Econet Wireless: Connecting those off the Grid in Zimbabwe

A Challenging Connectivity Climate

Zimbabwe, a land-locked country of 14 million people, is situated in Southern Africa. In recent years, political challenges and currency inflation has affected economic stability. Due to this instability, infrastructure development has taken a secondary focus. Reliable power is one of the daily challenges that many Zimbabweans face, especially those in remote and rural areas. The majority of the population, 72%, lives at or below the poverty line, and Zimbabwe has some of the world’s lowest Internet penetration rates - approximately 16%. Internet access is costly and is estimated to be 30% of the GNI per capita income of $840 – much higher than the ITU’s 5% threshold for access. Zimbabwe proves to be a challenging climate for Internet connectivity. Mobile towers require constant power, Internet devices require power, and the price of access needs to be affordable to enable consumption. The local solution: off-grid cell phone towers from Econet Wireless.

Tower Power

In 2013, Econet Wireless implemented the first off-grid mobile towers that were tethered to turbines, diesel generators and even solar energy to provide continuous power. This was aptly referred to as ‘Tower Power’. For some areas of Zimbabwe, this was the first time that electricity is available.

The energy sources provided needed power to the mobile towers and provided excess power for secondary initiatives. For example, excess energy from the mobile towers is used to power refrigerators for vaccinations at medical clinics in some villages in Zimbabwe. The rationale for keeping the vaccines refrigerated is that shelf life is increased, and the vaccination rate of vulnerable communities is increased by making preventative medicine available. Econet partnered with the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health to build 100 sites across the country, and has plans to build additional sites to increase vaccination rates and reduce mortality rates of preventative diseases. The Program is called “Energize the Chain” and has distributed over 250,000 vaccines to date.

The excess power supply also can be used for personal use as the electricity can be installed in a home for $6.00 and costs $1.00 a month. Access to power provides opportunities for individuals in communities. They are able to buy chargeable phones and Internet devices without the fear of not being able to power them.

Econet Wireless proves that implementing mobile towers in rural communities provides many opportunities. They increase mobile connectivity, but also increase quality of life and critical healthcare opportunities.

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1 World Connected
1 World Connected

1 World Connected is a research project that systematically compiles, analyses and disseminates information on connecting the unconnected.