By Toneo Tonderai Rutsito
TechZim, a technology blog in Zimbabwe deserves hats off, for organising the inaugural Zimbabwe broadband forum 2013.
The event roped an approximated 150 attendees, from the technology circles, in and around Zimbabwe, converging at Cresta Lodge Hotel in Harare.
A panel of expertise from various technology firms graced the event, among the panellists was the ZOL CEO and Liquid Managing director David Behr, a representative from one of the largest fibre laying consortium in Africa, WIOCC , Mr James Wekesa ,
Telecel Zimbabwe sponsored the event which created a forum for providers of broadband services in Zimbabwe and interested stakeholders to openly discuss and debate the heart of technology, the availability and affordability of broadband internet connectivity and its services.
David Behr, the managing Director of Liquid Telecoms, which is currently one of the biggest fibre optic laying enterprise in Africa kicked off the forum with a brief history of the internet and how best African countries can tap into the global village.
During the Question and answer session, the burning question which almost led the panel on a collision path was on sharing infrastructure. The Zimbabwean counterparts said they seconded the idea but it comes with lots of impossible implementation strategies which the players could not yet solve.
While speaking to TechnoMag, David Behr said ”small aspects like who will maintain the fibre in certain areas and running it may be unsolvable if there is no proper planning”
Mr Wekesa said the” Internet is not an expensive service, it’s actually constructing the platform that costs the Internet Access Providers and once that is laid down then the availability and accessibility is unlimited “.
Today in Zimbabwe the question of sharing the back bone infrastructure has remained unsolved leading to every service provider trenching its own cable, hence carrying forward operational costs everywhere they dig and the customer will always be at the receiving end, carrying the cost burden.
During a side line interview, Mr James Wekesa said that sharing the infrastrurcture is the only way forward if Zimbabwe will have to enjoy affordable internet access at tremendous speeds. The world over internet is shared; there is not any fibre provider which at one point is not sharing infrastructure.
“The bigger role which Zimbabwean players will have to take is to at least have the will power to start sharing their infrastructure now, the further they delay and continue to dig up independently the more the general people will suffer the costs”
The internet business is a billion dollar business and at one point money will be borrowed to be operational and the same money will have to make returns so that the loans are settled”, he added.
There is no need to have companies competing for fibre or infrastructure, rather the focus should be on the service, and any area which already has fibre should not see the duplication but rather other players should actually dip into the connection and propagate, agreed the debating delegates.
In a no holds barred interactive session Telecel Zimbabwe` Marketing director Mr Octivius Kahiya, was asked by one of the attendants on why them and Potraz are not willing, as mobile operators to open up short codes for the delivery of dedicated SMS on their platform.
Mr Kahiya alluded to the problem mainly on the internal policy, privacy and protection of their customers against bulk unsolicited messages spamming the user inbox with advertorial content.
Yet another question was raised on Mobile Number Portability,(MNP) which is the ability to switch from one mobile network to another without need to changing your phone number.
During a one on one interview Mr Octivius Kahiya, he said that as Telecel they have not a problem with mobile Number Portability, “in fact if the clients are ready to have it in wswitched we are more than ready to implement it, this is much more of a client driven initiative than our own policy matter although they may be challenges to its implementation process ”
Robert Gonyewith Gtel also added weight on the matter when he said as a mobile phone manufacture, they are mostly concerned about the user being able to get that satisfaction on their android based platforms with more local based apps which are already available on their phones.
Operational licences in Zimbabwe is another inhibiting factor picked up by Mr Winston Riston of Zambia who was equally shocked by our current rates compared to regional costs as this encourages overcharging amongst players to cover up operational costs.
Yet another off the hook question directed to Potraz on why the Zimbabwean government has banned the Black Berry Messenger (BBM) service and the reason why it was justifiable for mobile operators to fund elections.
A Potraz represantive said that it was the stringent conditions which the Black Berry server has , and upon request and refusal by Black Berry to have an agreement with the provider to open the system should any foul play be suspected.
The Potraz representative also explained that it is not the duty of Potraz to create legislation or policy but as an entity when the policy makers decide that it operates in such a way then they will fulfil the mission and funding government policy is beyond their jurisdiction.
Broadband services have become the most essential element in this digital age and recently a report from the world economic forum confirmed that digitisation has surged the world economic output by more than $200 billion dollars.
Such forums have the potential to impact national policies and encourages constructive criticism which can shape up the future of technology in Zimbabwe as almost all bodies that really matters were present .