Golden Sibanda Senior Business Reporter
Telecel Zimbabwe subscribers are encountering problems connecting to the Econet network because the company does not have a valid mobile licence, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe said yesterday. Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone operator released the salvo yesterday after Telecel had complained bitterly and blamed Econet Wireless for the problems its customers were facing when calling Econet numbers.
Econet Wireless cited clause 5.2.2 of its new 20-year licence re-issued after the expiry of its previous 15-year permit that requires it to connect only with operators that are licensed.
“Therefore, as matters stand, Telecel is not a holder of a valid telecommunications licence issued in terms of Section 37 of the Act. Econet Wireless does not have any legal or moral obligation to interconnect with an unlicensed operator. In fact, we have a duty to disconnect such an operator,” said Econet.
Telecel Zimbabwe had earlier claimed that the lack of connectivity had nothing to do with its network capacity because its interconnect links were thoroughly tested and monitored and had proved to be congestion-free.
Econet Wireless said Telecel Zimbabwe won the tender to offer mobile phone services in 1996, but that same year the High Court declared the licence invalid. Telecel’s appeal to the Supreme Court was never pursued.
Econet Wireless said the High Court granted leave for the execution of its judgment pending appeal, but the leave was never challenged in the Supreme Court, adding that if Telecel was subsequently issued with a licence in terms of telecommunications law and regulations the issuance violated the High Court ruling.
Econet further claims that Telecel Zimbabwe’s licence was subsequently validly terminated, but assuming the licence issued to Telecel was valid and was not validly terminated; such licence expired on June 2, 2013.
After the expiry, Government last week directed Telecel Zimbabwe major shareholder Telecel International to sell 20 percent of its 60 percent stake to Empowerment Corporation, its local partner which holds the 40 percent balance, in line with initial terms of the licence issued in 1998 as a condition for its licence renewal.
The country’s biggest mobile phone operator said: “As can be confirmed with regulatory authorities, no new licence had been issued in its place. Therefore, as matters stand, Telecel is not a holder of a valid telecommunications licence issued in terms of Section 37 of the (The Postal and Telecommunications) Act”.
“Econet Wireless does not have any legal or moral obligation to interconnect with an unlicensed operator. In fact, we have a duty to disconnect such an operator. Econet Wireless has fully met the terms of its new licence, which terms include hugely burdensome financial obligations,” Econet Wireless said.
Telecel will require a staggering US$137,5 million to obtain a new licence with an extended 20-year tenure.
Econet said in contrast, Telecel has not been subjected to any such financial obligations.
“With no such burden upon it, Telecel has been free to deliberately engage in trading practices that have distorted the playing field.”
Telecel had earlier squarely laid the blame on Econet Wireless saying the problem started on July 14, 2013. Telecel said that it now takes an average of 20 attempts to get through to an Econet Wireless number.
Telecel said its call completion statistics indicate that they normally have a completion rate of above 90 percent for all Telecel to Econet traffic. When the problem started, this reduced to 37 percent and came further down to 19 percent as of Monday. On Wednesday this had come down even further to only 10 percent
“This lack of connectivity has nothing to do with the Telecel network capacity. All our interconnect links have been thoroughly tested and monitored and have proved to be congestion-free. Calls to other local destinations, including NetOne, TelOne and Africom, as well as to international operators, and calls in the reverse direction are going through without any problem,” said Telecel Zimbabwe in a statement.