Experiencing call drops and dodgy 4G? Don’t blame your service provider. It’s probably your phone.

Edwin Chabuka Avatar

Many times someone you know is complaining about their phone just not being reliable. Calls just spontaneously drop and network connectivity just falls from 4G to 3G or even 2G without any warning.

I remember back in 2015 I bought an LG G4 and it was a 4G capable device. However, when I put my NetOne Sim in it, it could not connect to 4G even though it did with an Econet Sim. 

I also had an LG G6 and it did not have wireless charging because that feature was only available on Korean models. But why is it not standard? To understand this we need to understand the bigger picture. The global picture.

Market region

The world may be divided into continents geographically but economically it’s divided into different market regions. Each of these regions has slightly different characteristics and legislation so for the sake of being economical and compliant, manufacturers will only add features to a device that aligns with the characteristics of that region.

For example, Google services do not work in China meaning all phones made for China will not come with stuff like the Google Play store. In developed countries with good and stable economies, there is a presence from the device manufacturer who offers backup and support but also an insight into the characteristics of each market so that the devices they will stock up in a particular market will work as advertised. But Zimbabwe is not such a market now is it? 

The market is global

Some unique circumstances in Zimbabwe have made it so that not many people will buy their iPhones from Solution Center, a certified Apple reseller. Very few will buy their Xiaomi and Redmi smartphones from Mi Store Zimbabwe, a certified Xiaomi and Redmi reseller. This is because a majority of Zimbabweans buy second-hand devices and a majority of these second-hand devices are imported from anywhere in the world.

The same goes for a majority of Zimbabweans buying brand-new smartphones. They too are buying them from malls in town where the sellers source them from wherever they can get them at the cheapest price. Because the Zimbabwean market is a serious price-sensitive market, the only question we ask is is this the cheapest price I can get for this phone? But cheap is expensive. Let me show you something.

Same phone. Different prices. What’s the catch?

This is a Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro. This is also a Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro but made for China. They share the exact same name but have a slightly different designs on the camera. Small stuff right? Up until you look at what’s inside.

Here is what the Global Redmi Note 11 Pro has that the China version doesn’t.

  • 18 supported 4G bands instead of 12 on the Chinese version.
  • memory card support

And this is what the Chinese version has that the global version does not.

  • 5G
  • a more powerful processor
  • up to 4K video recording
  • JBL tuned speakers
  • Wifi 6 support
  • newer BT 5.2
  • access to 5 more navigation satellites and more accurate tri-band positioning
  • slightly bigger battery

Yes, the global version might be a bit cheaper than the Chinese version but look at how much more features are available on the Chinese version. Features that you won’t get via a software update. It almost looks like 2 different phones just reading the spec sheet and yet they are both called Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro.

Fine. Maybe this is a convenient example. Let’s take a look at the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. There are 2 variants of it. The SM-A536V and the SM-A536U. 

The SM-A536U

  • supports 5 more 4G bands
  • supports both Liquid home and Telone Sims

The SM-A536V

  • supports 2 more 5G bands

Both versions may or may not have NFC depending on the region they are being sold in. And India is one of the regions where NFC is excluded from smartphones in case you were wondering.

And in an even more recent example. iPhones sold in China are dual sim accepting 2 physical sim cards whilst those sold everywhere else are single sim. And on the iPhone 14 models, the ones sold in the USA will not come with a slot for a physical SIM card whilst iPhone 14 models everywhere else will have it.

If you notice the pattern, a majority of the differences you will find with these smartphones have to do with mobile network connectivity. Which is a big pain point for a lot of Zimbabweans. Their smartphones are just not good at maintaining a stable connection with the network and one of the issues is most of the smartphones Zimbabweans are using are not designed to operate efficiently in this region.

What’s the easiest way of ensuring my phone won’t give me problems?

It’s so sad that in Zimbabwe smartphone manufacturers no longer have a direct presence apart from Tecno, Itel, and Infinix. So for the global brands, we have to rely on certified resellers which are:

These are the brands that will give you the least amount of issues here and if they do the stores have a direct link to the manufacturer so backup is available. But this peace of mind will not come cheap so these shops are also not always going to be offering the lowest price. However, if you consider that you are getting a more reliable communicating tool and that reliability is of paramount importance to you then you will know cheap is expensive. For those who are risk-averse, these establishments are a very good place to start.

But to be fair. The quality of Zim mobile networks has deteriorated.

Back in 2017, I was running speed tests getting 72Mbps download speeds on NetOne and 53Mbps download speeds on Econet. These days the average is 20 to 30Mbps at best. On the day I was researching for this piece I was on a GSM call and the connection was so bad we ended up switching to WhatsApp call which had much better call quality.

For quite some time now Zimbabwe’s smartphone space has been dominated by imports from places like China, Dubai, and South Africa, but were still performing reasonably well with good compatibility with Zimbabwean networks. So it might be unfair to put all the blame on our imported smartphones. 

What it looks like is it’s a bit of a perfect storm. A combination of deteriorated network infrastructure and a majority of smartphones not designed for this region making their way into our borders. But one problem is easier to control than the other. And that is just getting a device made for this region.

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What’s your take?

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  1. Unknown

    If you can test the difference in network connection using two or more devices by different manufacturers or two or more different models may help pinpoint problems due to network not devices.

    Another distinction to make to pinpoint network problems is dodgy connection during day time but problem-free connection in the middle of the night. There are days and times when one get limited service even in Harare CBD then it’s most probably the network

    1. Anonymous

      The author needs to research further and make a more articulate argument on why our phones are to blame for the poor network quality being expereinced in zim. The article shows a lack of understanding on how this sector operates. Save to say theat techzim was paid by Solution Center, Mi Store, Tecno Shops, Saltis Consulting, Spellbound Electronics

      1. Edwin Chabuka

        Well at least this time it’s not a claim that we got paid by the MNOs lol. All sponsored articles come with a label that it is sponsored content. We will always give you a heads-up if that is the case

    2. Known Unknown

      Ok, the title is a bit baity, but I think the point that a users hardware/software can have a role to play is valid, especially in a country with a thriving helter skelter gray market. And its not as though they didn’t acknowledge the culpability of the networks. If anything, these issues compound on each other, bringing misery to those who made purchase decisions that weren’t fully informed. It’s different when you know the tradeoffs though. I once got an out of network spec phone (4G was a pipe dream back then anyway) because I valued its other capabilities. I think this article is valuable in to those in such situations (though its singing to the choir) and more so to the general consumer.

    3. Edwin Chabuka

      It’s a mix of a plethora of variables true. However, some are much easier to eliminate than others and one of them is just checking if the device you are buying is either a global version of that device or at the very least is made for your region.

  2. Tawanda

    This must’ve something to do with congestion. The Potraz quarterly report always indicate a rise in data usage as well as subscribers but are our MNO investing in the required infrastructure to meet or surpass the mobile penetration rate? It’s always surprising that you don’t experience those network drops or low quality during the night.

  3. Worked at EWZ, NetOne and Telecel

    In this article Edwin did not give facts. Having worked in some Manos for over 5 years I have a few pointers that will result in poor network coverage.
    1. Congestion that is why these days MNOs sale bundles as Peak or off peak
    2. Location. Poor network might be experienced due to the number of people being connected to base stations. This was actually identified by another article by Techzim. Rural vs Urban is the best example and MNOs number is base stations.
    3. MNOs have a tendency of making the base station operate to a minimal due to operational costs which might be a result of cutting costs when using diesel
    4. ZeSa if ZeSa is gone know that the EConet base station will not give you 4G but slow speeds or one for u to just call. The cost aspect and see uof their base stations use Solar which is not powerful than electricity.
    5. MNOs make profits more from direct calls that is if you are calling not using Whatsapp data. FACT. So they are most likely that’s why u see the peak and off peak data differences.

    1. Edwin Chabuka

      All the stated points are true and seem to have been addressed in the last paragraph. Granted not as granular as it is in your comment but it was touched on. And I did cover it in detail in a separate article which is this one


      However the whole premise of this article is on the point that some smartphones are made with components and configurations that suit best the regions they are made for. And as such, if a smartphone is not fully compatible with the characteristics of Zimbabwean networks it might affect the performance of that smartphone on local networks. It’s not always the case. But it is a phenomenon that even I have experienced with my own devices.

  4. Anonymous PQR

    Hmmm I always wonder why.
    I used to own a Samsung s6 edge (that came locked to Vodafone UK) with Telecel yes Telecel line, I would get 4g here and there. After the phone battery got worse I switched to a Tecno Spark, trust me the results are stunning. Am getting 4g consistently within home to work commute compared to my edge.

  5. Gh

    So Edwin should do a part 2 about refurbished devices and regions.

  6. Unknown

    Just wasted an hour in Harare CBD failing to get a usable LTE connection. Then I moved about 400 metres to Harare Gardens and I got a perfectly LTE connection. I waa not expecting Harare CBD to have some dead areas for mobile connection, or was it congestion.

    This site Techzim behaves strangely sometimes; it fails to connect when using Firefox but it connect easily using Chrome

    1. Snakes and Ladders

      Was at Copacabana by FoodWorld and my phone couldn’t even message on whatsapp. Crossed the road to CABS and was back online, my phone going as fast as Econet would let it on 4G. Maybe it was congestion, a powercut in the area, dehydration affecting my electromagnetic conductivity… who knows!