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.
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:
- There is unfulfilled demand for service in both urban and rural areas;
- Mobile networks can be installed more rapidly than fixed lines;
- 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;
- Users find the functionality of mobile phones extremely useful; compared to fixed Lines; and
- 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;
- High technology acquisition and deployment costs especially in the development of the national telecommunications backbone infrastructure;
- Limited coverage and poor quality of existing telecommunications and Internet infrastructure in the country;
- High cost and limited access to ICT infrastructure incurred by individuals and businesses;
- Lack of special incentives for private sector participation in the development, management and operation of ICT and related infrastructure projects;
- Monopolies in wholesale and retail markets of the telecommunication services sub-sector including infrastructure;
- Duplication of communications infrastructure, especially in the public sector resulting under-utilisation of scarce resources;
- Lack of universal access/service goals coupled with lack of a rural telecommunication infrastructure and service development strategy;
- Inadequate licensing framework given the convergence in telecommunications and Broadcasting and the emergence of new services offered by new technologies;
- Lack of a structured and streamlined Internet governance system in the country; and
- Legalising and regulation of outlawed but cost-effective technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)