HARARE - State-owned mobile telecommunications operator NetOne says it has received equipment valued at over $160 million from China as the company moves to expand its infrastructure network across the country.
The mobile firm’s chairman, Alex Marufu, yesterday said the infrastructure expansion project — being supported by a $218 million loan from China’s Eximbank – is expected to be completed in the next two months.
“We have received equipment worth close to three quarters of the $218 million loan from China and we are expected to have finished deployment of all the equipment for the project by end of May this year,” he said.
To date, the project has seen NetOne having the widest fourth generation (4G) technology long term evolution and is targeting to double its subscriber base to eight million.
Figures from the Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe show that NetOne’s customer base increased by 28 percent from 2 771 420 in June 2014 to 3 556 688 in June 2015, making it the second largest after Econet which has 9,5 million subscribers.
Marufu, however, added that the company was also making efforts to recover at least $46 million it is owed by various debtors — including an $11 million debt that was incurred by Firstel, a company owned by NetOne’s current management.
“I understand that there were a number of steps that were taken by the previous board to recover the debt,” he said, adding that the current board might be forced to approach the Zimbabwe Asset Management Company to house the debt if they fail to retrieve it.
“We are currently working on various measures to recover the loan but we need to be satisfied that we have done enough to recover the debt before we hand it over to others,” he added.
Marufu noted that the NetOne board was also keen to institute management changes at the company as part of wider strategies to transform the parastatal into a profit-making institution.
This comes as the board last week suspended its long-serving chief executive Reward Kangai for three months to pave way for investigations at the parastatal over flawed internal procurement systems.
“Our revenues are growing despite a drastic reduction in tariffs last year. We are gradually gaining market share from our key competitors and our subscriber base growth as reported by Potraz is testimony to this,” he said.
“Were it not for some cleaning up costs we have to endure as we deal with legacy issues, we were supposed to make profit this year,” he added.
NetOne posted a $5,8 million loss in the six months to June 2015 compared to a $7,5 million profit in June 2014.