The total number of employees in Zimbabwe's telecommunications sector, which registered declines in voice telephony minutes and a rise in data utilisation in 2017, has declined by almost 10% while mobile money transaction values have soared.
This is according to performance and usage indicators for 2017 released recently by the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).
The Abridged Annual Postal and Telecommunications Sector Performance Report 2017 indicates that the "total number of people employed on a full-time basis in the postal and telecommunications sector declined by 9.9% to reach 6,178" in 2017.
Female employees in the telecommunications and postal industry constitute less than a third of the total workforce in the industry, although the female numbers had risen to 31.5% from 29.9% of the total figure in 2016.
"The fixed network had 1,719 full-time employees as at 31 December 2016," it explains. This represents a 4.9% decline from 1,807 employees recorded for the previous year.
The country's three mobile network operators - Telecel, NetOne and Econet Wireless – together had 2,755 employees by the end of 2017, up 2% from the previous year. Internet Access Providers in Zimbabwe had 2.2% fewer employees at 653, compared to the 2016 figure of 668 workers.
The Potraz report also reflected an increase in the number of active mobile money subscriptions in Zimbabwe by 42.5% at 4.7 million for 2017.
Zimbabwe witnessed a decline in "cash based transactions" attributable "to the cash crisis in 2017 (while) the introduction of bank to wallet transfers spurred the use of mobile money for effecting payment" transactions.
Airtime, bill and merchant payments using mobile money in Zimbabwe for 2017 totalled US$1,6 billion.
Although mobile companies in the country focused on mobile money to tap into additional revenue, they also raised the number of mobile network base stations for data. Mobile internet and mobile money are emerging as stronger revenue generators for telcos in light of declining voice telephony usage.
In 2017, the total number of base stations in Zimbabwe increased by 7.9% to 8378, with3G base stations recording the highest increase. Mobile data utilisation during the period under review had subsequently nearly doubled to 15 Terabytes while active mobile subscribers also increased by about 9% to 14 million.
Only about 30.8% of these base stations are in rural areas, with the government pressing mobile operators to share infrastructure to enable them to roll out network coverage in remote and poorly serviced areas.
"The mobile operators deployed more 3G and LTE than 2G base stations to meet the growing demand for internet services. The growth in 2G and 3G base stations as well as LTE from 2015 to 2017," added Potraz.
The increased roll-out of additional base stations with mobile internet capacity comes in light of a 5.7% voice traffic decline to 4,400,994,563 minutes. International incoming and international outgoing calls are the most affected categories on voice telephony, notes the report.
The decline in fixed phone and mobile phone voice minutes has been attributed to "the declining consumer demand for traditional voice because of the proliferation of cheaper Over-the-top" alternatives.