Mobile smartphones have with no doubt become an essential medium of communication in Zimbabwe and across the world. This has also seen an increase in broadband usage reaching high levels. This is particularly despite the economic upheavals the country is confronted with where mobile data has been relatively high and for some it has become a luxury.
According Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) Sector Performance Report Q4, mobile internet and data usage increased by 15.7% in 2018.
Zimbabwe, has gone through a devastating economic bout which has seen prices rising beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Inflationary pressures have been mounting against stagnant or eroded incomes exacerbated by low production, low exports and a soaring unemployment rate.According to Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) year-on-year inflation for February 2019 as measured by the all-items consumer price index (CPI) grew by 2,49 percentage points to 59,39%.On the telecommunications front, it has been a different story as data consumption has increased against the backdrop of an increasing hyperinflation rate.
As the country gears towards a digital economy by 2030, appetite for mobile internet services has been soaring with the latest rate according to Potraz Sector Performace Report Q4 increasing to 62.9% from 55.4% recorded in the third quarter of 2018.Mobile smartphone devices have also flooded the country coming in all shapes and sizes and this has played a huge role in increasing internet usage. However, users still have to pay a lot to have internet services which are now being currently priced using a two-tier pricing system of RTGS and US dollars.
According to Potraz Sector Performance Report Q4 the internet penetration rate has been consistently increasing due to a growing demand for internet and data services. More and more Zimbabweans now rely on the internet for communication, school and business .
Most people use smartphones that come with pre-installed applications that need to be updated to the latest versions time and again as well as initial updates of the content available on the application.There are also downloadable nice -to-have applications that offer games and useful information.These applications use more data when updating to latest versions and the initial downloading.
The social media craze that has engulfed many Zimbabweans has become a source of information for many with a lot of stuff being shared in text and visual format. The latter has proved more costly as mobile technology is improving at a fast rate and smartphones with a good built in camera capture sharper high resolution images and high definition videos which require more data when sharing meaning users will have to purchase more data.
Zimbabwean Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have been investing heavily in setting up more updated base stations as shown in the Potraz Sector Performance Report Q4 where the number of base stations increased by 5.1% to reach 8805 as at December 2018 from 8378 recorded as at December 2017.The deployment of additional base stations has led to improved network population coverage for most parts of the country thus more connectivity, more users and more data consumption.
There is limited availability of public free WiFi and despite the relatively high cost of mobile data, a typical user’s median mobile data usage is significantly more than WiFi usage. As expected, and consistent with observations of mobile data usage in Zimbabwe , users have a tendency of favoring the use of WiFi for streaming video applications, such as YouTube. Interestingly, users also consume significant mobile data to update mobile applications, as opposed to relying on WiFi networks for application updates.
This suggests that MNOs and mobile application developers must pay more attention to data usage patterns on cellular networks and work on providing mobile network services that are have cost-effective mechanisms for tasks such as application downloads and updates.