Zimbabwe has seen the battle for mobile subscribers escalating to unprecedented heights in recent months, with all mobile network operators resorting to promotions that offer highly reduced tariffs.
With the country's mobile penetration rate now just over 103 percent the sector has literary reached the ceiling and there is very little room to maneuver for mobile operators.
It is only understandable that in such an environment mobile operators will resort to desperate measure to retain and win over new subscribers.
Most of the operators are now fighting for those subscribers who are not loyal to any one subscriber but want to use all three networks.
Telecel stoked the flames of competition when it introduced its mega bonus promotion where they offered 100 percent free calls for any equal amount purchased.
This was well received by their subscribers who enjoyed free minutes in and outside their network.
Econet then responded with Buddie zone, which offered up to 99 percent discount literally allowing subscribers to make calls for free.
Netone joined the show with their dollar mahala promotion, which is still currently active where a dollar top up will give you a full one day of FREE calls inside the network and $5 will give you 5 days free too plus the actual value airtime still allowing a user to caller across network.
Newer promotions were also introduced by both Telecel and Econet as they discontinued rather too costly ones from the market as a viability strategy.
To date Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has terminated most of their promotions on voice based services with only the voice bundles for $5 airtime and above surviving the recent chop.
Free SMS from Ecocash airtime top up also vanished though they successfully compensated with a 25 percent discount on international calls and new data and SMS bundles.
Telecel reinvented the bundles tariffs and their subscribers are still enjoying voice bundles from as little as $1 for 10 minutes across network plus their recently launched Telecel Go tariffs to cater for various subscribers with different calling trends.
Given such a situation, it would have been only normal to see a mass exodus of subscribers from Econet Wireless Zimbabwe to other mobile network operators in search of attractive extra services.
Ironically, last month Econet announced a huge gain of 780 0000 more subscribers to their network.
Telecel registered a drop of 100 000 subscribers according to a report from their parent company Vimplecom.
NetOne has not yet announced its figures as it is due to release its quarterly report soon from the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority,
Given such a trend, it boggles one's mind how in such a heavily contested market and highly rewarding promotions, subscribers have stuck with Econet Wireless Zimbabwe which is now nearing 9 million subscribers while Telecel and Netone last reported 2,5 million and 2 million subscribers simultaneously in the last quarter.
Subscribers have simply resolved to stay put and enjoy the benefits brought about by the promotions as and when they come, but why?
The reality is that no one wants to lose his or her old and known phone number for any promotion. The essence of any phone number is to make sure that one is connected remotely and instantly and no amount of promotions would make any subscriber want to risk connectivity.
For the youths, especially those who are only buying their first phones, the choices are obvious for them, they will most likely go for the attractive packages hence Telecel is most likely to benefit from this generation.
NetOne will still need to do a lot to identify itself with this young generation and at least avail Value Added Services (VAS) based on data to embrace the modern online trends , hence attract the young generation otherwise NetOne is largely perceived to be a network of the grown and old. Econet has won the battle of brand identity for years, they remained steadfast in reliability and service provision in the yester years of the Zim-dollar era when other mobile network operators faced serious viability problems.
Basic service like connectivity was once a scarce commodity for all operators but Telecel and Netone suffered the most during that era.
Unfortunately those scars would not be easy to erase, although its surely a thing of the past, it's difficult to set the mind free especially of the older generation who passed through the trying phases. The real secret rather should not be about how to gain new subscribers but retaining the current ones whom the Mobile network operators have already acquired.
According to a survey by TechnoMag, at least 30 percent of subscribers in Zimbabwe own more than one active sim card and these are the subscribers fuelling the more than 100 percent mobile penetration rate, hence a very critical component of the battle for subscribers since they are exposed to all networks.
Although the numbers look good for Econet, they are actually at the highest risk of losing more than 50 percent of their subscribers should Potraz introduce Mobile Number Portability.
Econet has attained huge numbers in the previous years but has failed to competitively square up with current market promotions, forcing its subscribers to stay put only for reasons of safeguarding their old phone numbers. Mobile Number portability will allow subscribers to switch networks while they keep their own phone numbers and this something that Econet Wireless should be worried about. According to our research, Value added services like Ecocash services will also be a strong decider before one migrates.