#MondayBlues: Econet Downtime Was a Tip of the Ice Berg

A few days back TechnoMag warned that the telecommunication sector is under siege and was now contemplating downtime on their base stations as the costs of running operations using diesel has ballooned their Opex.

For about 8 hrs on Saturday, Econet faced national downtime and the outcry was as heavy as the impact felt, fortunately NetOne and Telecel were up to keep the 20% of the market share communicating, but what if all other mobile networks were down and this took days to resolve the problem, since server reconfigurations after hard reboots are not always a quick fix.

Or, what if it was not a technical fault, but a mere case of cutting cost as companies can no longer commit to a daily expense of running base stations with generators on diesel. Is this really a sustainable business model for any player?

It’s not the telecommunication sector alone that requires energy, few operational companies and industries rely on consistent  power supply and the moment we cut them off this critical component of the production cycle, we become our own sanctions.

Hundreds of thousands of litres of diesel today are required to sustain the industry and keep them going to produce, but its not just the cost effect of diesel, but also two more terrible twins, availability and transporting it to various stations where it’s needed.

After spending productive hours in queues for diesel and petrol, one has to pump out $6 plus per litre, a figure that sharply rose from $1.35, but why this old comparative because airtime costs , salaries and wages have not really jumped in sync with this adjustment, hence it becomes a considerably new cost to operation that every company has to bear.

In such a scenario, Solar is the way to go and yes Econet wireless Zimbabwe was In the news recently for commissioning the largest Solar  plant ever in Zimbabwe, This is the alternative energy that we need and also on a good tip  its renewable, we can use this over and  over  again without worrying  if it will run out.

During a parliamentary portfolio enquiry, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe said it had only commissioned a solar system that works directly to power their units, but to keep it going on for longer hours after power cuts, they need batteries as well with huge amperage power  that can store the current.This is a strong investment, which is not fully ready yet.

Buying and delivering diesel to base stations or generators is not the core business of any institution in Zimbabwe except for fuel companies. The economy is already shrinking and all the available resources have to be focused on more productive issues

Imagine one having to travel from Mutare with truckloads of diesel to power up Chimanimani, Chipinge  and Beitbridge  base stations simply because those areas are suffering acute fuel supplies already, how much of an expense would this be and who must carry these costs?

Its not fair for us subscribers to then be extended these costs mainly because our incomes as well have never been improved and we are already squeezed.

This calls for government to identify critical sectors of the economy where they atleast have to guarantee supply of such critical inputs, or at least subsidize the cost so that the consumers will not ultimately bear the brunt.

While these are just necessities to kick in the network, it is important for us as subscribers to also have a good appreciation of how mobile networks works and the actual inevitable costs of running such a business.

It already costs a hefty amount of data landing to bring internet to Zimbabwe, mobile connectivity data packets, the actual data connectivity with other networks that guarantee uploads and downloads is done at an importing cost with international gateway fees, that is paid in foreign currency.

 Unfortunately these costs are  paid in actual USD value, at whatever prevailing rate, be it bank or black market rate, it has to be paid and once converted, we have already stated that our tariffs using the RTGS to bank rates are the lowest in the region if not the world making our services too low to maintain the operational costs which are mandatory.

TelOne is currently facing imminent internet cut off due to lack of foreign currency, they have incurred a bill of USD $23 million from many foreign suppliers and they may be disconnected if they fail to pay this obligation.

The threat is real!

Besides these inevitable costs to telcos, we must not neglect the actual problems that ZESA is also facing, besides corruption and mismanagement issues bedeviling the entity ZESA is making a dime with the current tariffs they are charging.

They are always going to be knocking the ministry of finance’s door for donations to sustain and pay off what they owe regionally, and as a business model, this is unsustainable, they need this tariff review so that at least they can be capacitated. This increase in tariffs, however, does not guarantee power supply.

This problem is going to shut down the few productive areas in Zimbabwe if not approached with great caution, while these are just tale signs, we need to start approaching the ZESA problem with the urgency it deserves before it’s too late.

No-one owns their own means of energy, from manufacturing, agriculture to the telecommunications sector. When ZESA supply goes out for more than 12 hours, soon the whole industry and commerce will do the inevitable.

I hate to say this, under such circumstances darker days of disconnection are coming!

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