High speed internet on its way

chamisaHARARE - Landlocked Zimbabwe is completing the laying out of a link to a new fibre-optic network promising high-speed internet, officials have said. (Pictured: Information and technology Minister, Nelson Chamisa.)

Engineers expect the capital, Harare, to be connected to the newly arrived undersea cables in the Mozambique coast off the Indian Ocean by June. The fibre optic ring will run to each and every corner of Zimbabwe, enabling those in the rural areas to access Internet, 3G and 4G technology on cell phones.

A national fibre-optic ring is due to go online early in 2010 officials told The Zimbabwean. The new link is the key part of a plan to transform Zimbabwe from an impoverished, agricultural society into a hi-tech economic innovator and major hub of Information and Communication Technology in sub-Saharan Africa.

Govt committed to ICT

Tel One, the country’s lone fixed-telephone line operator, is laying the fibre-optic telecom link between Harare, and the eastern city of Mutare, which borders Mozambique, and connecting it to the rest of the country. Most of Zimbabwe’s 12 million inhabitants still eke a living from small-scale farming, and much of the country remains without basic services – including a reliable electricity supply.

Yet 11 months after formation of a unity government between Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and long time rival President Mugabe, the troubled unity government appears determined to push ahead with development on ICT. The government has increased the number of people with cell phones from one in every 10 in February last year to three in every 10 in December. The price of sim cards has dramatically been slashed from around US$100 before the formation of the inclusive government to US$4 now.

The country’s biggest mobile phone operator, Econet, a blue-chip company listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and owned by Zimbabwean business mogul Strive Masiyiwa, announced last week it had reached 3 million cell phone subscribers on its network on a 5.1 million capacity prepaid system. The other two mobile phone operators are Telecel Zimbabwe and the State-owned Net-One.

Chamisa in a hurry

Information Communication Technology minister Nelson Chamisa of Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s MDC party is hoping to complete the project as soon as possible. Chamisa, 31, a political scientist and marketer, took up his post at the helm of ICT ministry in February last year. He is mainly credited with increasing mobile phone usage from 10 per cent to 30 per cent in one year.

He said Zimbabwe was trying to move from unreliable and expensive satellite communication to cheaper fibre-optic communication. “We’re in a hurry,” Chamisa told The Zimbabwean. “This fibre optic link will enable us to have a solid backbone. At any particular point in time, the people will be connected, anytime anywhere, always. We want to change people’s lives. Communication is life, communication is business, and communication creates possibilities. This is why this is a big thing for the country. Once we have the kingdom of communication and connectivity, everything else will follow.”

Most Zimbabweans lack significant computer skills and few have regular access to the internet. Many of those who do are yet to explore the web’s full potential. “I get to use the internet at internet cafes in town,” said Tanaka Moyo, a 22-year-old university student. “I use the Internet for research purposes, facebook, sending and receiving e-mails. But it is too expensive. US$1 only gets you 20 minutes. I think we need to commend these efforts to develop technology in Zimbabwe.”

WiBro is the future

At the Kopje area in downtown Harare, inconspicuous antennae tethered to a floodlight pylon are the only outward sign of one of Zimbabwe’s most arresting projects. When operational, the antennae will blanket the city with a WiBro (Wireless Broadband) signal – a state-of-the-art wireless protocol – sometimes known as Wimax – designed to funnel data at high speed to new 4G mobile devices. “We are really focussing on the future,” said one project engineer. “We are doing our best not to be left behind.” The WiBro plan is just one of many technology projects Zimbabwe’s government is trying to push through in a hurry before the 2010 soccer world cup in neighbouring South Africa in June, expected to attract over 400,000 IT-savvy soccer fans worldwide.

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