ECONET Wireless Global (EWG), which owns Zimbabwe’s largest mobile-phone company, signed a deal with Sweden’s Ericsson to expand its network in Zimbabwe, the two firms said this week.
EWG owns a subsidiary mobile phone operator, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which has over 1.2 million subscribers in the country and plans to expand its network and increase the number of subscribers to 5 million by the end of 2010.
Econet says it will launch Zimbabwe’s first 3G services in August.
Ericsson, a leading provider of telecommunications technology, said in a joint statement with EWG the new three-year upgrade and expansion agreement would increase capacity for voice and data traffic in Zimbabwe.
Like most Zimbabwean businesses, telecommunications firms suffered under years of hyperinflation, a skewed exchange rate and economic collapse, which stunted growth of the sector.
However, renewed optimism brought by a unity government formed by rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, coupled with some economic reforms, has brought some signs of recovery.
“Business opportunities exist in a vast number of sectors in Zimbabwe, including information technology and this type of recapitalization and expansion is just what the country needs to rebuild and develop,” Lars Linden, president of Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa, said in the statement.
This comes at a time when MTN, a South African mobile operator, announced that it is eyeing a 60% share in another of Zimbabwe’s mobile companies, Telecel.
“We have always said we are looking for value-enhancing opportunities and Zimbabwe presents us with one. Zimbabwe is our neighbour sitting there waiting. Our government is embarking on a reinvention of itself and has opened up to South African companies to go in and operate there,” Nozipho January-Bardill MTN spokeswoman, said.
She said MTN was likely to enter through the acquisition of an existing operator or by applying for a new licence.
MTN has already raised its visibility in Zimbabwe and has shown people the services it could offer.
“MTN has taken risks in much poorer countries and, from what we are seeing, there seems to be a commitment to grow and redevelop the economy,” January-Bardill said.
The three mobile operators serving the Zimbabwean market are Econet, NetOne and Telecel. They are, however, failing to serve it adequately.