HARARE-- Zimbabwe's telecommunications companies have reported a 12 per cent increase in revenue to 1.146 billion last year compared with 2016, aided by increased usage of mobile internet and data, the industry regulator says.

Data that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) provided on the 2017 sector performance report shows that the mobile telephone providers continued to account for the bulk of the revenue, which increased from 723 million in 2016 to 850 million USD last year.

2017 marks the first year in four years to record an increase in mobile revenues. The revenues have been going down for four years because of the decline in voice calls but as we get used to over the top applications revenue is starting to go up, said Potraz director-general Dr Gift Machengete.

Internet access providers accounted for 186 million USD (157 million in 2016)) of the 1.145 billion USD while the contribution of fixed network operator Tel One was flat at 117 million USD, with the postal and courier

services sector adding 36 million USD, down from 36.3 million USD in 2016.

In terms of investment, the telecommunications sector recorded a 23 per cent decline to 198.4 million USD as players cut down on capital expenditure. Operators are saying the economic environment has affected them, they cannot import spare parts or get capital for upgrades, Dr Machengete said. With the current situation where we see light at the end of the tunnel, that situation is likely going to change.

Zimbabwe has in the past few years been experiencing foreign currency shortages which have impacted on the performance of all sectors of the economy.

Despite the struggles, the telecommunications sector recorded a growth in active mobile subscriptions which were up 9.4 percent to 14.092 million, taking the country's mobile penetration rate to 102.7 per cent, an increase of 7.9 percentage points from the previous year.

Active Internet subscriptions also marginally increased by 3.7 percentage points to nearly 7,0 million subscribers, taking the country's Internet penetration rate to 50.8 per cent.

Dr Machengete said the authority was in talks with the government to review duty on smart phones which would enable the country's Internet access rate to grow. The duty on smart phones actually stifles the penetration rate. If duty on the devices is low, many people can afford them, he said.

The bulk of the country's Internet and data usage is through smart phones.