At the end of March this year, we reported that Econet’s intention to launch BlackBerry services had attracted the interest of the government. This we observed in an article in a state owned weekly newspaper, The Sunday Mail. Yesterday, the Sunday Mail had another report on the matter. This time the paper reports that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has banned Econet from using BlackBerry services until it gets a license for the services.
According to the article, both Econet and POTRAZ are being “diplomatic” about the issue but the paper is “reliably informed that Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has been banned from using the service until it is licensed.” POTRAZ Deputy Director-General Alfred Marisa is also quoted in the article explaining that POTRAZ currently doesn’t have a ‘BlackBerry license’ as part of its statutes. This could of course mean a major delay for Econet or the unlikely, POTRAZ waiving this requirement.
The last we heard from Econet (back then in March) was that BlackBerry services would launch soon as the company was in advanced stages of preparation. A month or so later, we got information from some Econet employees (and we verified) that they were now using the services, probably in some kind of test phase. Apparently, POTRAZ got wind of this too and asked Econet to stop. Now, considering we’re nearing the end of June, the “very soon” promise by Econet in March may indeed have been disrupted.
Canadian Research In Motion’s (RIM) secure BlackBerry Services have not been an issue in Zimbabwe only. In the UAE for example, authorities threatened to shut down BlackBerry services in August last year citing RIM’s encryption technology lack of compliance with national security laws allowing access to data traffic. The UAE telecoms authority later assured subscribers this year the services would remain. There have been similar issues in India.
In Zimbabwe, the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) gazetted in August 2007, requires that all telecommunication services have the capability to be intercepted. Section 12 (1) (a) of the act reads:
(1) Notwithstanding any other law, a telecommunication service provider shall—
(a) provide a telecommunication service which has the capability to be intercepted;
There’s clear demand for BlackBerry Services in the market and for Econet, the services present an opportunity to differentiate itself in a market where basic voice and SMS services have been commoditized.