95.2% of Zimbabweans still depend on phone calls, surpassing 38.3% on WhatsApp

Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) in collaboration with the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), presented today access to ICT 2020 by households and individuals.

ZimStat collected data from November 16 to December 10, 2020. The results were collected through a survey of 10,325 households, both rural and urban. Just over 9,000 households responded.

Private use of cell phones

In the survey, respondents were asked what they used their cell phones for and there were some surprises in the answers given.

Almost everyone with cell phones, 95.2%, still uses phones to make calls. It wasn’t the big surprise.

The data has been weighted to obtain population estimates so that we can see how these percentages translate.

There are 14.1 million people over the age of 3 in the country.

Just over 9.6 million of these people reported using cell phones. Of that number, 9.1 million used their phones to make calls.

This contrasts with the 38.3% who said they used WhatsApp on their phones. At first glance, it looks like WhatsApp isn’t as popular as we thought it was. However, we see that only 56% of the 9.6 million who had cellphones had smartphones. Thus, only 5.4 million people owned smartphones. Of which 3.7 million used WhatsApp.

This is where the surprise lies. Only 69% of smartphone users said they had used WhatsApp. What are their smartphones used for? In my personal experience, almost all smartphone users have WhatsApp installed and use it every month.

We find that 40.9% of the 10 million people who have not used the Internet cited the high cost of Internet access as the reason. So even with the WhatsApp plans offered by all mobile network operators, the cost may still be too high for users. Even for those who had smartphones.

In a way, the phone calls weren’t too expensive. Which I find strange. Most smartphone owners who weren’t using WhatsApp made phone calls.

WhatsApp calls vs regular network calls

It looks like we announced the death of the phone call prematurely as WhatsApp became more popular. I remember when WhatsApp calls were made and we assumed that regular phone calls would start their steady decline. This is not the case.

The challenge with WhatsApp calling is that both users need to have internet access. If a party has their mobile data switch disabled, a regular call will need to be made.

The high cost of Internet access means that you cannot be sure that the person you want to call via WhatsApp has data. Also, keep in mind that network instability and some smartphones with terrible experiences mean that WhatsApp calling may not be an option. Therefore, instead of purchasing a WhatsApp plan, some smartphone users will simply use the airtime to make calls.

Mobile network operators can smile right down to the bank. They pretty much cover the whole country when it comes to phone calls. Their money maker survives.

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