ECONET Wireless says it has installed more base stations and towers to increase capacity and reduce congestion on its network.
ify>In its financial statement released last month, the company said it had also upgraded base stations in major cities and towns to increase network capacity and coverage.
The company announced that it had achieved a 60% growth on its subscriber base and revealed plans to double the subscriber base this year to half a million up from last year’s 244 435.
“The group has spent $80 billion on network development during the half year,” said the statement.
Despite these developments, it seems the benefits have not trickled down to subscribers who have to struggle to get through on the Econet network. The network is the most congested in the country.
The number of dropped calls has continued to increase despite promises of network upgrades to provide better service to subscribers.
The rapid growth in the subscriber base has seen a slump in service. Although the company has developed a number of innovative products, this has not been matched by efforts to reduce congestion on the network. Getting a connection is a mission and text messages sometimes take more than 10 hours to be delivered.
Congestion has become one of the “products” subscribers have become familiar with.
Messages such as “Error in communication”, “Number not in use”, and “Message sending failed”, only to mention a few, are now synonymous with the network.
The most irritating are dropped calls.
This is against the international GSM standards which say that not more than two calls should fail out of every hundred calls made.
Econet chief executive, Douglas Mboweni, said almost five calls out of every hundred dialled fail
and the company was working “flat out to attain the international standards”.
“We started software upgrade at the central switches in December. Unfortunately, we do the upgrade on the live network because we do not have capacity to have testing switches,” he said.
Switches become congested because of the upgrade. In January, Econet began another phase of the physical switch upgrade and the company is in the process of moving all base stations to one upgraded switch which will reduce congestion significantly, according to Mboweni.
However, Mboweni added, during this period congestion will inevitably be experienced.
He explained that Econet was operating on two switches — one for Harare and the other for out of Harare. Base stations are connected to the switches which process traffic. The Harare switch will be upgraded while a completely new one will replace the out of Harare switch. A third switch will also be installed by year-end.
The equipment for the upgrade is being supplied by the company’s traditional suppliers — Ericsson.
Mboweni said by end of February, services on the Econet network would have improved while July end would see an end to the inconveniences faced by subscribers. Econet, according to Mboweni, is taking advantage of the US$14 million proceeds realised from the sale of Mascom (Botswana) shares to Econet International.
On SMS messages, Mboweni admitted that the capacity was such that only about 80 messages were processed at a given time, while excesses were queued up or dropped.
An Israeli company, Comverse, has been tasked with supplying the equipment to double the platform to process a minimum of 140 messages at any given time.
“We are awaiting Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) approval of the invoices so that we can transfer the funds to Comverse because the foreign currency is available in our FCA,” Mboweni said.
He said the subscriber base would only be increased to the targeted 500 000 by the end of 2005 after the upgrade as the system cannot cope with current demand, let alone additional demand.
The investment is Econet’s largest ever expansion since the privately-owned network was launched in June 1998.
In another related telecommunications matter, group chief executive Strive Masiyiwa, who led a high-powered delegation to an international arbitration held in Abuja last week, said in a statement that the arbitration ended on February 3 and that a ruling was expected in the next two to three months.
He said lawyers from both Econet and V-Mobile, the renamed mobile operator, still had to submit written submissions before the arbitrators can give their final ruling.