Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the country’s largest mobile network operator, yesterday extended its national 5G network to the southern region, by launching the service in Bulawayo.
The new network, which was launched at the ongoing Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), will offer customers in selected areas within the city super-fast data speeds, improved connectivity and enhanced user experience across multiple service categories and use cases, including business, entertainment and gaming, among many others.
Speaking at the launch event at Econet’s ZITF stand, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, Mr Edwin Banda, said Econet’s 5G launch was in line with the company’s pioneering values and its culture of innovation that has led it to launch many ‘firsts’ in this market.
“We have always been pioneers in this market, in the area of technology and innovation, and the fact that we are the first to launch 5G in Zimbabwe is in line with that tradition.
“Our launch of the service is a response to evolving customer needs, with so many of our customers already having 5G-compatible devices. We want to ensure they are not left behind by technology trends that are already in use in other countries,” said Mr Banda.
Econet launched 5G in Harare back in February, with the promise to play its part in using technology to drive the country towards becoming a full digital economy.
Mr Banda said Econet was rolling out 22 (twenty-two) 5G base stations in Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Gweru and Chitungwiza, adding that 18 of the base stations were already up and switched on, while the remainder would be fired up by May 15, 2022.
“We also consider this is an opportunity to understand the technology characteristics in terms of propagation and other technical aspects of its performance that will enable us to plan better regarding where to deploy more base stations as we scale up the rollout,” Mr Banda said.
The colourful launch event was attended by senior representatives from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), ZTE (Econet’s 5G technology partner) the Trade Fair Company of Zimbabwe, top customers, Econet executives and various visitors to the Fair.
ZTE CEO, Mr Eric Huang, said the global telecoms and technology supplier had a long working relationship with Econet that dates back to 2007, adding that the creation of a sustainable future through technology was something that ZTE cherishes.
He said ZTE was committed to creating many opportunities for businesses and consumers in this market through its partnership Econet.
“To accomplish this, we always propose good solutions such as (we are witnessing) today, as we launch the super-fast 5G technology,” Mr Huang said.
In remarks read on his behalf Potraz Director General Dr Gift Machengete said the launch of the 5G network in Bulawayo provides fertile ground for the country to rethink, reimagine and reinvent its value chains for economic development.
“As the regulator, we are taking this development very seriously as it means a lot in terms of fostering industrial and societal transformation in line with our aspiration to be an upper middle-income economy by 2030,” he said, in remarks read on his behalf by Mrs Hilda Mutseyekwa, Potraz’s Director for Economics, Tariffs & Consumer Affairs.
Dr Machengete said Zimbabwe is envisioning 5G as a technology that will take innovation to the next level.
“It comes with two key features, namely network softwarisation and network virtualisation, which I foresee facilitating the creation of new value chains, development of new specialised services and applications within and across all sectors, including manufacturing, transportation, energy, agriculture, medicine, you name it!
“Consumers on their part, will be able to enjoy a variety of applications and services for their convenience and pleasure. All this is good for welfare maximisation,” the Potraz director general said.
In addition to connectivity speeds that are up to 100 times faster than that of 4G, the 5G network will also help support and facilitate the actualization of other new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), robotics, connected cities and, in the future, self-driving cars, among many other possibilities.
ZITF Chief Executive Officer, Dr Nicholas Ndebele, who attended the launch event, lauded Econet for using technology as a catalyst to drive positive change, adding that Econet’s innovation was in line with this year’s ZITF theme ‘Rethink, Reimagine, Re-invent Value Chains for Economic Development’.
“We believe that change is the only constant, which is why we came up with the theme, Rethink, Reimagine, Reinvent. As ZITF we want to appreciate Econet for the support that they have given this platform and for coming up with innovative initiatives such as the 5G technology that has been launched today,” Dr Ndebele said.
Speaking soon after the ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new 5G base station within the Bulawayo Trade Fair grounds, Mr Banda said 5G would augment Econet’s existing LTE (4G) network.
“We will continue our 4G rollout to all areas of the country to ensure we bridge the digital divide and promote accessibility of digital services to all populated areas of our nation,” he said.
Econet has since its establishment invested over US$2.5 billion in infrastructure and was the first company to introduce 3G and 4G (LTE) networks in the country.
It is currently the market leader infrastructure investment in Zimbabwe, with the largest number of 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G base stations in the country.