Econet says it’s spending too little on network infrastructure, but pushes on with 5G plans

Econet has turned to DPA's Tesla batteries for power (image credit: Cynthia Matonhodze/Bloomberg)

Econet Wireless, the country’s biggest telecoms company, is spending just 3% of its revenues on capital investments due to forex shortages, but is pushing ahead with plans to rollout 5G.

Data traffic increased by 56% in the six months to August, as demand grew for internet services, the company says in an update. But the company could be doing more, if it could access the foreign currency it needs for expansion and routine network maintenance.

“Capital investments remained severely constrained at 3% of revenue against an industry benchmark of between 10% to 15% of revenue, on account of foreign currency unavailability. Our infrastructure requires continuous improvement in order to continue to provide a service at the quality and scale demanded by our customers. This has not been possible in the current environment, due to the unavailability of foreign currency,” Econet says.

The company has said previously that it had managed only limited access to central bank’s currency auction.

Power shortages, Econet says, are also affecting service and pushing up costs, and forex shortages are limiting the company’s plans to move to alternatives.

“The cost and availability of fuel adds an additional challenge where our backup power is reliant on generators,” says Econet.

DPA, the power unit of the Econet Group, has previously said it is supplying Tesla’s Powerwall batteries to telecoms companies, including to some Econet sites in Zimbabwe, to provide operators with alternatives to unreliable grid power.

Over the six months to August, Econet says it upgraded its 4G network in Harare and Chitungwiza to increase browsing speeds by 1.5 times. The company plans to commission at least 215 new LTE sites country-wide, while moving on to 5G.

“In the next few months, we will start our 5G journey as we pivot to the next stage of our digital evolution,” the company says.