By Paul Nyakazeya:
AS technological convergence redefines business models across nearly every industry, mobile telecommunications companies have shown a growing appetite for innovation in order to survive and thrive in a fast-paced and unpredictable environment. This year alone the country's three mobile telecommunication companies Econet, Telecel and NetOne have launched a combined 12 new products in an attempt to increase revenue as mobile phone businesses go beyond just voice.
Telecel Zimbabwe last month launched its Telecash gold card, a debit card which can be used to pay for goods and services at any of the more than 5 000 ZimSwitch points of sale across the country. Announcing the introduction of the Telecash gold card, Telecel mobile financial services director Nkosinathi Ncube, said the debit card was a first from a mobile money transfer service provider.
The card can be used to pay for groceries, DSTV subscriptions, restaurant and hotel bills, and many other things. It can also be used to withdraw cash at ZimSwitch automated teller machines (ATMs). "Since we launched Telecash we have been looking at ways of broadening the offering. When we launched we started with only the basics such as sending and receiving money but now we are coming up with more functionalities," said Ncube.
In January, Telecel launched Telecash, which allows mobile phones to be used to send money to anyone with a mobile phone, regardless of network, and pay for groceries, bills, airtime and other goods and services. As at June 30, there were around US$18 million worth of Telecash transactions since its launch. The company also introduced a video calling service that allows prepaid subscribers with video calling capable handsets to make video calls to other prepaid Telecel subscribers.
Underscoring another eye-opening phenomenon, all executives in the telecommunication sector have called innovation "extremely important" and a key enabler facilitating their successful response to persistent change. Econet last month launched a new product, EconetHealth, which will provide health tips to members of the public at US$0,05 per message.
Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, Paul Chimedza, said the programme would help reduce morbidity, mortality and ballooning costs in treatment and care of preventable diseases. "Innovation remains key in this market, especially if we are to combat health issues which can be tackled through access to relevant information," said Chimedza.
Econet's, EcoCash, also teamed up with WorldRemit, the global online money transfer service, to offer customers instant international money transfers to EcoCash mobile wallets. This allows Zimbabweans in 35 diaspora countries to make online remittance payments to friends and families in Zimbabwe.
Using WorldRemit, Zimbabweans can send money online, through smartphones, tablets or computers, directly to an EcoCash mobile wallet. Recipients can then use their mobile wallets for many purposes, such as buying groceries, paying utility bills, buying airtime, sending money domestically, or withdrawing cash from authorised agents. Econet also launched Ecoschool, an educational platform that provides scholars and educators with affordable and reliable access to world-class educational content using an Ecoschool tablet.
One pays a monthly subscription of US$5 for 24 months and gets access to the Ecoschool tablet with a library of core textbooks and other course materials. Last month, Econet Wireless chief executive officer, Douglas Mboweni, predicted that Zimbabwe will be the most "cashless" country in Africa by the end of this year after launching EcoCash MasterCard, a debit and credit card supported by global card company MasterCard
He said the tight availability of bank notes in an economy such as Zimbabwe that used multiple currencies had created an opportunity to create the first truly cashless country in Africa. He revealed that more than 50 percent of the adult population of Zimbabwe now used EcoCash. Transactions on the platform had already crossed US$400 million per month, which is nearly US$5 billion per year.
NetOne in conjunction with the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) Zimbabwe also launched a weather update mobile application called One Weather. One Weather is running under the slogan "Your mobile weather report". With NetOne's 700 base stations, One Weather has a higher chance of offering the service to many industries such as transport operators, the Civil Protection Department, tourism operators, mobile operators and the full spectrum of the farming community among others for various decision making purposes.