MVNO could bridge digital divide in Zambia – Mpolokoso

Benjamin Mpolokoso

The Zambian mobile market does not need another traditional network operator to complete mobile penetration, but a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) could provide vital benefits, according to Benjamin Mpolokoso, consultancy and training unit manager at the University of Zambia’s Centre for Information and Communication Technologies (CICT).

In Zambia there are around 10.5 million active SIM cards within a population of 13 million people, a figure which has grown from 50,000 in 2000, but fixed line internet subscribers stand at 10,500 and mobile data has not been pushed by the networks.

Airtel has a 45 per cent share of the market, while MTN has 39 per cent and state-run Zamtel has 16 per cent.

Mpolokoso said a fourth network operator in a market close to saturation is not needed, but a disruptive MVNO could complete penetration and begin to provide increased internet connectivity.

“The established mobile operators have done a great job building up voice services and you can talk for an hour for less than a dollar, but they are not doing the same thing for data,” Mpolokoso said.

“That is why I believe a MVNO model for data only would be a great model.”

He believes a freemium model could be introduced for data users during off-peak time, while charging a premium during on-peak times.

Mpolokoso did concede however there needs to be a reduction in smartphone and data compatible devices for the data MVNO model to work in Zambia and Africa in general.

He said if device pricing comes down then an MVNO, through a data-only model, could include education apps and e-government services coming pre-installed on handsets.