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Chapter 2.5 : Telecommunications & Support Infrastructure

The  major  telecommunications  infrastructure  carrier  for  the  country  is  ZAMTEL, covering  most parts of the country using various technologies. However, over time the infrastructure capacity has deteriorated due to technology changes and system inadequacies.

In 1994, Parliament enacted the Telecommunications Act, which resulted in the restructuring of the telecommunications  sub-sector  by  separating  the  posts  and telecommunications  functions  in  the Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) into two commercial entities:  ZAMTEL and ZAMPOST.  In  addition,  this  included  the removal  of   regulatory  functions  from  PTC;  thus resulting in the establishment of an autonomous regulatory agency, the Communications Authority of Zambia (CAZ). In addition, the Radio Communications Act of 1994 gives CAZ the responsibility of administering the  utilisation  of  the  Radio  Frequency  Spectrum,  an  important component  in  the  effective performance of the telecommunications and broadcasting sub-sectors.

The liberalisation opened up the market to other competitors in almost all segments of the entire telecommunications industry apart from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and the International Gateway. ZAMTEL maintains monopoly in the PSTN market while efforts have been made to liberalise the International Gateway component.
Public Switched Telephone Network ZAMTEL, a 100% state-owned company is the only provider allowed to operate a public switched telephone network (PSTN) in Zambia. It provides a wide range of services including local, national, long  distance,  and  international  fixed  telephone  services, domestic  satellite  telephone  (Domsat), mobile telephone, and leased line services. ZAMTEL Internet service was commissioned in May 1997.

The transmission network is predominantly analogue and is mainly based on microwave technology. A number of microwave trunk routes carry traffic to major provincial centres. However, a digital microwave network linking Lusaka to Copperbelt province, Eastern province and Siavonga has been commissioned.  A  digital  backbone  linking  Lusaka  and
Livingstone  is  being  installed  as  part  of ZAMTELs  network  upgrade.  Traffic  to medium  sized  towns  and  rural  areas  is  carried  via microwave links that also provide interconnection with neighbouring countries where applicable.
The  installed  capacity  of  fixed  telephone  lines  is  about  90,000  but  the  demand has over time exceeded the available capacity resulting in one of the lowest teledensity in Southern Africa of only 0.9 per 100 people (9 people per 1000 with telephone service) across the country.

Satellite Networks

ZAMTEL operates three earth stations forming the International Gateway for links to USA, Europe and  Asia;  Mwembeshi  I  was  installed  in  1974,  Mwembeshi  II  in  1987 while  Mwembeshi  III  was completed   in   2002.   Apart   from   telephone   services, all   earth   stations   transmit   and   receive international television via INTELSAT satellite. In recent years, ZAMTEL has also commissioned a Domestic Satellite system to provide telephony services to remote rural areas. Unfortunately, this service has not been extended beyond Sesheke, Sinazongwe and Kaputa, which were commissioned in 1995.

Wireless Local Loop (WLL)

ZAMTEL has installed the WLL system to cater for peri-urban communities that are closer to the exchanges but cannot be serviced by wireline technology. However, deployment and coverage of the WLL  system  is  very  limited.  ZAMTEL  is  currently  conducting  a gradual  replacement  of  the analogue WLL system with digital technology, mainly in
urban areas along the line of rail.

National Fibre Optic Backbone

Unlike  neighbouring  countries  which  have  made  substantial  investments  in telecommunications infrastructure,   Zambia lacks a modern fibre optic backbone for national and regional interconnection, despite the fact that fibre is terminating at Zambias borders: Zimbabwe at Kariba, Botswana at Kazungula and Namibia at Katima Mulilo. The Copperbelt Energy Company (CEC) has  installed  a  24-core  520km  fibre optic  backbone  on  the  Copperbelt,  whose  excess  capacity  is available for resale to potential users. On the other hand, ZESCO has already installed a 45km fibre optic cable between Lusaka and Kafue. It is desirable that a national network covering the entire country will be developed taking advantage of existing infrastructure such as electricity powerlines as a means of quick rollout of the network (using powerline technology, about 3,500km of fibre optic cabling is needed to cover the country up to provincial level).

In order to leapfrog the existing capacity and technology requirements for overhauling the existing telecommunications  infrastructure,  thereby  laying  a  solid  foundation  for delivering  current and future services ranging from digital radio, TV, Internet, data and other multimedia services, Fibre based technology provides a comprehensive  and reliable  network for the country. The possibility of reducing telephone and Internet costs  can  be  achieved  by  interconnecting  the proposed national Fibre Optic network to the under-sea cable running along the African coast (west and east) connecting to Europe and Asia; some of the most active communication destinations for Zambia. However, this requires implementation modalities in terms of network licensing, access conditions, management and operation of the backbone in the most optimal and beneficial manner to the entire country.

Mobile Phone Services

The CAZ has licensed three mobile cellular service providers by 2004 from one (01) in 1996, namely ZAMTEL  operating  as  CELL, TELECEL (now acquired by MTN group) and  CELTEL  (formerly  ZAMCELL)  and  is considering the entrance of a fourth mobile operator on the market. One  of  the  results  of  the  liberalisation  of  the  telecommunications  sub-sector has been  the accelerated development of mobile telephony. The most evident market difference between mobile and fixed line services is that, worldwide, mobile communications is growing much more rapidly in rollout and access. In 2002, few years after introduction of mobile communication in Zambia, the number of mobile subscribers surpassed the fixed-line (ZAMTEL) subscribers and is still growing for the following reasons:

  1. There is unfulfilled demand for service in both urban and rural areas;
  2. Mobile networks can be installed more rapidly than fixed lines;
  3. Pre-paid mobile cellular service allows users to obtain services where they may not normally qualify for a fixed or mobile post-paid service because of their low or irregular income and/or lack of  fixed-abode;
  4. Users find the functionality of mobile phones extremely useful; compared to fixed Lines; and
  5. Mobile technology infrastructure is less susceptible to vandalism

The current combined subscriber base on the mobile networks stands at about 450,000 in just 5-8 years surpassing 90,000 fixed line subscribers that have been achieved over many years. However, the majority of the subscribers are along the line of rail. Currently all provincial centres are covered by at least one of the cellular network providers. On
the other hand, fixed line growth is expected to slow down in the near future mainly due to the flexibility  and convenience  of  mobile communication. However, the source of future growth for fixed lines will be due to the demand for faster and cheaper Internet  access. Organisations  and individuals may increasingly opt for mobile phones and retain fixed-line primarily for Internet access and other value-added services. This may only happen when mass-market broadband technologies take root in the country.

Internet Service Providers

Zambia  is  the  pioneer  of  Internet  in  Sub-Sahara  Africa  outside  South  Africa  in the  early  90s. However, this advantage has not been exploited in that the country now lags behind many African countries that started Internet services just a few years ago. However, the Internet sub-sector is fully liberalised and is one of the most competitive in
the ICT services industry in Zambia. The CAZ has so far licensed a number of players out of which six (6) are operational by 2004 from two (02) in 1996. The  Internet  market  in  Zambia  is  still  developing with approximately 12,000
Internet subscribers and an additional 30,000 Internet users mainly patronising Internet cafes. However, the potential for rapid  growth  is  undermined  by  inadequate telecommunication  infrastructure  development  across the country, poor telephony accessibility and high access costs.

Though there are no market entry restrictions for new ISPs, the licensing fee has proven prohibitive to  many  Zambians.  Secondly,  the  limit  on  foreign  shareholding  for  ISPs and  other  similar  value- added licenses is inhibiting most Zambians to enter the market due to inadequate access to start-up capital (financing) for such ventures. This has
negated the benefits of the shareholding requirement though well intended to ensure that as many Zambians as possible are empowered as entrepreneurs in the sector.

Private Data Networks

The provision of private data networks has been liberalised and is fully competitive. The financial sector leads the private data network segment. Most banks and other financial institutions involved in tax revenue collection and pension funds have set-up their own VSAT data network solutions linking  branches  across  the  country;  this  includes national  and  international  links  in  the  case  of international banks. However, VSAT technology has proved much more expensive in the long term especially  with  respect  to space  segment  costs  paid  to  foreign  operators/service  providers.  The introduction of these technologies in Zambia has tremendously improved the delivery of financial services,  with  cash  withdrawal  facilities  including  international  credit/debit  cards such  as VISA offered on the market. On the other hand, Internet Banking has just been introduced as some of the innovative services on the market. Such services will require
reliable and cost-effective transmission and  access  technologies  thus  helping  spread banking  services  to  rural  areas.  On  the  other  hand, Virtual Private Network (VPN) licenses have increased from one (01) in 1996 to fifteen (15) in 2004.

Other Supporting Infrastructure

Telecommunication infrastructure alone cannot be cost-effective if it is delivered in isolation. Given the high cost of deploying telecommunications infrastructure such as Fibre Optic, there is need to have a holistic approach to social and economic infrastructure development strategy in the country.

The development of road networks and rural electrification schemes play a complimentary role in attracting telecommunication rollout. The existence of roads and electric power
whether via grid or off-grid (using renewable/non-renewable) technology can increase the uptake of ICT tools such as computers,  TV,  radio  etc.  This  strategy  is  imperative for  schools  and  clinics  which  are  major growth points in urban and rural areas. Therefore, the delivery of integrated infrastructure (roads, electricity,  telecommunications)
should  be  adopted  as  a  deliberate  measure  during  design  and construction of schools, clinics, farming blocks and resettlement schemes etc. This approach tends to lower the overall cost of delivering infrastructure especially in rural areas and in turn lowers the cost of services to the end user.

Therefore, some of the  challenges  in  the deployment   and   delivery   of telecommunications infrastructure across the country are;

  1. High  technology  acquisition  and  deployment  costs  especially  in  the development  of  the national telecommunications backbone infrastructure;
  2. Limited coverage   and   poor   quality   of   existing   telecommunications   and Internet  infrastructure in the country;
  3. High cost and limited access to ICT infrastructure incurred by individuals and businesses;
  4. Lack of special incentives for private sector participation in the development, management and operation of ICT and related infrastructure projects;
  5. Monopolies  in  wholesale  and  retail  markets  of  the  telecommunication services  sub-sector including infrastructure;
  6. Duplication  of  communications  infrastructure,  especially  in  the  public  sector resulting under-utilisation of scarce resources;
  7. Lack of universal access/service goals  coupled with lack of a rural telecommunication infrastructure and service development strategy;
  8. Inadequate licensing framework given the convergence in telecommunications and Broadcasting and the emergence of new services offered by new technologies;
  9. Lack of a structured and streamlined Internet governance system in the country; and
  10. Legalising  and  regulation  of  outlawed  but  cost-effective  technologies  such as  Voice    over  Internet Protocol (VoIP)

One Comment

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