Egypt’s Orascom Telecom (part of the Russian Vimpelcom group) has reinforced its commitment to its majority-owned mobile subsidiary Telecel Zimbabwe with an announcement that it will invest USD70 million in the short term to develop the GSM operator’s national 2G and fledgling 3G cellular services. As reported by the Zimbabwean Independent newspaper, Orascom’s African Cluster CEO, Vincenzo Nesci, said there is ‘huge potential’ for expanding mobile services in Zimbabwe. ‘The USD70 million investment is expected to cover expansion and upgrading of both voice and data services to ensure Telecel’s clients are able to access a fuller range of mobile communications services in line with worldwide developments,’ said Nesci, adding that there would also be a major training initiative to ensure both managerial and technical skills are developed on par with those at other units of the Orascom group. ‘Work on expanding Telecel’s network and operations is ongoing but is expected to receive a major boost, through Orascom’s investment, before the end of the year and continue throughout 2012,’ the executive continued. Telecel’s network currently covers over 58% of the country, and the company says it intends to have around 85% coverage by the end of next year, as stated by Nesci: ‘85% is considered a high coverage percentage. Although 100% might seem desirable, it is not attainable, given the country’s topography and population distribution.’ In this year to date Telecel has deployed 127 new base stations, operating on both 2G and 3G technology platforms, with the latter offering services in a pilot phase.
TeleGeography notes that Telecel has recently slipped back into third place in the Zimbabwean mobile market with 1.24 million subscribers at end-September 2011 reported by parent group Vimpelcom, behind state-run NetOne’s total of 1.3 million, and way behind locally-owned Econet’s 5.6 million. However, the figures were heavily affected by the introduction of a mandatory pre-paid user registration scheme, which saw Telecel’s subscriber base shrink from a peak of 3.5 million at the end of December 2010. Telecel sees its active users growing to three million by the end of 2012.