HARARE, July 1 — Zimbabwean mobile telecommuncations operator Telecel Zimbabwe plans to invest 200 million US dollars on network expansion and upgrading as it seeks to increase its subscriber base by almost a million before the end of the year, says General Manger Angeline Vere.

She told the Parliamentary Committee on Information Communication Technology (ICT) here Monday that the firm, the second biggest mobile network operator in the country after Econet, currently had 2.35 million active subscribers out of a connected 4.7 million and was aiming to increase the number of active subscribers to 3.3 million by the end of this year.

“We have a switching capacity of five million and by year-end we should have a capacity of 5.5 million,” Vere told the committee, which is chaired by the member of Parliament for Kuwadzana, Nelson Chamisa.

Vere, whose firm currently enjoys a 28 per cent market share, however, lamented a lack of cheap funds on the local market. “Our major challenge is the high cost of borrowing to fund this capital-intensive investment,” she said.

She added that power outages were also an obstacle to efficient service provision as the network was forced to invest in back-up power and she urged the government to make it mandatory for telecommunications companies to share infrastructure to avoid wasteful duplication.

Telecel Technical Drector Winnie Musangeya told the committee that telecommunications companies could share basic infrastructure such as towers but some companies were reluctant to do so. “Right now, operators are using their discretion and it takes too long as negotiations are protracted,” she said.

Telecel is currently sharing infrastructure with the majority of telecoms companies, including Econet and Net One but says co-operation could be improved through mandatory sharing.

Chamisa said sharing basic infrastructure would allow the companies to compete on service provision. “It makes sense to compete on service provision as this benefits the end-consumer,” he said.

Telecel currently has 926 base stations nationwide, of which 299 are for access to its Third Generation (3G) network and the rest are for 2G services.

“We cover about 87 per cent of the population and plan to increase that to 90 per cent by year end,” said Vere, who also told the committee that Telecel was still majority owned by a foreign company, Telecel International, which in turn is owned by Russia’s Vimplecom, in violation of local indigenisation laws.

“There are talks between the shareholder and government which are at an advanced stage,” she said, explaining moves that are being taken to ensure compliance with indigenisation laws, which require that locals own a minimum of 51 per cent of major foreign-owned companies.

Telecel recently had its licence renewed for a 20-year period after an agreement with the government to pay the 137.5 million US dollars licence fees over a seven-year period. The mobile network company directly employs 934 workers.