Located in South-Central Africa, Zambia forms part of a region that is fast emerging as one with high growth prospects because of a strong technology base and increasing rates of adoption.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU) statistics reveal that in 2012 the number of mobile cellular subscriptions stood at approximately just over 10,5 million. In that year the percentage of people using the internet was 13,47%.
In research by the ITU, titled Measuring the Information Society 2013, Zambia is said to have registered a “significant increase in mobile-cellular penetration” – up from 61% in 2012 to 76% in 2012.
Zambia has also been identified as a country that has improved its ICT Development ranking over the past year.
Most recently, the country made inroads into the introduction and application of 4G/LTE technology, with one mobile operator, MTN, announcing the launch of the service nationally in January of 2014.
At the time MTN Zambia’s CEO Abdul Ismail was quoted in the local press as saying that the launch represented a significant step forward for the country’s mobile connectivity capability.
The country’s government has made connectivity and the rollout of relevant technology a priority, particularly in rural areas.
At the beginning of 2013 ZICTA or Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority stated its objective to install 144 towers in 118 Chiefdoms, reportedly at a cost of ZMK 240 billion, under the Universal Access and Service Project.
With connectivity being set aside as a key priority, the telecommunications sector is poised to play a more active role in helping achieve the objectives. It is made up of a number of fixed line and mobile operators, including Airtel, MTN, Zambia Telecommunications Company Limited and Zamtel.
Active technology industry
Judging by the level of technology news emerging from Zambia, it would seem the country’s ICT sector is certainly active.
At the beginning of the year MTN Group announced that it has agreed to sell its tower portfolios in Rwanda and Zambia to IHS Holding Limited. For Zambia, the deal comprises 704 towers.
Under the agreements, IHS will acquire and operate the towers and related passive infrastructure and will invest in a build-to-suit program to support MTN’s future requirements in both countries. MTN Rwanda and MTN Zambia will become the respective anchor tenants on the towers for an initial term of ten years.
The transactions bring the total number of towers in IHS’s portfolio to 10,500 extending its leadership in the African market. IHS will market services on the towers in Rwanda and Zambia, promoting tower sharing and colocation to help drive network improvements, better service to subscribers and economic growth.
Each transaction is expected to close independently during the first half of 2014, subject to customary closing conditions.
In August 2013 Ericsson and Zamtel agreed to demonstrate their capability to deliver state-of-the-art 4G mobile communications technology in a live Zamtel mobile communications network, for the first time in Zambia during the 20th edition of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly 2013 being held in Livingstone.
The trial was Zambia’s first live pilot 4G mobile communications demonstration using a mobile communications network and underpins the shared vision of Zamtel and Ericsson to constantly innovate and push the technological envelope in delivering advanced mobile communications services in Zambia.
In the same period last year telecommunication service providers from Zambia and Zimbabwe spoke of their commitment to a first-of-its-kind project to light up and connect the Victoria Falls, a key tourist attraction for the country.
However, much like the situation in neighbouring states, Zambia’s telecommunication industry has been affected by a number of challenges, including dispute between ZICTA and mobile operators over alleged poor quality of service.
In July last year the Authority reportedly took legal action against Airtel Networks Zambia, MTN Zambia and Zamtel. At the time, the regulator stated that the action was meant to protect public interest because the companies in question had allegedly failed to meet minimum standards of quality service provision, according to local media reports.
The registration of unregistered SIM cards represents another challenge. The Authority has this week reiterated the government’s position and has urged mobile phone users and service providers to comply with the law.
In an interview with Lusaka Times, ZICTA PR manager Ngabo Nankonde is quoted by the publication as saying, “Those who registered their SIM Cards but have been disconnected have to go to their respective mobile service providers to report the matter immediately. As for those who did not register their SIM Cards but are still connected, the Act is very clear and so is the Government directive. Any mobile service provider connecting unregistered SIM Cards is breaking the law and going against the Government directive.”
The issue of cybercrime in East Africa, particularly illegal online transfers and conspiracy between bank officials, represents another challenge. Recent news confirms that Zambia has not been spared.
Authorities have noted what is described in media reports as “the sudden rise in cybercrime that has hit the finance sector.”
While technology is widely acknowledged to be an enabler for developing economies, the issue of broadband penetration and access to the Internet remain critical objectives.
* Image via Shutterstock
Chris Tredger – Online Editor