MASERU — A couple of weeks ago Econet Telecom Lesotho’s top management received a petition from a small village in Semonkong, one of the remotest areas in Lesotho.
It was not a hostile petition.
In fact it was a plea.
The villagers were desperate and they wanted Econet Telecom to come to their rescue.
Their problem, the villagers said in the petition, was communication.
With no telephone reception this remote village is completely cut off from the rest of the country and the world.
When their cattle are stolen, as happens every week, it takes them days to report because the nearest police station is “very far away”.
They can’t call ambulances to take their sick to the nearest clinic.
Sending messages of death to relatives is quite a mission.
They can’t communicate with their sons and daughters working in Maseru and in the South African mines.
News of the dead reaches them after days.
The villagers wanted phones.
They were not demanding that every home gets connected but just a few phones so they could communicate with the rest of the world.
The petition did not surprise Econet Telecom’s management for two reasons.
First was the fact that the villagers were not alone — there are many people in Lesotho who are still waiting to be connected.
Lesotho’s telecommunication coverage is still quite low.
Second, the company is already working on what it calls “a roll-out programme” to connect these remote areas in the country.
“It made us realise how fast we have to move to achieve this goal,” says Elvis Gwanzura, the company’s new chief executive, before adding “work has already started”.
The company recently upgraded its network.
The old system, Gwanzura says, “was over 30 years old and we realised that the old system could no longer deliver complete communications solutions to the people”.
“Because people’s communication needs are changing every time we have to continuously improve our technology to meet those urgent needs,” he says.
Many fixed-telephone customers are already beginning to see the impact of the new technology on their communication after having been moved to the new system between February and March, he says.
“For our customers this means a more reliable network and more value-added products at affordable prices,” Gwanzura says.
“Now you can have voice, data and internet at home.
“There is better connectivity because the new system is not very prone to vandalism like the traditional system.
“It requires less maintenance as well.”
Yet there is even better value coming to Econet Telecom’s customers, Gwanzura adds.
“Customers on the fixed wireless will in the next six to eight weeks be able to send text messages from their phones,” he says.
That’s quite an achievement because until now short messaging has been a preserve of people on mobile phones.
Gwanzura says that move alone has helped catapult Lesotho into the modern world of communication.
He however admits that connecting people like those in Semonkong will be a challenge.
“But we are happy that we are moving towards that,” he says.
“The fixed wireless network now has 22 base sites throughout the country.
“Added to these 22 sites we are now working on extending the reach of our mobile network by building capacity to just over half-a-million subscribers.
“They are spread throughout the country and more are coming because we are working on covering this country as much as we can.
“Lesotho’s terrain makes total coverage a huge challenge but with innovation and a clear understanding of our communication needs I believe will be able to conquer this problem.”