By Toneo Tonderai Rutsito
I have been closely watching the developments at Africom, one of Zimbabwe`s pioneers in converged communication dismally fail to take up its market position by either ignorantly or deliberately delaying to unleash its own arsenal.
For a converged communication service provider in the industry for the past 17years, surely one would expect a bigger market share from the player who has stood the test of time and seen greater opportunities more than any of these leading data or GSM players.
By merely browsing through the Africom Facebook page, it is very clear that thousands of these people are all saying one simple thing while the Africom team is busy doing something else.
The message is loud and clear, “all we need is fast, reliable and good network coverage nothing more nothing less”
For years now, infact as a ground breaker Africom was the first player in Zimbabwe to avail data as cheap as $18 per gig at the time when the other players especially the GSM operators were charging an arm and a leg while a single dollar could not even afford a couple of megabytes.
Way back In October 2010, Africom made headlines when it announced that their 1 gigabyte bundle was going to cost US $18. This was the news that actually forced all other operators to play ball with Econet being the most expensive offering $98 for the 1 gigabyte bundle during the same time, prices subsequently reduced thereafter.
By so doing Africom tilted the playing field in their favour a move which was supposed to make them sweep over as the biggest ISP in Zimbabwe running fibre and satellite based communication backed up by CDMA voice technology, a much viable technology to deploy then.
The Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) and the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), inconjuction with Africom Continental managed to have a direct access to tier 1 Internet service providers of choice through their optical fiber link between Harare and Forbes border post in Mutare.
It is this connection to the SEACOM undersea cable that enabled the provision of wholesale Internet to local service providers by Africom and its greatest advantage to actually dictate the market price as they own their own last mile.
It seems the Africom team has been perfectly making all the necessary marketing noise better than its competitors while they completely forgot to substantiate their marketing prowess with real work on ground.
No matter how much Africom can unleash their very best of marketing it will not bring them fortunes if they keep ignoring the writing on the wall, in fact this may be the same reason which may cause their downfall should they choose to ignore this fundamental principle?
This virtually makes Africom its own worst enemy and competitor as they have a lot of technological limitations killing their own concerted marketing efforts
For any broadband user they are two basics which every customer expects and Africom will need to seriously look into these:
Fast internet connectivity: Africom has been well known to be the biggest surprise substitute in a critical game. Its either Africom will greatly impress you or terribly disappoint at any given time making it unpredictable and unreliable and has inherited the “Full Of Surprise” name tag where anything can just happen.
Africom does not really need this especially on their CDMA dongle a very popular product with the masses for those who need internet connectivity on the go.
Fortunately I cant say the same on their fixed platform, (fibre or Vsat) a service they offer to most corporates as reliable sources have it that their fixed or corporate packages are way too stable, while their end user dongle products for CDMA needs great attention.
The consumer market has fell in love with their affordable mobile dongle, while the speed offered is disappointing to say the least. With their infrastructural back ground, it obvious that Africom has a base station bandwidth contention problem they simply need to urgently solve and win back the hearts of disappointed millions.
Although its practically impossible to have completely stable internet access, Africom can solve this by availing more base station which are now obviously crowded because their clientele base has grown, simple mathematics!
This one area which will unlock value for Africom, while their cross over campaign has been received well with many, it’s a simple sign that this generation is now much more data hungry and the cap simply needs to be removed to add value.
While Africom may be commended for the strides they have made so far, they still can do a lot more better to make sure that Zimbabweans across the nation can get equal coverage, Currently they are covering major towns and cities while other grey areas greatly need their services where poor speeds or zero connectivity being experienced
By virtue of it being a pioneer of commercial VoIP service provider, Africom is poised to be the biggest voice calling service provider but surprisingly to date they have not really y managed to get the chunk of the market still owned by the relatively expensive GSM operators.
Ofcourse Africom has always publicly said it does not compete with these mobile operators but they could be missing a great opportunity by this soft stance when everyone else is creating a clientele base which they really need now more than later.
Africom operates on CDMA technology, thus a data a platform which makes it impossible to switch SIM cards with that of GSM operators the main reason why most people on Econet, Telecel or Netone cannot enjoy the benefit of this platform especially their smart move campaign.
Africom commands only 2% of the total voice market in Zimbabwe while it has only around 100 000 data customers. However on VoIP market, Africom commands more than 70% market share of the subscribers