Econet, Ericsson launch Zim’s first 5G network, regulator says telcos need more forex to speed up rollout

Econet plans to rollout 5G, but forex a hurdle (File pic: image credit: Cynthia Matonhodze/Bloomberg)

Econet Wireless, the country’s biggest telecoms company, has launched Zimbabwe’s first 5G network and plans to roll out 22 fifth-generation base stations by mid-year.

The network, installed by Ericsson, will boost Econet’s capacity to provide faster connections of up to 10 times the speed of 4G technology, the two companies said in a joint statement Thursday.

The first 5G base station in this trial phase is at Avondale, and Econet plans to roll out 22 by the end of April and further widen coverage to more locations countrywide.  

“This is just the beginning. Even when we are talking about 22 base stations, I’m not happy. The reason I’m not happy is because we need to ensure that we need to make sure we roll out to every part of the country,” Econet CEO Douglas Mboweni said.

“Everybody now is on online learning, and so if they are in the rural area, how do we make sure that that child is getting the same access that a child in Borrowdale is getting? This is why we will continue to be relentless in digging for ways to reach every Zimbabwean. We envision a digitally connected Zimbabwe that leaves nobody behind.”

Econet was first to introduce 3G in 2009 and 4G in 2013, Econet Chief Operating Office Kezito Makuni pointed out, saying that the new tech will support innovation.

“5G is a critical digital infrastructure that will further strengthen Zimbabwe’s position and promote more digital innovations to keep us competitive as a global business hub,” Makuni said.

Forex crisis

But to speed up 5G rollout, telcos will have to spend more on capital expenditure. Network investment has slowed down for operators, as central bank does not treat ICT as a priority at the forex auction. In a recent trade update, Econet said forex shortages were limiting its ability to upgrade the network, degrading service quality.

“5G needs money. It is a network requiring a new set of serious funding, which brings us to foreign currency. The sector will need priority in the allocation of forex,” says Gift Machengete, director-general of telecoms regulator POTRAZ.  

“I invite the Reserve Bank to pay special attention to the telecommunications sector and actively support 5G rollout through timeous allocation of forex to the sector. After all, ICTs are cross cutting. Each and every sector will need ICT to move forward.”