wonder much because maybe they have limited dependency on mobile network services. Some of us use mobile data and operate wholly online – many Zimbabweans now live this way. Imagine the inconveniences they are contending with almost daily. Things like missing meetings, missing deadlines, poor performance and overall negative effects on their mental health. I, for one, can tell you, as one of the many victims, that these network challenges can drive you into depression. I recall when the NetOne upgrade saga occurred there was one lady who said she was bedridden due to the incident – all because of stress. So, what could be happening behind the scenes?

Possible Causes Of Mobile Network Challenges In Zimbabwe

First off, the MNOs have not quite given a detailed overview of what causes their network challenges. Most of the time they just give textbook apologies without any details. Regardless, there are possible causes that people have been speculating on:

Poor Financial Health

Some people think that these MNOs are struggling financially. This sounds plausible when you consider the operating environment in Zimbabwe. The state of the economy could be making these MNOs just as much victims as we all are. This could be worsened by the fact that we mostly purchase airtime or bundles in Zimbabwean dollars. Given how weak the Zimbabwean dollar is it comes as no surprise that revenue is affected.

The mercurial monetary or fiscal policies are to blame for that. This dynamic could also be denting any chances of attracting investors to avail more capital. There is so much uncertainty in Zimbabwe’s operating environment that scares away potential capital injection. I remember someone saying that Econet Wireless Zimbabwe is a huge liability in Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet global empire.

Then you consider the material needs of these MNOs e.g. daily operations or maintenance works. You also consider appreciable remuneration which they might be struggling to give their employees. This results in decreased morale and thus poor performance by employees. When you put all these variables, and more together, you realize there is a valid basis for the poor financial health argument.

Lack Of Formidable Competition

This has been much talked about for some time now. Econet and NetOne lack formidable competition. I concur and I believe it is high time the field is opened up for new players. This can have the effect of pushing the pre-existing MNOs to pull up their socks. Sure enough, there could be genuine challenges Zimbabwean MNOs are facing. However, that does not excuse enough to put out deplorable service. They have to figure out ways to rise above the challenges by being creative and innovative. Some time back there was talk about how Vodacom wanted to enter the Zimbabwean market and was blocked. I truly believe that could have brought in the much-needed stiff competition. Right now competition in the Zimbabwean MNOs space is limited to none.

Holding Service Providers In Zimbabwe Accountable

The other issue is that there seem to be no stringent measures to hold service providers in Zimbabwe accountable. Imagine the many people who have lost money through EcoCash over the years. Imagine the many people who have lost airtime or bundles over the years. Banks are also found wanting on similar issues as well. This is commonplace across many service providers in Zimbabwe. Yet they seem to never be held accountable, ever! Service providers continue to get away with anything in Zimbabwe.

What do you think has to be done to improve MNO services in Zimbabwe? Kindly share your thoughts in the comments below.