Econet hosts Econet Mail outside Zimbabwe, and they explain why

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar
Econet Mail mailbox

Econet Mail mailboxA friend pointed us to something strange the other day: Econet is hosting Econet Mail outside Zimbabwe. The webmail system is hosted at Rackspace in the United States.

It’s not that a Zim company hosting web their services outside the country is anything new. A few weeks ago we were explaining how we gave up and moved Techzim’s hosting to neighbouring South Africa. And just a few days ago, my colleague was recommending Google Apps to SMEs.

It’s really that when this is done by a company the size of Econet, the impact on the ICT ecosystem is not insignificant. Especially when you consider that Econet, through subsidiary Ecoweb, is an Internet Access provider as well as an Internet Service Provider.

If one of the biggest local service providers cannot trust the effectiveness of its own systems, or those of fellow ISPs like YoAfrica, ZOL and Mweb (iWayAfrica), what about us mere mortals?

International hosting of a service whose primary users are local Zimbabweans exerts an enormous strain on international bandwidth. International bandwidth doesn’t come cheap in Zimbabwe and Econet, itself a wholesaler of international bandwidth (through International subsidiary, Liquid Telecom) knows this. If this mail system’s uptake is as good as Econet would like it to be, this will just create `more demand for international bandwidth.

To explain this more, say you have a private Zimbabwe hosted mailbox sitting on your company mail servers, or hosted at a local ISP; right now if you send an email to an Econet Mail address, you’re really sending that email to a server in the US. And every time an Econet Mail customer retrieves their email, they’re really connecting to servers in the USA to do so. Compare this to a situation where a locally hosted email would send to a Zim hosted Econet Mail mailbox; this email exchange that would cost next to ‘nothing’. Nothing in bandwidth terms because moving local traffic is so cheap that ISPs like ZOL and Yo Africa don’t charge your bandwidth account when you connect to local sites.

We contacted Econet with some questions on the issue: why Econet chose US hosts, if they tried other non-Econet local ISPs and using a hypothetical number of 250,000 users subscribed to Econet Mail, how much Econet would pay Rackspace per mailbox.

In the response Econet explains that they couldn’t find the capacity locally and that security was also a factor. There’s no mention of stability but we suspect this was chief factor. Strangely, Econet says ‘speed’ was one of the reasons for selecting a US host.

Rackspace Mail Hosting

Here’s the full text of the Econet response:

There are several reasons as to the current choice of host. Our choice was informed by the need to provide a service that provides the best capacity, speed, and security for our customers.

For instance, spam was a concern with the name that we chose, and the current host has one of the best anti-spam solutions.

We were also able to contract with the host on a SaaS basis, and this allows us to expand very quickly with the growth in users. It offers class leading storage per box of 10GB and allows up to 50MB attachments.

We have negotiated a massive discount and we are not paying anywhere near $2 per box.

If, to take your example, we were to offer the 10GB of storage to your 250k users, that would translate 2.5 Petabytes, capacity that may not yet be available locally at this time but that we are working towards.



  1. Norman Nhliziyo

    Blame it on the brain drain!

  2. Christopher Muyaruka

    Remeber my article on the cloud and how it is going to affect everything…. I hope this serves as a reminder that those clouds are now at the horizon and are coming fast – adapt of become obsolete

    1. Anonymous

      clouds are already in Zim 🙂

      you’re extremely right.. think of cloud computing as the move from analogue cassette tapes to the CD.

  3. Lmakii

    Hi Kabweza , thanks very much for the great work you are doing in updating us on all these developments in Zim from a Tech perspective. I would want to suggest that you also work on a project to come up with a more appealing and friendlier WEBSITE. To be honest I like the stuff you update us on but I am sure the site can be worked on as well so that we enjoy more reading this very informative site….MY SUGGESTION

    1. Soul Kabweza

      Thanks for the suggestion hey. We’l sure take that into consideration.

  4. Winston

    I tried / opened the inbox for the first time today and the layout seeeeeeeeems ok, it look’s standard but it takes age’s to attach a file (184kb-size) on a 256k broadband connection now imagine a 1mb file? i could make tea in the meantime. but i think i will stick to my yahoo account cause i thought you change the email address from your number (which i would like to keep private at all times) and to words (just a suggestion – econet, just a suggestion). The only thing i managed to change was that “impossible to remember” password.

  5. ngth

    Here are a couple of my thoughts about why they might have gone this route and what the down sides are.

    Econet is looking for a hosted solution from the sounds of things, they want to buy into an existing mail infrastructure. Which means, in Zim, their only real option would be approach another ISP, they obviously dont want to be dependent on another ISP for all their mail. They could of course run their own servers but from the article it appears they do not want to do this.

    It is possible that they will in fact use less incoming international bandwidth than hosting locally. If Econet were to host all mail services locally in Zim they would be downloading A LOT of mail that they will then simply throw away because of spam and virus checks. That is a pageful lot of bandwidth completely wasted. On top of that as most people will use this as a web mail option (as opposed to linking it to a mail client) they will only effectively be bringing in the bandwidth on pages people open and attachments they download, if you delete it off the server it is never downloaded, vs deleting it from Outlook where it has already been downloaded (on POP3 anyway). A solution would be to run initial international incoming mail boxes overseas (by using geo located MX records), clean up spam etc and then forward the rest into Zimbabwe, but it all starts getting very complicated.

    Zimbabwe has a disparity between In and Out international usage, the vast majourity of our usage is into Zimbabwe and since moving off satellite, to my knowledge, the international fibre lines are symmetrical (or not as heavily weighted to incoming as satellite) so it means ISPs (especially Econet) have a lot of free out going bandwidth, meaning they are not worried about people sending mail (its effectively free to them cos outgoing isnt being used up as it is). So their only consideration is how much incoming it is going to affect.

    The downsides are… our outgoing international speeds are not great so sending mail with attachments will be painful. Internal zim mail will be routed internationally, this is by far the biggest problem to the mail being international plan, it means vast majority of email that would have stayed local are indeed going international only to be downloaded again. The best way around this would be for them to host the SMTP portion of the mail inside Zimbabwe so mail to other ISPs etc could be offloaded before the rest sent overseas.

    But simply I would imagine it comes down to them not wanting to run their own mail servers and not wanting to be beholden to another Zim ISP. I am not sure if they did extensive research on bandwidth costs and why would they, they simply pass these onto the customer. By using an ISP which provies local free mail it can save larger customers A LOT of bandwidth.

    To get the best results Zim needs to work around international by clever placing of server and use of technology like mirroring, geo dns etc. I still disagree with the Techzim move outside Zim, at least before when fibre was down I could get to the site but only miss out on the latest articles. But lets not get into that argument again…

    1. Soul Kabweza

      True on international host serving as spam filter and thus saving bandwidth, esp because spamming these mailboxes is much easier than regular customised email addresses. But then again only Zimbabweans would know the phone number pattern to effectively blast the mailboxes with spam.

      Will be interesting if any spamming is actively carried out by any Zim entities. My Econet Mail mailbox is clean so far.

  6. Macd

    lm disappointed. Thats a job opportunity lost to Americans, l would loved to be sitting all night eating pizza whilst pretending to be working as a NOC, damn, luck Yankees

  7. Anonymous

    I think that most people have forgotten about the Interception of Communications Bill of 2006:

    Not sure if this bill was actually passed, or not, but ZISPA did try and take action to voice the concerns of the public. So yes.. privacy is a serious concern when considering hosting email for the public as a service. Especially in a country like Zimbabwe where people like POTRAZ make every effort to prevent freedom of speech.

    Rackspace are undoubtedly the leaders when it comes to web based technology…so going with an overseas provider like rackspace was a very smart move. On the other hand, since everyone can see how easy it is to ‘re-skin’ an already existing service, then package it as your own ‘local innovation’….to me that makes econet look like a serious poser.

    End of the day theres alot of new services coming out Zimbabwean service providers, but how many are genuine local innovations? not many im afraid.

  8. B@inside

    Econet used a hosted solution as it was much quicker to market and pay as you grow/as you use. The alternative to buy very big servers without knowing what the uptake would be and have an awful lot of system administration and integration to do.
    I dont think it will affect service at all by being hosetd outside as mail is in non real time teh speed shouldnt be an issue. More pertinent questions to ask Econet might be ‘why do i want someone who knows my phone number to know my email address’, and ‘why would I want someone that I email to know my phone number.’
    I have fed back the comments on this website to those responsible in Econet.

  9. Team.

    This naming convention for email was and is used very successfully in South Africa. It speaks to a converged communication environment we are in. As this is a voluntary product those people that have issues with the naming convention can choose not to use the service. However because of the increased risk of spam we have used a platform with one of the best anti-spam environments available.

  10. Joe Black

    True that, those who have concerns about privacy or convergence of mail with their voice number can choose not to use it! Purely optional 🙂

    Soul I’m actually using Google Apps to host mail for one of my domains, 50 free accounts, pretty quick, use it like Gmail and everything works! My only slight concern was putting Google in charge of ANOTHER aspect of my life, and all I can say is if they choose to one day DO evil, I’m screwed!

    1. Anonymous

      Yeah, Google apps is great. We love it. The 3rd party web applications you can add on offer great flexibility and smart tools too!

  11. Sirius

    Why didnt Econet go for Google Apps?

  12. Xx

    Chris, though I am a great support of cloud computing, I still feel the zim organisations are very immature to adopt it for many reasons. Of those billion reason one of my greatest concerns is the security concept…..If zim companies cant design and implement security in the physical computing environment, wat guarantee do we have that they will adopt it in the cloud space? zvakangofanana they will expose information yevanhu to a lot of privacy and data breaches.,cloud-customers-risk-collateral-ddos.aspx

  13. Bethel Goka

    Cloud Hosting will certainly impact a lot internet services. Our local ISPs need to start looking into intergration of solutions as opposed to this “out-sourcing-tendency.” I wonder if econet and other big tech companies are really doing that. Considering the fact that outsourcing is a forex drainer.

  14. DJ

    talking of security and spam as econet claims, most if not all service providers in zim mail servers are not secure. not configured properly. My mail server always reject most mails from localy hosted mail servers because they do not communicate properly because they are far from configured securely. let alone host spam.