The Evolution of Telecommunication in Zimbabwe

Thousand years back, Humans, have always had the propensity to communicate with each other. With that, they developed several means of communication, some of which had a significant impact on the way the rest of the world communicated.

For Africans we included talking drums, town criers, drawings in curves of Southern Africa, and the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians.

When Africa was colonised around the 1870s, the colonialists brought with them more modern forms of communications. At the time, telegraphy was well established in Europe and America and it was quickly introduced in Africa. It did not take long before Telegraph lines were deployed along railway lines to connect administrative centres to important towns. Telegraphy was also used for railway signalling.

By Tongai Mwenje

In Zimbabwe, TelOne then Postal and Telecommunication Corporation (PTC), was the first telecommunication company to be established back in 1890 when the first Post Office was opened in the then Southern Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). The company gained its ground as it was the sole provider of fixed telecommunication services back then.

The landline was king of communications until 1997. During that era the telex machine was the crown jewel of business communications and owning a landline was a sign of achievement.

The then Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Corporation was the sole provider communication services. It was very normal back then for one to be on a waiting list for landline for years and get nowhere near to be connected.

The demand for the service increased daily resulting in outwitting supply leaving a vacuum for the hungry potential customers. The fixed telecommunication service brought convenience to corporate and government and the few who were fortunate to be connected.

In mid 90s, Zimbabwe connected to the World Wide Web, popularly known as the internet. The PTC introduced internet through mainly dial up modem. This was a milestone achievement as people could connect to various people across the globe.

In 1997, Zimbabwe introduced mobile telephony. The service started off as an elitist one that was only for the wealthy folks. The mobile phone, traditionally known as “Kacellular”, then, was a status symbol and Zimbabwe celebrities would move around with their cell phone on display as a show off affluence. Mobile network s in that day used second Generation technology, which would only enabled one to talk and text (SMS). Over the years we have seen many developments in mobile network space with more and more services becoming available over the mobile phone.

The advent of smartphones has seen a revolution in the way people use cell phones. Third Generation technology occupied the space availing high speed broadband to the masses on the go. Mobile network coverage has grown significantly over the years.
Between 2008 and 2013 mobile penetration rate grew exponentially to the current situation where anyone who wants a SIM card can get it at almost free of charge. This has seen the reduction in voice tariffs from 25cents to 15cents per minute.

Mobile telephony has transformed itself allowing everyone to come on board. Mobile handsets now range from the cheapest utility phones which simply enable one to talk and text to the very expensive smart phones which are basically portable computers. Cheap smartphones have allowed the masses to access computing at affordable prices. College students use their smart phones to do their online research and for cheap voice communication using Internet applications.

While so much has been accomplished in Zimbabwean telecommunications, more is yet to be done. A huge digital divide still exists between rural people and the rest of the world necessitating the acceleration of network deployment, especially terrestrial fibre optics, if Zimbabwe should get closer to bridging the digital divide

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