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Lockdown propels surge in data usage

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DATA usage in Zimbabwe increased by nearly 37% last year as consumers switched to e-learning and telecommuting due to Covid-19 restrictions which restricted global travel, a report by the country’s telecoms regulator has shown.

BERNARD MPOFU
Zimbabwe, like many other countries in the world, last year enforced strict guidelines to contain the spread of the respiratory ailment which has claimed over 1 500 lives locally since the first case was detected last March.

According to an annual report from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), the sector was one of the hardest hit despite an improvement in revenues. 

“Total mobile and fixed voice traffic declined by 0.9% to record 6 095 683 710 minutes in 2020 from 6 150 783 671 minutes recorded in 2019. International voice traffic recorded a huge decline in 2020. International incoming traffic declined by 20.6% to record 136.7 million minutes from 172.4 million minutes recorded in 2019. International outgoing traffic also declined by 59.3% to record 25.7 million minutes from 63.1 million minutes recorded in 2019,” Potraz said in the report. 

“On the other hand, the sector recorded a surge in internet and data usage due to the increased adoption of e-learning and telecommuting. A total of 48,781 TB (terrabyte) of mobile internet and data were consumed in 2020. This represents a growth in usage by 36.5% from 35,733 TB recorded in 2019. Used international incoming bandwidth capacity also increased by 36.6% to record 159 665 in 2020 from 116 927 recorded in 2019.”

The year 2020, the report says, was characterised by a trend of growing revenues, amidst rising operating costs across all sub-sectors, owing to the inflationary economic environment. Annual sector revenue for 2020 was ZW$38.8 billion up from ZW$4.5 billion recorded in 2019; this represents an annual variance of 751.7% and an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 89.9%.

“The Covid-19 pandemic negatively affected various sectors posing economic hardship for consumers, businesses and communities across the globe. The telecommunications sector was not an exception. Like most essential sectors, the industry found itself on the frontline, using all of its capacity to deliver connectivity to homes, businesses and governments, to keep nations afloat as the pandemic raged on”, the report reads.

“The Covid-19 will not to go away so soon but its spread will decrease owing to ongoing vaccinations across the globe and at national level…Resultantly, we are likely to witness a surge in demand for communication services, in particular data and courier volumes as consumers adapt to the new normal of life.”

Potraz said while demand for data services had spiked, the pandemic exposed the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

“Notably, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the extent of exclusion and deepened pre-existing inequalities in access to digital services. The broadband gap between the urban and rural areas is more evident and is an obstacle towards the implementation of programmes such as e-learning at national level,” the telecoms regulator said.

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