Pay for WhatsApp calls, says Econet Zimbabwe

WhatsApp has launched its latest iPhone app. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
WhatsApp has launched its latest iPhone app. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Harare – Zimbabweans don't have access to WhatsApp’s voice calling feature on Econet's social network bundles as the mobile operator says users must pay for this service separately.

Econet Wireless is the biggest mobile company in Zimbabwe with over 8 million subscribers.

It offers unlimited social media bundles for Facebook and WhatsApp ranging from 30 cents per day to $3 per day.

Meanwhile, rival operators NetOne and Telecel Zimbabwe also have almost similar offerings.

WhatsApp, which is now controlled by Facebook, has recently introduced a voice calling function in addition to the initial instant and voice messaging applications on its application.

There has been widespread talk about the service, with subscribers hoping to score some points through cheaper calling rates using the new platform.

However, Econet has now said that the WhatsApp voice calling function is not covered by the unlimited social bundles for the application. This means that subscribers will not be able to make WhatsApp voice calls unless they have data credit in their mobile phones.

“WhatsApp calls use data bundles and are not covered on the unlimited WhatsApp bundles,” the company said in a tweeted response to a subscriber on Tuesday.

An Econet subscriber had asked on the company’s service support Twitter account if the “WhatsApp bundles work(ed) for calls”.

Network equipment company Sandvine’s chief technology officer, Don Bowman, said last year that WhatsApp was taking almost a third of Econet Wireless’ network usage.

"Many subscribers are using first generation smartphones and talk and text plans. This bundle has opened up an opportunity for Econet to launch service plans that incentivise subscribers to move to data-driven services that are affordable to users and profitable to the network," said Bowman.

Rangarirai Mberi, communications manager for Econet was quoted on Tuesday saying the company had adopted a “strategic decision to invest in new income streams, such as data services and many other overlay services” in response to the increased uptake of cheaper communication alternatives riding on top of mobile networks.

“We in fact see it as an opportunity to offer new possibilities for our customers. As we have said before, there was already a trend away from traditional income streams such as voice,” he was quoted saying on Techzim, a Zimbabwean online tech blog.

Econet is currently battling a public relations storm after it invaded a Harare based online news agency, The Source, in search of documents that the agency reported on earlier this year.

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